“The fuck was that?”
The opening line.
If an opening line is meant to wear a lot of hats and wear them well, then this one accomplishes exactly that. These four words at once grabbed my attention, grounded me in a character, and set up my expectations for the type of story I was getting into. And, indeed, those four words echoed on in the narrative as the strains of the storyline unfolded before me.
Chorn is a very accomplished writer, and she does not seek to soften blows or pamper the reader. This book is one of the few I have read that has successfully juggled multiple first-person point of views. This is done in a way that successfully brings the reader right into the heart and mind of the character in a way only first person actually can, with the cinematic quality of being right there submerged in the action.
Her prose is downright poetic. “This sky strewn with exit wounds” (get the shotgun imagery?) “It is possible to carry life and death in the same body” and “I breathe thin pieces of him. I excel bits of myself” are just a couple of examples. This truly is some of the most beautiful writing I have ever read in a fantasy novel. And yet the author never gets in the way of the story. Before I had any idea I was approaching the end, the novel was over. That doesn’t happen to me very often.
The characters are deep, real people. There is Sally Morten, a company whore. When the Boundary falls, she escapes with Eloise, whom she loves desperately, but whom has been terribly injured. Sally’s love for Eloise is beautiful to behold, and her pain is palpable. There is also Saul Jenson, who is the lover of Chris Hobson, one of the main characters from Of Honey and Wildfires. I really enjoyed having someone who knew Chris in this book. Not only did it tie the two novels together, but it gave me a character I was immediately sympathetic with, since I was already very invested in Chris. Saul falls in with Ned Teller, a once-lawman incapacitated by Shine addiction. Though they come from two very different places, both of them are in desperate need of healing. I very much enjoyed reading their story.
The world building is economic but is well done and effective. There is not much magic in the novel, but the magic that is there is functional and serves the plot. The main source of magic is Shine, which is almost like this world’s black gold as well as its drug of choice and the main driver behind the politics and economy. Because of this, the magic is central to the world, and yet never comes into the forefront. It never intrudes.
All in all, I cannot recommend this novel enough. It is perfect for readers who are into darker speculative fiction, especially those who are interested in more of an Old West milieu and strong LGBTQ+ main characters. You can drink this prose, it’s that good. Just bring a handkerchief—you’re going to need it.