#RRSciFiMonth: Radiant by Karina Sumner-Smith
Sci-Fi November is a month-long blog event hosted by Oh The Books and Rinn Reads this year, created to celebrate everything amazing about science fiction! From TV shows to movies, books to comics, and everything else in between, it is intended to help science fiction lovers share their love and passion for this genre and its many, many fandoms.
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of The Towers Trilogy
Publisher: Talos (September 30, 2014)
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Is Radiant science fiction? Or is it fantasy? Perhaps it is both, just as I like to think this book could fit comfortably in both the Adult and Young Adult categories. No matter how you look at it, it seems there’s something for everyone in this brilliant and unique cross-genre piece from debut novelist Karina Sumner-Smith.
It all begins with a ghost. Teenager Xhea may have been born without magic – not one bit at all – but she has a power that allows her to see and speak to the dead. Forced to live in the Lower City where those with little to no magic struggle to eke out a living, Xhea manages to survive by scavenging and selling her services to the haunted, offering to take on their ghostly burdens for a few days in exchange for some food or money.
This is how Shai comes into Xhea’s life. Even as a ghost, Shai has so much magic that she can use it to generate the power that keeps the floating towers of the city’s upper class supplied with endless fuel and energy. This is because Shai is a Radiant, a rare individual who is literally a magic generator and there are powerful factions out there who will stop at nothing to get their hands on her. To these individuals, Shai is nothing but a tool. They care nothing about the pain and torture her ghost will endure, and it is up to Xhea to protect and fight for her new phantom friend.
The story of Radiant revolves around this incredibly beautiful relationship. Xhea is a down-on-her-luck outcast who has survived years of abuse and trauma. Shai is a dead girl who, in her living years, only knew a life of luxury and comfort, albeit burdened with the responsibility of being a Radiant. And yet, a friendship is forged between these two very different characters, and the bond only strengthens with every page.
This central dynamic serves as the novel’s entire backbone, and I’m glad for it. There is very little fluff or filler content to distract from the main plot, no stale romantic arcs or angsty teenage drama to get in the way, just a compelling journey of two strong young women who go through many adventures and much strife in order to help one another. Even divided into three parts, the story is tightly told, and I enjoyed Sumner-Smith’s straightforward and easy-on-the-eyes writing style. She doesn’t go overboard with descriptions or the details of the characters’ backgrounds, providing enough to keep the reader engaged yet also satisfy the folks like me who crave world building and character development.
The remarkable friendship between Xhea and Shai alone makes this a very special novel, but I also loved the world the author has created here. Like I alluded to in my introduction, it would be impossible to assign just one genre to Radiant – and quite honestly, it wouldn’t do the book justice if I did. There’s a mix of so many things here. Potent magical spells existing in harmony with advanced technology. The images of glimmering gargantuan towers in the sky suggest a futuristic setting, while the dirty and crumbling ruins of buildings and defunct subway tunnels in the Lower City are reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic dystopian. Mindless, shambling undead creatures resembling zombies stalk the broken streets at night, injecting a bit of horror into this already mind-blowing blend of spec fic elements.
Radiant truly stands out. As a debut novel from an author already highly acclaimed for her short stories, there is a quality of rawness to some parts of it, but it’s nevertheless a very polished and great book. Karina Sumner-Smith is one to watch, and I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the next installment in the Towers Trilogy.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Talos/Skyhorse Publishing!