The Barrier between Shine Territory and the rest of the world has come down and everyone is panicking and fleeing.
We follow the fortunes of three POV characters as they try to put as much land between themselves and Shine Territory as possible. The land beyond the barrier is an uncompromising desert with salt flats which make it an even harder journey for the escapees.
Sally Morton is an indentured prostitute owned by the Company and along with another heavily pregnant prostitute, Grace, and two others, Bekha and Eloise, she escapes the hell of her working life on a perilous journey. It is the first time they have been free and their emotions are riding high one minute and despairing the next. None of them knows how to make a decision or where to go but they blunder on with the utmost determination to stay safe and free. Sally has been in love with Eloise for years but they have been kept apart and now Eloise appears to be dying from a stab wound she received when trying to escape the saloon:
“She lets James’s body fall to the floor, and I see her now. Truly see her. My avenging goddess. My beautiful soldier. My Eloise dressed in blood, wearing a cloak of determination.
They may have cut our wings, but they forgot about our claws.”
The emotions Sally goes through are heart breaking and visceral. Chorn pulls no punches when describing love and the emotions tied up with loss of a loved one and the human condition.
Saul Jenson, an outlaw on the run, was in love with Christopher Hobson, a character we met in Of Honey and Wildfires. Fate caught up with Christopher in that book and he has now been hanged. Saul unravels at the news, yet somehow keeps going, as far from the city and the Company as he can:
“It’s the silences I ache for. Years of comfortable quiet spread between us, warm as a summer night. We’d sit side by side on an evening just like this one, watching the stars dance overhead, feeling the fire’s warmth on our feet, and just exist together. He’d exhale, and I’d inhale the air that had been in his lungs, stealing little pieces of him, hiding them in the space between my ribs like a squirrel hides nuts in autumn.”
The third main character is a desperately unfortunate individual named Ned Teller. He works for the Company and has never touched Shine but has become addicted due to his proximity to the substance since boyhood. His constant hallucinations of his dead mother dancing and other strange occurrences served as a little light relief from all the emotional turmoil of the other characters:
“He’s crazier than you are,” his mama said. She was blowing leaves turned orange by autumn’s touch through an acorn as large as her head. The leaves spun in the air, turning in a circle before growing small, green legs and skipping away. “He’s not crazy,” Ned bit out. He rubbed his hand down Saul’s back, felt the coiled muscle, the tense lines. “He’s hurting.” “He’s an artichoke thrown in a boiling pot. Check his spiny leaves. Check his jagged heart. Bet he’s cooked through now. Bet he’s nice and tender.”
The story is engaging and difficult to put down, at times gut wrenching – but always full of determination and the final note is one of hope. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and will go on to read Glass Rhapsody, the next chapter in the Songs of Sefate trilogy, soon.