Interview: Intisar Khanani @booksbyintisar

Years ago, I came across a Kindle free promo for a book called Thorn. It looked cool and, well, FREE, so I went ahead and made my first venture into eBooks. Guess what? It was awesome. Not long after, I started talking to the author and found out she was awesome. To prove it, I’ve asked her to drop by for an interview today and show you all herself!

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Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five. She currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two young daughters.

thorn_coverfnlrevfnlf_low_resWelcome, Intisar! It’s been a while. Can you tell us a little about your latest release, Memories of Ash?

Memories of Ash starts up a year after Sunbolt ends, once Hitomi has had a chance to recover from what she did to herself (trying to be spoiler-free here) and study some magic with her new mentor, Brigit Stormwind. But our pasts don’t tend to leave us alone, and Hitomi’s past comes back with a vengeance when Stormwind is called before the High Council of Mages to answer charges of treason—charges brought forward by none other than Hitomi’s old nemesis, Arch Mage Blackflame. With Hitomi’s fine-tuned sense of honor she isn’t about to let her teacher be unjustly imprisoned, and thus begins her next adventure. Using equal parts magic and trickery, Hitomi must sneak into the seat of the High Council itself to free her mentor. If she succeeds, she’ll spend the rest of her life running from rogue hunters. If she fails, she’ll be enslaved by the Council and slowly drained of her magic until she dies.

Yes, DO go check this one out guys. What’s the weirdest thing you researched for this book?

Not too many truly weird things, but I did research some fun things! I learned about the eastern method of tattooing called tebori. I researched the basic structure and design of historic row boats in South Asia, and then ended up cutting that chapter (*sob*). And by far the most fun, I researched the Festival of Guilds, a three day celebration that used to take place annually in Ottoman-era Istanbul, complete with parades, sporting competitions, theatre, street performances, and “the burning of the fortresses” (massive wooden models)… pretty much all of which made it into the book!

One of my favorite things about your books is you bring a massive array of cultural influences from this world while still making it unique to your fantasy worlds—something I don’t believe many writers do well. Is there a particular approach you take to writing diversity?

My approach to writing diversity is to pull from world cultures I am somewhat familiar with and then research the heck out of them in order to gain a deeper familiarity with the culture and place. If possible I talk to people from the cultures I’m writing, if not I do my best and figure a little error is allowable given that it’s a fantasy land. For example, in Memories of Ash, the great city that Hitomi visits is based on historic Ottoman Istanbul. I read first-hand historic accounts from visitors to the city, pulled on my own memories of visiting the old parts of Istanbul, and then spoke with Turkish friends to both name the city and act as a sounding board for some of the details. The city itself plays a relatively small role in the story, but having a sense of culture, gender norms, architecture, food—all of these create a more robust world. Of course I took licenses, but usually they were relatively minor and related to introducing magic to the world. So, I replaced the great government-run universities with the Mekteb-e Sihir, or School of Sorcery. I think the biggest road block for me was learning to get past the euro-centric worldview of most fantasy. Once I was able to envision a world with different cultures, and characters who were from those cultures, writing diversity suddenly became twelve kinds of awesome.

I am constantly boggled by your depth of research. Do you have any advice for authors wanting to incorporate more diversity into their stories?

sunbolt_cover_e-small1. Diversity = Complex Realities. I think in writing diversity it is vital to remember how complex the world is and how wonderful that diversity of experience and reality really is. Writing characters of diverse backgrounds and experiences is going to change your story, create new nuances and depths of meaning to interactions, and that’s a beautiful thing. And remember diversity implies many things, and the intersection of those things as well—gender, age, culture, mental health, ability, religion, and on… Red alert: if the culture or background of your character doesn’t impact the story, you haven’t quite got a grasp on who they are yet. So, creating an African American cis/het male character who’s lived experience is exactly like a white character’s ignores the probability that he has seen and dealt with institutionalized racism since childhood. That doesn’t mean your book has to be all about racism—but realize that your story should not be whitewashing the background, culture, and lived experience of your characters.

