Book Review: Sunshield by Emily B. Martin

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Sunshield by Emily B. Martin

Mogsy’s rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1

Publisher: Harper Voyager (May 26, 2020)

Length: 432 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Desolate canyons. A lawless wilderness. Bands of outlaws roaming the frontier and attacking traveling wagons. All this in the publisher’s description for Sunshield should have clued me in to what I was in for, but I was still pleasantly surprised when I started this novel to find a fantasy western. Lark is our protagonist, known to the world as the Sunshield Bandit because of her shining mirrored buckler and the reflected sunlight she uses as a weapon. Her targets are the slave caravans that move across the desert, fueling so much of the human misery and injustice in Alcoro. After killing the slavers and stealing their money, Lark also does her best to return the captives to their rightful homes, but the care of so many people requires a lot of resources—resources that she doesn’t have, and that the dusty plains can’t provide. Lark and her own crew are barely surviving as it is.

Meanwhile, far away in the Moquoian court, things couldn’t be any more different. A shining palace of luxury stands amidst a lush forested land, all built upon the backs of slavery and human trafficking. Veran is a young ambassador who has traveled to Moquoia on a mission of diplomacy to negotiate better labor practices on behalf of his people, but to his dismay finds little cooperation from the nobles, least of all the prince, who even seems visibly upset at his presence for some reason. Whether the monarchy likes it or not, however, great change is on the horizon. As the kingdom comes under attack by a nefarious plot to overthrow the crown, Veran is thrust into a precarious alliance with none other than the Sunshield Bandit herself, the two of them forced to work together to resolve a mysterious abduction.

Sunshield certainly wasn’t bad, but it did suffer from a few issues that made me look up the book and author to see if it was a debut (it is not). Namely it was the uneven pacing that made parts of the story a struggle, especially in the first half where the plot took such a long time to take off or even get interesting. The exhausting amount of exposition slows things down further still, such as the lengthy paragraphs of Lark waxing poetic about her many tattoos, describing and reminiscing over each and every one of them in great detail. While I can certainly appreciate the sentiment, moments such as these were ultimately distracting and unnecessary, given the priority in your intro should be quickly establishing a hook. But unfortunately, I’d say this novel didn’t even pick up in earnest until well into its later sections, when Lark and Veran’s story lines finally converged.

Speaking of which, I found the characters to be interesting and well-written, though perhaps not so unique when you strip away surface-level features. Personality-wise, Lark is your typical rebel female heroine, often too proud to do the most logical and sensible thing even when it would benefit a whole lot more people than herself. Considering how long she’d lived her life independently, having to take care of herself and others under constantly changing circumstances, it is also shocking how incapable she is of flexibility or controlling her own emotions. Then there’s Veran, who is genuinely likeable and sweet, though his naivete makes his chapters at court very difficult to read. Constantly second-guessing and repeatedly beating himself up for his stupid mistakes got old after a while, especially since he just kept stumbling into the same traps without learning a thing. And finally, there’s Tamsin, a third POV who’s perhaps the most frustrating of all because her role doesn’t become significant until close to the end of the book. This made her early sections somewhat tedious, knowing little about her situation at that point other than she is being held captive and treated very poorly. To be honest, I skimmed many of her chapters, and seeing as they were kept deliberately short and vague anyhow, I didn’t feel like I missed much.

Still, my love for fantasy westerns absolutely helped. The world-building was fantastic, and the novel’s setting alone made this venture worth it in my eyes, since I have such a soft spot for frontier wilderness landscapes and tales involving outlaws and rebels. Of course, I still wish I had enjoyed Sunshield a bit more, but certain character flaws coupled with the unbalanced pacing of the story held me back from embracing this one fully. The cliffhanger ending was also a point of aggravation because it drops a major revelation for the characters while doing little to resolve their emotions afterwards, resulting in a conclusion that feels interrupted rather than complete. While I’m still open to the possibility of reading the next book, I think I will need to know that certain issues will be ironed out.

29 Comments on “Book Review: Sunshield by Emily B. Martin”

  1. Awesome review! It seems like there’s some imbalance in the author’s writing (especially given your comments on the pacing) that would make it hard to read as a thick fantasy book. Still glad you enjoyed the characters though!

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  2. Oh yes I think I saw the cover around but even if it’s an ok book it’s a bit too bad that it wasn”t more

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  3. Great review. Despite the issues that you had with this I am pretty tempted to read it still (eventually at least, I do have a LOT of higher priority reads to pick up first) as the world sounds fascinating.

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  4. I do enjoy frontier wilderness stories, but I find myself less drawn to western or western-style stories. And yet I thoroughly enjoyed the show Firefly, which was very much a western in space. So I suppose I’m open to it. I’ll probably hold off on this one for now, but keep it in mind if I get a craving for this sort of tale, especially if future books in the series get better.

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    • Definitely, I like how there are so many different styles of western stories, even though they share so many thematic similarities. I love frontier wilderness settings myself, and “outlaw” type characters, but I guess that’s pretty broad 😛

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  5. I have to admit that fantasy westerns are so rare! 😮 I think the only one I read that sort of fits this is King’s The Gunslinger. Sorry to hear about the pacing issues and lack of originality in these characters. Hope the next book, if you plan on trying it out, works better for you though! Excellent review as always.

    Did I ever tell you that the way you summarize novels is incredible? 😮 I don’t know how you’re able to do it so perfectly, capturing the world in itself and all.

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    • Yes, they’re definitely rarer, but they’re out there! Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country is one of the best I’ve read that come to mind 😀 I tried the Gunslinger, but I guess I just couldn’t get into the character or the weirdness of the world, but that’s a great example too!

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    • P.S. Thank you for your kind words about my summaries, lol! I think they’re actually the hardest part of the review to write, but I always include them because they also help me when years later I can’t remember what the book was about 😛 Reading my summaries usually jog my memory!

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  6. The setting sounds truly interesting, particularly when you speak of those huge desert wastes and the slave caravans, but the characterization seems to offset such an intriguing background far too much. Still, I will look forward to your take on the sequel, because if the story and character development get tighter, this might turn out to be an interesting read…
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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    • Yeah nothing is more frustrating than a book with a decent story, good world-building, but weak characters. I’ll have to see how character development goes in the next book before I decide if I’m going to continue with the series!

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  7. I’ve been seeing this one around and while the cover is awesome, I haven’t quite committed to it yet. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

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  8. Great review, probably not for me with the slow pacing issues – although I will keep an open mind for now and wait to see if you decide to pick up No.2.
    Lynn 😀

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  9. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 05/30/20: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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