Sunshield (Outlaw Road book 1) by Emily B. Martin (book review).

June 15, 2020 | By | Reply More

Lark has always had to fight. Everything she owns, including her name, she had to take for herself. As a child, Lark escaped slavery by running into the Ferinno Desert. Rescued by a rough gang of cattle rustlers, she has learned the harsh ways of the desert and the pitiless political no-mans-land the Ferinno exists in. Moquoia’s industrial society runs on sweat of slaves and indentured workers. People from all over the world are bought, swindled and stolen to feed the factories and quarries.

With sea routes blocked to slave ships, these poor unfortunates are taken through the harsh sands of Ferinno. No one helped Lark, so she will help others cast off their chains. Robbing coaches and freeing slaves as the Sunshield Bandit with little training and few resources is difficult and dangerous but she’s been able to make it work. It was hijacking that rich scholar that ruined it all.

Prince Veran Greenbrier lives worlds away from the Ferinno in the dense forests of the Silverwood Mountains. Struggling to distinguish himself as more than a coddled youngest son, Veran has used his talent for languages to join a joint diplomatic mission to Moquoia to try and end slavery. He thought his worst troubles were the fashionable shoes and his own ethnocentric bias. He thought they had an ally in the Prince of Moquoia. He thought the most dangerous thing he would have to deal with was catching the fever going around. He should have known it wouldn’t be that simple.

Welcome to the Ferinno. A wild west that meets many a stereotype, the hats pulled low over the eyes, dusty horses and ugly coyote-dogs, but this wild west manages to also be distinctly a fantasy setting as well, albeit a low-magic one. Caught between two conflicting political ideologies, the Ferinno Desert has capitalism on one side and a more eco-friendly anti-slavery agenda on the other. Those that live there are of either side or both or neither, most more focused on their own survival in the harsh conditions that the wheeling and dealing that happens so far away. This harsh setting gives rise to some wonderful imagery and honed characters.

The point of view switches between several characters, though primarily between Lark and Veran. Lark is magnificent. Angry, loyal, deeply committed to fighting her cause her way. At times, I wanted to shake her for determinedly denying logical solutions but at others I wanted to raise my first in solidarity. In Veran’s character, the experiences of Martin as a park ranger become noticeable. The way he sees the world is from one deeply aware of the natural world and how it all interrelates. Both Lark and Veran have a strong anxious streak and worry about how they and their actions are perceived by others. Despite the deep culture clash between them, in hindsight I can see how their methods of dealing with their anxieties are not all that dissimilar.

While I found the ‘big reveal’ to not be much of a surprise that reaction was displaced by the wonderfully real reactions of the characters in question. Nothing is tied up in a pretty bow for a happily ever after. ‘Sunshield’ is too real for that fairy tale ending. Instead, the various shades of black and white and grey are dappled across a situation that shows every person has their own distinct strengths and weaknesses.

The clash of cultures and the risk of ethnocentric bias is a common thread throughout the novel but woven through that very good message is another. Able-ism. That sometimes your effort to help is not helpful, despite any difficulties you might perceive. Everyone has their strengths. Protection isn’t always safety.

More than any novel ‘Sunshield’ brings to mind the TV show ‘Firefly’ with its Western tropes well placed into a different locale. In style, ‘Sunshield’ has many similarities to Leigh Bardugo’s ‘Six Of Crows’ duology with the shifts in point of view and the depth of world building. ‘Sunshield’ is set in the same world as Martin’s ‘Creatures Of The Light’ series which I didn’t discover until I’d finished. Martin has done an excellent job of world-building that makes me excited to explore further, especially since some characters and plots seem to be linked as well.

LR Richardson

June 2020

(pub: Harper Voyager, 2020. 432 page paperback. Price: $16.99 (US), $21.00 (CAN), £11.44 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-06288-856-3

check out website: www.harpercollins.com

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Category: Books, Scifi

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