2. Be respectful and learn without judgement. It’s really important to recognize that just because we don’t understand something in a culture, or like it, doesn’t mean we should be critiquing it in our work. Don’t like arranged marriage? Given that it isn’t part of our culture, maybe you don’t understand it. Either way, don’t write it (and the inevitable storyline of running away to seek freedom, or hoping the abusive husband dies an early death) until you’ve done a LOT of research on it, including talking to people who have chosen arranged marriages and reading first hand positive accounts. It’s always easy to find the negative perspective on something, especially something generally misunderstood in the West, so seek out those alternative viewpoints. If you absolutely must write the running away/abusive husband slant, don’t base that story in another culture, because you’re going to end up adding to bigoted stereotypes that people from that culture have to live with every day. It’s both disrespectful and hurtful. OR, make sure your main character has a totally different, positive experience and grant this negative experience to a side character, so that you can explore (and allow readers to appreciate) both the good and the bad.

3. Don’t cherry pick. Don’t jump onto the bandwagon of “Jinn are cool!” or whatever happens to be the next craze, or try to create your own, while only importing that particular element into your story. For example, if you’re writing about Native American mythology, you’d better have some Native American characters, and the one who saves the day or ends up being the Chosen One by the spirits better not be the white character. Then follow points one and two above—so you don’t just have people with, say, Native American names, but you’ve figured out / researched what tribe(s) they’re from, their belief system(s), their history under American governance (or oppression), and their cultural norms. Sure they know how to navigate American / white culture, but that doesn’t mean they don’t also know how to navigate and love their own heritage, culture, and practices. Throwing in a few names and stealing a mythology is cultural appropriation, not writing diversity, so be thoughtful about what you do, and try hard. It’s okay to mess up, but you’ve got to be trying to make it work. Not sure if you’ve done well? Seek out beta readers from the backgrounds you’re trying to portray and ask them.

moa_fc_fnl16_bn-673x1024Great advice! I’m going to have to ask you back for a blog post just on that, LOL. What is your writing routine? Do you have a regular one?

I write almost every night, once my little people are in bed. Since I’m a homeschooling mama, I usually only have a couple times during the week when both my kids are out of my care and I can write in the daylight hours. The vast majority of my writing happens once they’re asleep. As for routine… I grab my laptop, sit down wherever I can (usually my bed, sometimes my desk), check-in on e-mail and social media (I try to keep this brief), and then get to work.

I do often manage to write online with friends—we check in on Facebook, log off for a writing session, and then check back in at the end of it. (Shout out to Melissa Sasina and you, Elisabeth, as awesome online writing buddies!) This helps keep me accountable and makes writing much less of a solitary endeavor. But when we don’t have a writing session planned, I really don’t have any rituals or habits other than to sit down and start typing.

Shout out back! What for you is the most rewarding part of being an author?

Sharing my stories. Really. Sometimes that sense of having shared comes from a tweet by a reader who enjoyed a book, sometimes it’s reading a new review that’s showed up, sometimes it’s just knowing that my books had a good day of sales and that means someone, somewhere in the world, is jumping into my worlds and (hopefully) enjoying the read.

That truly is an amazing part. If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Writing one-draft wonders. I love writing, and I’m even learning not to hate editing, but the revision process is still the most difficult part of the whole equation. If I could just write a gem of a first draft each time, and not have to do more than tweak a few sentences for consistency before publishing, I would be the happiest little hamster in the cage. (I have no idea what that means. I think I would probably hate being in a cage, but it sounded good when I wrote it. Now we see why I need revision…) Most novels require between 4 and 6 rounds of revision for me, which can be grueling and sometimes take years. Meanwhile, the first draft may only take a couple three months. So yeah, being able to write awesome novels straight off would be fabulous.

Haha! We’d all love that, I think. Thanks so much for dropping by! 🙂

Don’t forget to visit Intisar and her books in the links below!

My Year in Review: Writing in 2014

I have been tagged by the lovely Eli Hinze along with the awesome Intisar Khanani to do an update post, detailing my literary exploits of 2014. Hence, I am here to confess to twelve months of general lack of focus. This year has seen me publish absolutely nothing at all, but that does not mean I haven’t been writing. No, I have been writing a great deal.

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Here we have me with a cup of Early Grey in my natural habitat, seated before a laptop.

I did some stuff with the Argetallam Saga
This year saw me complete the drafts of the fourth and fifth books in Janir’s story and begin the sixth. I have mostly finished editing on the fourth book and that should be published early next year (God and my support team willing) along with the shiny reedited editions of the first three books with pretty, sparkly new covers gorgeously designed by T.L. Shreffler.

I hope to finish drafting the sixth and seventh books in 2015 to release them sometime early 2016.

Around St. Valentine’s I sort of brain-dumped Fanged Princess

The first draft of Fanged Princess 3 was completed *coughcough* January of this year. So why haven’t you gotten it yet? A very good question. An excellent question, in fact. The truth is, it’s not ready. I was distracted with drafting the fifth Argetallam book and then I got distracted with what has been become my guilty side project since spring 2013.

