Continuing with project catch up, and this time I am belatedly hopping on the Starbinder blog tour with a repost of my original review (spoiler, I love this book!) and an extract to whet your appetite.
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
Forged in betrayal. Tempered by the stellar winds. Chosen by the stars.
For five hundred years since the Sundering, the order of the Shaluay Starbinders has been dwindling. With their Starwells lying dormant, key artefacts of their order lost and their seers driven mad by the powers that broke the world, only one hope remains to the man who leads them; a fifteen year old girl.
Born to a clan of Wanderers, Reiana has been raised by a harsh grandmother who blames her for the death of her daughter, Reiana’s own mother. When bandits attack the clan’s camp, Reiana leaves the safety of the caravans to pursue the abductor of her younger cousin, heedless of the dangers.
But when a creature of the Void takes notice can Reiana’s own untapped abilities save her, or will the truth of a betrayal see her lost forever?
Starbinder is an action-packed prequel novella to The Blood of the Spear. If you like flawed heroes, fast-paced storytelling, and intricate world-building, then you’ll Love Mark Timmony’s character-driven introduction to the epic fantasy series, The Eye of Eternity.
Book Review (Repost):
I was over the moon when I was offered an arc for this one because I adored Blood of the Spear when I read it last year and I was excited to spend more time in this world. Starbinder did not disappoint, and I ended up reading it the same day I received it – and cursing the fact that work interrupted my reading.
‘But it is her story you want. Not mine. No, never mine.’
I always fall firmly on the side of loving prologues, but especially ones like Timmony has done here, which is not only from a different POV, but also first person. It immediately drew me into the book, and I was sold before I’d even finished the first page. An absolutely fantastic way of setting the scene, delivering some delicious worldbuilding and with that level of intrigue that has you immediately carrying on to find out what was happening. I also liked that the prologue not only set up the book but also the wider story and leaves us with the promise of more to come – and I just loved everything about this progue.
‘But books are not the only thing of which the Ardes Librantus are conservators. The world within Arleth’taur, the Cradle of the Stars, contains histories as well as prophecies, works of art as well as books and scrolls, nightmares as well as dreams.’
Starbinder once again demonstrates Timmony’s talent for worldbuilding and weaving that information into the story, but what I love about this novella is that the scope is entirely different. Whereas Blood of the Spear is very much epic fantasy, Starbinder straddles an interesting border between feeling both smaller and more personal in scale – focusing on a narrow location, and a small main cast – but also broader, in that we get to see much more of the universe, of the links between the stars. It was a fascinating combination, and Timmony does it beautifully here, and still captures that wonderful feeling that there is so much more to discover (something that I love to see and feel in books).
I should say that it is not necessary to have read Blood of the Spear before picking up Starbinder, and this novella is a wonderful entry point to this series and world, but if like me you have read the first book then there are some easter eggs to be found. But, staying with the worldbuilding, this novella is very clever in that it builds on the worldbuilding done in that first book for return readers, but also lays more foundations for the world and histories so both new readers and returning readers get to experience new aspects of the world.
Again, this story was very character driven and Timmony does a fantastic job of establishing these characters in a short space of time. One of the aspects I particularly liked was that it offered different viewpoints on the idea of prophecy and destiny from all sides of the prophecy in question, and even more that you could see how both those reactions and views were shaped by the relationships between the characters, but also how in turn that prophecy shaped the relationships. Reiana was an interesting character – and resonated very strongly with me for several reasons. She was also the character that caught me most by surprise and had me on the edge of my seat at one point. While Relosa was a fascinating example of what can happen when a prophecy is in play, and even though I did want to shout at her more than once, I do love what Timmony did with her character – and also that there was a cost to all her choices. Another aspect I loved with the characters was that there is a very different feel between the grounded people of the Wanders, the otherworldly Zurzic (and oh my goodness, I wanted more or him!) and the celestial, almost omnipresence of the Starbinders – it made for some fantastic character dynamics.
Prophecy when done well is one of my favourite things to read about, and it is something that Timmony has played with skillfully throughout the series, but perhaps because it was more concentrated here, it shone even more brightly. I just love how it played into so many layers of the characters, the plot and the worldbuilding – and honestly, I just want more of this!
I can’t recommend Starbinder, and the entire Eye of Eternity series highly enough. Timmony is an excellent writer, and this novella has me even more excited for where he will take this series, and I will certainly be grabbing a physical copy of this novella once it’s available. So, if you’ve already read BOTS then this is another fantastic addition to the series, or if you’re looking for a new epic fantasy series which shines across the board then is a great entry point to the Eye of Eternity.
When I first came upon the Face, I was newly raised to the rank of Seer. My cora’stone was still uncoloured, though as much a part of me as the air within my lungs.
