Review: Sunshield by Emily B. Martin

Rating: 6.0/10

Synopsis

A lawless wilderness. A polished court. Individual fates, each on a quest to expose a system of corruption.

The desolate canyons of Alcoro – and the people desperate enough to hide there – couldn’t be more different from the opulent glass palace and lush forests of Moquoia. But the harsh desert and gleaming court are linked through their past, present, and future: a history of abductions in the desert to power Moquoia’s quarries and factories, and a bleak, inhumane future built on the sweat and sacrifice of these bond laborers.

But events unfolding in the present could change everything. In the desert, outlaw Lark – known to most as the Sunshield Bandit – has built a name for herself attacking slavers’ wagons and freeing the captives inside. But while she shakes the foundation of Moquoia’s stratified society, she also has to fight to protect her rescuees – and herself – from the unforgiving world around them.

In the Moquoian court, young ambassador Veran hopes to finally make his mark by dismantling the unjust labor system, if he can navigate the strict hierarchy and inexplicable hostility of the prince.

And caught in the middle of it all, Tamsin is trapped within four walls, the epicenter of a secret political coup to overthrow the Moquoian monarchy and perpetuate the age-old system of injustice.

Separated by seas of trees and sand, the outlaw, the diplomat, and the prisoner are more connected than anyone realizes. Their personal fates might just tip the balance of power in the Eastern World – if that very power doesn’t destroy them first.

Review

Thanks to the publisher and author for an advance reading copy of Sunshield for review consideration. This did not influence my thoughts or opinions on the novel.

Sunshield is an enjoyable fantasy western that, for me, took a little too long to find its groove. Having said that, once the storylines began to converge, the plot and pacing picked up speed and lead to a satisfying conclusion.

So yeah, fantasy western. Haven’t seen many of those in my time as a reviewer (or as a reader for that matter). Martin definitely excels at bringing the reader into her world with some fantastic world-building. You can feel the heat lifting up from the sand and see the desolate canyons in all their… desolation? The characters are also enjoyable on their own right, though they could get frustrating at times. I know not everyone that reads want flawless characters running amok, but there are times when a sense of surroundings and forward thinking are key to engagement.

I enjoy stories about outlaws, and Lark was a very interesting character to follow. How she got to this point in her life, the paths she had to take, etc. but there is a ton of exposition in the early going that almost had me setting the book aside. I’m all for quick hooks in fantasy/sci-fi novels because a majority take up a big chunk of time to get through; thrillers and horror novels can be slow burns because there is always an expectation of the climax being toward the end, with little or no character development.

You also have Tamsin who, to be honest, didn’t have much of a role until about the last 1/4 of the book. A majority of her tale was tidbits thrown in here or there that tended to throw off the pacing of the overarching story, but there is a good payoff if you stick around. Then you have Veran, who I really did enjoy except for his constant backtracking and doddering around.

I actually added this title to my TBR simply based on a chat I had with Teresa Frohock (author of the Los Nefilim series from Harper Voyager) a couple of months ago, not knowing a single thing about it or about the author, Emily B. Martin. I can definitely see why T. was so over the moon about Sunshield and I think I would have been as well had the pacing been a bit more balanced, and the characters been a little less… naive. Something about characters always second-guessing their actions leaves a bit to be desired, though I know we all struggle with indecision from time to time.

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