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My favorite mug joining me in my favorite spot (yes, in front of my laptop).

Daindreth’s Assassin is my current vice

I have had a lot of readers tell me they’re excited for this series and asking if it’s published yet, which translates to a lot of pressure since I’m not planning to unveil it until summer 2016.

Writing the first book in this series was my 18th birthday present to myself. I worked on it off and on through the autumn, exploring the characters and the storyline and all of a sudden, everything clicked. I had the plot, the premise, the ending, all of it worked out.

Next thing you know, I’ve completed most the editing on book 1 with ginormous drafts of books 2 and 3 with book 4 more than halfway finished. When I say “ginormous,” I mean that the shortest book caps it off at well over 132,000 words (500-ish pages) and the longest is more like 260,000 words (900-ish pages).

There’s still lots of editing to do on those books (I mean LOTS), plus I’ve been reediting the first three Argetallam books. In other words, I am swamped. I’ve given myself a whole bunch of stuff to get done before I go back to school on January 20th and it’s freaking me out just thinking about it.

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The forecast for 2015?

With a study abroad trip planned for next summer and a full course load at school, it’s anyone’s guess as to what’s actually going to happen. I just know that right now I’m planning to release the first four Argetallam books in the first four months of the year and the third Fanged Princess novella at some point in the summer.

As you can see, despite my lack of publication this year, I have by no means abandoned storytelling, quite the opposite. You people have got a tsunami of Elisabeth’s books headed your way. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a whole bunch of drafting/editing/screaming/panicking to get done.

Top book series I wish had Fandoms

These eight book series are among my All Time Favorites and I believe they are tragically underrated. I see the memes and fangirling for The Hunger Games and The Mortal Instruments, and I can’t help but feel jealous and think “I know of books that are even better!” (Purely my opinion, but I didn’t particularly love The Hunger Games trilogy or City of Bones.) So I cannot hold it in any longer. Here are the top book series I believe should have massive fandoms of screaming fangirls and/or fanboys staying up until 2:00 a.m. to finish the latest installments or mourning the series’ conclusions. This list has expanded since I wrote the post, so you can expect a part 2!

The Cat’s Eye Chronicles by T.L. Shreffler

I discovered this series awhile back and downloaded the first, but only read it until recently. While I thought the first chapter was a bit slow, I quickly became engrossed in the story, only stopping for trivial things like eating. I went and downloaded the second book straightaway and am now living in agony waiting for the fourth/fifth’s release.

The Captive

This was my inaugural foray into vampire love stories. The writing can be rusty in places, but the story is absolutely, positively, awesome and the romance…oh, the romance! I was so sad to see the series end and ecstatic to hear of the author planning a spinoff!

The Sunbolt Chronicles

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From what I have seen, anything by Intisar Khanani is incredible. Her original worlds with heroines who are strong, but still relatable and empathetic are unquestionably underrated. For clean, action-packed, magic-brimming fantasy, Khanani is your go-to source!

Moonlit

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Horses, ancient love, horses, age-old prophecies, sorcery, horses, and a gloriously bad villain, what more could you want? I was not expecting to enjoy this book nearly as much as I did and I was highly impressed with the author’s talent. Definitely one worthy of a fandom and I will be stalking the internet for the first word of the trilogy conclusion.

The Witches’ Sleep by Kaitlyn Deann

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I’m normally not a fan of dystopia-esque stories, but this teen author’s debut novel was the clear exception. Paranormal excitement and political intrigue mix together in perfect harmony for a story that should be read, read, read by as many people as possible.

The Squire’s Tales by Gerald Morris

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Gerald Morris’ ingenious reimagining of the Arthurian legends are among my absolute favorites. Though this is more of an MG series, I am a HUGE fan of these books and wish more people were familiar with them so I could be accompanied in my mad fangirling.

The Guardians of Vesturon by A.M. Hargrove

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Another wonderful romance series from a brilliant mind. Though they might not be for everyone, I find it impossible not to adore monotheistic, honor-conscious, chaste, swoon-worthy aliens and I can’t be the only one. Forget vampire or werewolf, if I had my pick, I’d take a Vesturion Guardian before you could say “shadar.”

 

The Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle

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This series has the singular honor of being the only one I have read beginning to end more than once. I believe Madeleine L’Engle was a true literary genius, on par with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Her stories teach love, forgiveness, and courage in the most beautiful way and we can all learn from those lessons.