As an initiate, I had not known the depths of Arleth’taur nor the secrets we Shaluay Starbinders kept. I had learnt of the outer world, the stars around Sobia and the history of the realms. As a Seer, I had been presented before the Probability Matrix, deemed worthy and given access to the libraries to better research and understand what I Saw.
But books are not the only thing of which the Ardes Librantus are conservators. The world within Arleth’taur, the Cradle of the Stars, contains histories as well as prophecies, works of art as well as books and scrolls, nightmares as well as dreams.
My daemon was trapped within the Face.
I did not know its nature when first I saw it. The quantstructs of the Shaluay often mimic life, and intelligence. I found the Face—an enormous head sculpted from metal—in a room of water, the floors and walls running with it. It rested on the floor, untouched by rust, staring at a dark ceiling and weeping red tears.
I was not meant to be in this room, but having been born to the Imperial family, I had been denied nothing and thought I knew better than my teachers.
The levels that were forbidden in Arleth’taur are the ones I sought. It was only after I Fell that I understood they were restricted with good reason.
Its voice was soft, gentle. It reminded me of the mother I had lost long ago. It enticed me, lowered my defences, and baited me with the tiniest hint of the knowledge I craved.
There is a reason the Shaluay keep their initiates sheltered, just as the Ciralys do for those who can see the Light of the Eye. But I was strong, the strongest my teachers had found in a hundred years, though in the end, I was not so strong as she who came after.
Pride. It is ever the downfall of humanity. The daemon in the Face spun its web to entice me, and I was caught without protest. I let it in, and it would not leave. It did not force me; it didn’t have to. I worked with it willingly. I wanted power, and it offered that to me, as long as I allowed it to use my body, as long as I gave it the freedom to work the will of its Daemon Queen by my hand.
But it is not my story you come seeking, oh no. It is hers. She who found the Empyros and returned the Summoners to our world. She who reforged the Shaluay and reignited the Starwells. She who discovered the truth of my captor and returned it, and me, to this Face that had been built to contain it. Leaving it—leaving me—trapped here forever, a warning, a cautionary tale, that the denizens of the Void do not just seek to possess those who can wield Asai.
But it is her story you want. Not mine. No, never mine.
Come then, stranger. Sit and hear the advent of the Queen of the Stars.
“DON’T EVEN THINK about screaming!”
Reiana gasped as she was grabbed from behind, hands covering her eyes. “Oh, no,” she said after the initial surprise had given way. “Please, don’t hurt me!”
“What will you give me in exchange for letting you go?” Pren’s voice, a voice as familiar to her as her own, growled in her ear.
“Well, if you let me go, I might let you eat tonight instead of stabbing you!” Reiana grabbed the dagger at her waist.
“You should stab him anyway,” Esmelda said to Reiana’s right. They were standing before the cauldron that sat at the centre of the caravan circle, the Heartspace of the clan. Across from them, others were drinking and talking, whittling wood or knitting as they waited for the clan hunters to return.
“Aww, that’s not nice, Essie!” Pren protested with a laugh. “I made that dagger for you, Rei; you can’t stab me with it.”
Reiana’s vision returned as Pren removed his hands from her eyes and dropped them around her waist before leaning forward and kissing her cheek.
“My name is Esmelda, or Mistress Dalna if you don’t behave yourself, Prenik Hod!”
Reiana laughed at the older woman’s gruff tone. Esmelda was never truly angry with anyone.
“And leave Reiana alone,” Esmelda said. “None of that until you’re sixteen and betrothed.”
“I can’t wait until I’m sixteen,” Reiana said, joy filling her. “Then we can truly be together—”
“That’s not going to happen.” Reiana’s heart sank as her grandmother joined them. “Reiana isn’t for the likes of you, Prenik Hod.”
Reiana turned to face the fierce old woman. Dressed in a black skirt and blouse, with a cream shawl around her shoulders and a yellow stone pendant just like Reiana’s own, Relosa Milin glared at them both.
“Listening to you, Mistress Milin, Reiana isn’t for the likes of anyone,” Pren said, but he let Reiana go and stepped back.
“Certainly not a cripple.”
“Gran!” Reiana protested.
“Don’t speak back to me, girl. I raised you and you’ll do what I tell you to!”
“One leg a little shorter than the other does not make Pren a cripple, Relosa,” Esmelda said with a sniff.
“Mind your own business,” Relosa snapped.
Esmelda shook her head. “You, of all people, should know better, Relosa Milin.” Reiana watched her smile at Pren. “I’m going to get more carrots.”
Pren’s cheeks flushed as he ran a hand through his dirty blonde hair. She wanted to go to him but knew better than to do so in front of her grandmother. Pren met her eyes and gave her a sad smile. Shame flooded her, and Reiana dropped her gaze. She wouldn’t speak up in front of her grandmother, and what was worse, Pren wouldn’t expect her to. He knew what her life was like with her grandmother. They’d talked about it often enough in the times she was able to sneak away. Guilt at her cowardice burned in her chest.
