City of Shattered Light is Claire Winn’s debut novel, a pretty exciting and promising debut. It’s longer than many books I’ve read lately but I read it in a couple of days, I didn’t want to put it down.
Asanna Almeida is the heir to her father’s tech company. All she’s ever known is her sheltered life on Cortellion with her beloved sister Kaya. When it becomes clear that her father is pushing the experiments on Kaya’s brain too far, the sisters plan their escape. On Cortellion’s moon Requiem, Riven Hawthorne is a smuggler trying to build up a reputation so she can protect her crew. The (former) rich girl and the outlaw and her friends join forces when a murderous A.I. creates chaos all around them.
It took a few pages to get used to this world but it was surprisingly easy. Claire Winn drops the reader in the middle of the action right from the start and never lets go, not giving her characters or the readers much time to catch their breath. One of the chapters is titled “Prison, Again”, and it’s a good summary of everything Asa, Riven, and the crew go through while trying to save Kaya and the people of Requiem. Whenever they think they finally made it, something happens to hold them back.
I have conflicting feelings about this book, though mostly positive ones. I enjoyed reading it, letting myself get carried away in a breathless adventure. As I wrote above, I read it pretty quickly yet felt it dragging a little at times. I liked the characters, even if Riven isn’t completely consistent and the rest of the crew – except sweet Ty, who is close to being a third MC – could be more developed. Also, I’m not sure why they’re all so young. The main characters are seventeen and eighteen. It doesn’t feel right all the time, there are moments in the story where it seemed they should have been closer to twenty-five. It doesn’t really matter but I wonder why the author chose to write them so young. It seems really gory for a YA novel.
That said, I liked the deeper questions the story asks: Who can you trust? Is it wrong to be trusting? Are you responsible for a terrible event your work made possible if you didn’t know anything about it? It’s all about lessons learned and growing as an individual and as part of a team.
Since City of Shattered Light (I like this title a lot) is a YA novel, the romance – a bisexual love triangle – is there but on the light side. It’s not the main focus of the action, which is saving Asa’s sister and the world at the same time.
The epilogue leaves the door open to a sequel, and I’m looking forward to it. And if you’re curious to see what the characters look like, the author introduces them in this Twitter thread (and here for Riven).