A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is based on the Mahabharata and other Indian (as in the continent) texts. I've classified it as "science fantasy" because that's exactly what it is: some trappings of science fiction with a whole lot of high fantasy buttercream frosting layered on top. We have celestial realms, gods and goddesses (although they reminded me of Star Trek's mercurial, capricious Q more than anything else), castles built on space stations, sentient warships, and a supremely dysfunctional family that seems to be hellbent on destroying one another.
Esmae is our protagonist, the long lost daughter of the King of Kali, who was sent away (actually cast into deep space in a pod with the expectation that she would never be found) because of a prophecy that she would bring her family to ruin. Seventeen years later, having grown up on the spaceship kingdom of Wychstar, she enters an archery competition (and I use "enter" very loosely--she simply walks up to the target after everyone else has already shot and shoots the remaining arrow squarely into it before anyone can stop her) to win the sentient warship Titania. Everyone expects that Alexi Rey, the golden boy who is the banished prince of another spaceship kingdom, Kali, will triumph. But Esmae beats him at his own game--and in the process reveals she is his long-lost twin sister Alexa.
The King of Kali gives the final decision of who would possess her to Titania herself, and the ship chooses Esmae. So Esmae goes to Kali and takes her place as a princess and possible heir to the throne. Of course, she has an ulterior motive: she hates the current ruling King, her uncle who she believes wrongfully took the throne from her late father and Alexi, and she plans to bring him down from within.
This story is rife with politics, competing factions, and court intrigue, and Esmae gradually realizes things are not as straightforward and black and white as she always thought. She is torn between her brother and her uncle, as well as her uncle's adopted son and heir, Max. (There is a bit of romance, but it's understated and not the main thrust of the story, which is refreshing.) As time goes on, her feelings of hatred and the certainly of her revenge begin to wane. Nothing is as it first seemed, and Esmae is torn between conflicting loyalties.
This story is extremely well written with excellent characterization, and while the combining of SF and fantasy might sound a little odd, for the most part the author pulls it off. I ripped through this book and will certainly go looking for the rest of the trilogy.
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