“Well,” Pren said, “it’s a good thing one short leg doesn’t hamper me working met—”
“Raiders!” The cry came from beyond the caravans.
Across the camp, the clan dogs began to bark, and somebody screamed.
Reiana gave a start as clansfolk jumped to their feet from their places around the fire and dashed out of caravans, swords and daggers in their hands.
“Pren, no!” Reiana couldn’t help protesting as she noticed the dagger he drew from the sheath at his waist.
“I have to, Rei,” he said. “We all have to protect the clan.”
“Yes,” Relosa said. “Maybe you’ll be able to stick one of them before you trip over your own feet.”
Reiana looked at her grandmother, fury whipping through her. Pren touched her arm and she turned to him. He shook his head, giving her a wink, but she could see her grandmother’s barb had struck home. He turned and moved off at speed, his limp barely slowing him.
“Stop mooning over that boy like a lovesick calf. Foolish girl. Get the children!” her grandmother said.
Reiana pulled her eyes away from Pren’s broad back and stared across the Heartspace. “Jana has them,” she said as the portly woman bustled the children who had been playing games into her wagon. Jana would keep them all safe, and her great mastiff, Keren, a fierce old dog, would guard the bolted door while Pren and the other clansfolk defended them from the raiders.
“I told you before, don’t speak back to me!”
Reiana saw movement from the corner of her eye and then her head reeled, her cheek stinging and the skin heating under the imprint of her grandmother’s palm, but she knew better than to cry out.
Shouts and the clash of steel came from the other side of the ringed wagons. Snarls and growls filled the air along with yelps of pain, and her mind turned to Pren. He wasn’t a warrior. He’d only ever learnt the basics and spent more time with Master Korig learning to forge—
Reiana gasped as her grandmother grabbed her arm in a bruising grip, the sleeves of her thin white blouse doing as little to protect her flesh from the pincer-like fingers as it did from the chill that was rolling down the mountains as the sun set.
“Find your cousin. Make sure he’s safe!”
Only when her grandmother dropped her arm, did Reiana move; it wasn’t worth the trouble that would come if she tried to back away before she’d been let go. She turned her head, silently cursing the tears that welled in her eyes. No! She’d promised herself she wouldn’t cry at the things her grandmother said ever again. She wouldn’t!
Reiana searched the Heartspace; the flickering light of the firepit and lanterns mingled with the rainbow-hued reflections of the stained glass of wagon windows, throwing a confusion of shadows across the space. Where was Toban? He hadn’t been with the other children, and Uncle Jaril refused to take his five-year-old son with him before the clan’s hunters had properly scouted this area of the New Forest. A wise move, normally, but then they hadn’t expected to find raiders this close to the town of Arborfel. Unless the raiders were the townsfolk of Arborfel. Few folks welcomed her people, homeless since the Sundering had destroyed Nemisdrillion three hundred years ago.
No, Toban was here still. Somewhere.
The last she’d seen, he’d been near Korig’s wagon, looking for—of course! Sosha was due to have her puppies today.
Reiana dashed across the Heartspace to Korig’s large wagon; candles burned brightly behind its stained-glass windows and light fell out of its open door across the grass. Cries from beyond the circle of caravans rose in the air. Reiana felt the flesh on her arms pebble as the sound of ringing steel filled the air along with voices raised in anger, bellowing threats and blood curdling cries.
Heart pounding, she had just reached the wagon when a man in uncured leather rounded the corner. His vest was studded with rusted rivets and his dirty, matted hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Stained yellow teeth grinned at Reiana through a tangled beard. The man lunged at her, blood-smeared hands reaching.
Reiana jumped back, fumbling for her dagger with numb fingers and raising it before her, a scream rising in her throat when the man yelled, his face twisting into a rictus of pain. He fell to the ground at her feet, an axe lodged in his back.
She looked up, still shocked, when Karin Dotmar appeared. The usually collected clanswoman looked wild, her eyes afire with something Reiana didn’t recognise. Karin’s woollen pants were stained with blood, and the azure silk scarf she usually wore was missing. Karin grabbed the handle of her throwing axe and yanked it out of the raider’s back. It made a sucking sound as it was dislodged, and Reiana felt her stomach turn.
“What are ya doin’ here, girl?” Karin said. “Get into a wagon. Ya gran will be worried sick!”
Reiana shook her head. “I have to find Toban.”
“He’ll be fine, likely the lad’s already got himself a place to hide. Ya can’t be out here, Reiana. I’ve not seen bandits like these before. They don’t be from the village we passed this morning; these bastards know what they’re doing.”
“Pren—” Reiana started.