Friday Freebie #15 The Bone Knife by Intisar Khanani

The Bone Knife

Rae knows how to look out for family. Born with a deformed foot, she feigns indifference to the pity and insults that come her way. Wary of all things beautiful, Rae instantly distrusts their latest visitor: an appallingly attractive faerie. Further, his presence imperils the secret her sister guards. But when the local townspeople show up demanding his blood, Rae must find a way to protect both her sister’s secret and their guest. Even if that means risking herself.

Blurb and cover from Goodreads

Read my review of The Bone Knife

Download The Bone Knife for free here! (perma-free)

{Cover re-make + Excerpt + Giveaway} Thorn by Intisar Khanani

This book was incredible and one of the very first I reviewed here on Inspelled Faery. I think the new cover does a better job of capturing the story’s feel than any of its previous incarnations and I hope you’ll check it out!

My review of Thorn.

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For Princess Alyrra, choice is a luxury she’s never had … until she’s betrayed.

Princess Alyrra has never enjoyed the security or power of her rank. Between her family’s cruelty and the court’s contempt, she has spent her life in the shadows. Forced to marry a powerful foreign prince, Alyrra embarks on a journey to meet her betrothed with little hope for a better future.

But powerful men have powerful enemies—and now, so does Alyrra. Betrayed during a magical attack, her identity is switched with another woman’s, giving Alyrra the first choice she’s ever had: to start a new life for herself or fight for a prince she’s never met. But Alyrra soon finds that Prince Kestrin is not at all what she expected. While walking away will cost Kestrin his life, returning to the court may cost Alyrra her own. As Alyrra is coming to realize, sometimes the hardest choice means learning to trust herself.

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About the Author

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Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five.

Intisar currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two young daughters. Until recently, she wrote grants and developed projects to address community health and infant mortality with the Cincinnati Health Department—which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy.

Intisar’s latest projects include a serial novella project titled The Sunbolt Chronicles, about a young thief with a propensity to play hero, and her arch-nemesis, a dark mage intent on taking over the Eleven Kingdoms. She’s also developing a companion trilogy to her debut novel Thorn, which will feature a new heroine introduced in her free short story The Bone Knife.

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“Princess Alyrra,” the king says. My eyes flick up to his, my legs frozen in their curtsy. He studies me as if I were a prize goat, his gaze sliding over me before returning to my face, as cold and calculating as a butcher. “We have heard tell of you before.”

“My lord?” My voice sounds unnaturally high even to me.

“It is said you are honest. An unusual trait, it would seem.”

I open my mouth, close it, force some semblance of a smile to my lips. My brother has gone rigid, his hands pressed flat against his thighs.

“You are most kind,” my mother says, stepping forward. The king watches me a moment longer, leaving my mother waiting. I cannot say what he thinks, why he would mention something sure to raise old grievances, why he would care. Or is he only toying with us? Laughing at us?

He turns to my mother, offering her a courtly smile, and at her words he accompanies her up the three stairs and through the great wooden doors of our Hall. My brother and I trail behind him, a mix of our nobles and the king’s entourage on our heels.

“Honest Alyrra,” my brother mocks, his voice loud enough for those nearest us to hear. “What a very clever, sophisticated princess you must be.”

I bite my lip. It is going to be a long week, watching my back and hiding down corridors. And with so many guests, the wine and ale will flow freely, which will make things even worse. Just leave, I think at the king’s back. Just go home and leave us alone.

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A Cause for Concern: The Rights of the Unborn

I must admit that I’m more than a little scared writing on the topic of the cause I’m passionate about because I’m not really sure how many of you will hate me forever after reading this. This isn’t something I’ve discussed openly before, so forgive me if I come across as a bit strong. I have friends who disagree with me and even family members who hold different beliefs. This is going to be a lot heavier than the posts I usually write and I promise we’ll be more peppy, lively content after this, but this is what I believe and I think I have a responsibility to share it.

I would like to talk about the human right to life. I am convinced that no human being should be denied their right for the chance to live. Every day in the United States alone, more than 3,000 children are denied that chance. In New York City, for every African-American child delivered, the mothers of more than 1,400 chose not to have them. Ninety percent of children pre-natally diagnosed with Down Syndrome are never allowed to be born.

I think it upsetting that in an age where we claim to live in the most advanced era mankind has yet seen, that we so blatantly trample the rights of the smallest and most helpless of our race in the name of choice. We speak of freedom for women, but too easily forget those who cannot even speak for themselves or, in some cases, overlook the fact that a woman has chosen to terminate her pregnancy with a girl in hopes of later conceiving a boy. The unborn have done nothing to warrant a death sentence. In the case of unwanted pregnancies, there are many alternatives which do not involve ending an innocent life.

And though it is an extremely unpopular way of thinking, I do not believe that how a child came into being should dictate whether or not they are allowed to live. None of us had any say in how we came to exist and I think it unjust that babies be punished for what they cannot control.

I’m probably going to be metaphorically taken out and shot for this post, but I hope that people will keep an open mind and agree to disagree if they feel differently. As controversial and politically incorrect as it is, I believe that a person is a person from the moment of conception and that every person should be given the chance to live in this beautiful planet we call home.

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“A Cause for Concern” celebrates the release of Sunbolt, a YA fantasy novella by Intisar Khanani. Sunbolt tells the story of Hitomi, a young woman with a propensity to play hero when people need saving, and her nemesis, a dark mage slowly amassing power in a bid to control the Eleven Kingdoms. Stories often have an issue at their heart, however big or small, global or personal. This week offers a chance for bloggers (and readers) who love stories to share the issues that are close to their hearts. What do you wish you could change in the world?

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Sunbolt (The Sunbolt Chronicles, #1)

The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame.

When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life

Add Sunbolt to Goodreads

Find Sunbolt on Amazon

Find Sunbolt on BN.com

Find Sunbolt on Kobo

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Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five. She currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two young daughters. Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. Intisar’s next two projects include a companion trilogy to Thorn, following the heroine introduced in her short story The Bone Knife, and The Sunbolt Chronicles, a novella serial following a young mage with a propensity to play hero, and her nemesis, a dark mage intent on taking over the Eleven Kingdoms.

Visit Intisar’s website

Connect with Intisar on Facebook

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The author will be offering a giveaway of $100 to a charity of the winner’s choice. Author and artist T.L. Shreffler will offer an original signed print depicting a scene from the heart of one of her stories as the second place prize. There are some signed books (The Girl of Fire and Thorns, XVI and The Silver Sea). The giveaway is international; winners of the secondary prizes will receive a $10 gift card in lieu of the prize due to high shipping rates.
 
 
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T.L. Shreffler on her “Cause for Concern” artwork:
 “My “Cause for Concern” is the steadily declining quality of our natural habitat: the earth. We have holes in the ozone layer, global warming, polluted oceans and diminishing forests. I think it is our duty as humans to nurture the earth and protect it, especially because it is in our power to do so. This piece of art represents the love and reverence that we should hold for mother earth.”
 
 

Release Day Review: Sunbolt (The Sunbolt Chronicles, #1) by Intisar Khanani

Sunbolt (The Sunbolt Chronicles, #1)

The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame.

When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life.

Blurb and cover from Goodreads

5 out of 5 stars

It seems to be a matter of course that I love what this author writes—probably because she writes about a lot of fighting and a lot of magic. Sunbolt is a fast-paced, quick read that still has excellent character development and world-building packed into less than 200 pages.

The plot:

This novella is clearly setting it up for the rest of the series as we are introduced to a cast of dynamic, dimensional, and diverse characters in a short space of time. This story moves quickly, yet still manages to flesh out the individuals and the setting in a way that they are memorable and have stuck with me. There are a lot of questions asked throughout this book and though it ends satisfactorily, by the end we are left ravenously hungry for answers, a cruel plot by the author, no doubt, to make us lust after the next series installment.

The characters:

Hitomi was a type of character I have been missing lately—strong, brave, smart, yet compassionate. I especially like how she was willing to forfeit her life for people she barely knew, even ones who had betrayed her, and how she was courageous even when it looked like there was no way out. She’s been through a lot, will doubtless go through a lot more, but doesn’t crack under pressure and tries to do the right thing.

I’m trying to figure out if I can mention one of my favorite characters without giving spoilers… We’ll just say that I am passionately hoping we get to meet him again in the next novella. Dangerous, dark, more than capable of brutality, yet still with an underlying sense of honor and more good than he cares to show. I think he likes Hitomi, but I might be reading that into the story, I’m not sure.

I cannot wait for the next novella in this series. I adore this series and I highly, highly recommend this book as well as the author’s other works. So go, go, go! Read this and then we can all gush over it!

Add Sunbolt to Goodreads

Find Sunbolt on Amazon

Find Sunbolt on BN.com

Find Sunbolt on Kobo