“He’s almost a man, Rei,” Karin said. “We let those we love do their duty despite the risk.”
A scream came from the other side of the wagon.
Karin turned away, axe in hand. “Go, girl. Hide. Now!” Then she was off, dashing back outside the circle of the caravans.
Reiana swallowed and looked down at the dead man, her legs trembling. She wanted nothing more than to do what Karin told her, but she couldn’t leave Toban out here. She just couldn’t.
“Toban—” Reiana stopped at the croak that came from her throat. Clearing it, she tried again. “Toban! Where are you?”
Moving away from the dead bandit, she dropped to her hands and knees, the cool, damp grass was soft beneath her woollen skirt, and the red and gold light from the windows of the wagon catching on the blade of her dagger still in her fist and staining her hands umber. She shivered as another scream rang out and trailed off into a wet gurgling. The accented voices of men and women, strangers, called out, and she thought she recognised Helna Jabak, the wife of Atergan, the clan’s best hunter, yell back in defiance.
Reiana shook her head and peered into the darkness under the wagon. “Toban!” she yelled. The other side of the wagon was washed with flickering light. Some of the torches around the encampment had been knocked over, and flames licked hungrily at the long grass, their light blinding her ability to make anything out in the shadows beneath the caravan.
“Toban!” she called again and paused as she heard the soft mewling of puppies. Sosha had birthed her litter. Toban had to be under there! Ignoring any grass stains, and what her grandmother would say about them, Reiana sheathed her dagger and crawled under the wagon. “Toban. It’s me!” she hissed. “Where are you?”
“Rei?” Her cousin’s soft voice came from her right.
“Toban, you have come out and get to Jana’s caravan. There are bandits here!”
“Sosha had her puppies,” Toban said, and Reiana could make out the golden-haired dog laying on her side with a squirming mass of black and gold pups suckling at her teats. Toban sat behind her, the orange flicker of the flames dancing over his face and across the golden furred pup in his arms.
“That’s wonderful,” she said, unable to hide the fear in her voice, “but you need to come with me. Grandmother sent me to get you.”
“Oh,” Toban said and looked up, catching her eyes. She looked away first, unable to bear the shame. Even though he was only five years of age, her little cousin was remarkably perceptive, and she could see in his gaze that he knew exactly how their grandmother had ‘asked’.
“Come,” she said. “Quickly, before any of the raiders think to look—”
Sosha let out a growl that raised the small hairs on the back of Reiana’s neck.
“Toban,” she said, her voice shaky. “Put the pup down and— Toban!”
A shadow ducked down to peer under the caravan and reached toward them; ruby flames sparkled across a gauntleted hand adorned with jewels on each finger as it grabbed Toban’s tunic and dragged him out into the night. Sosha’s growl escalated into a bark, and she surged to her feet as Toban screamed. But Toban dropped the pup he was holding, and Reiana scooped it up, depositing with its litter mates as she scrambled out after her cousin.
The air was filled with smoke, and Reiana’s eyes stung as the bitter scent seared the back of her nose, but she paid the smell and the sound of people screaming and crying little mind, focusing on the man who held Toban by the arm. A dark cloak hung from his shoulders like a shadow, and silver thread lined its edges like a sliver of moonlight. Iridescent chainmail protected his torso, and the same metal formed an intricate knot at the buckle of his belt. His armour was made of Kharidium, the lightest and strongest metal in the known world. Bandits couldn’t afford Xious’bisan forged steel. More silver thread embroidered the turned-down tops of leather boots, and the rapier at his waist had a guard of luminous silver. But what struck Reiana most keenly was the wide-brimmed hat he wore, turned up on one side with a long white feather rising above it. The man looked like shadow and moonlight.
“Let me go!” Toban yelled, struggling in the man’s grasp and breaking Reiana from her staring.
“Leave my cousin alone.” She added her own voice to Toban’s, her hand wrapping around the hilt of Pren’s dagger.
The man smiled; his teeth, small and sharp and gleaming, flashed in the growing gloom. “But I’ve come so far to find him,” he said, and again Reiana was taken by the strange quality of his accent and the way his tone made her think of summer warmth despite the chill of the night air. The man drew long fingers across Toban’s cheek, gauntlet pointed like claws.
“Get away from him!” Reiana lurched forward, grabbing the man’s wrist. There was a crack, and she found herself on the ground, her head ringing and her cheek throbbing from where the man had hit her.
“I don’t think so, poppet,” he said. “I have a contract, and I mean to see it finished.”
“Reiana!” Toban cried, his struggles to pull himself free increasing until the man grabbed him by the throat and pulled him level with his face.
“Stop struggling, or I will slit your throat,” he hissed, the warmth in his voice suddenly as hot as flame. Reiana couldn’t see the man clearly from where she lay but whatever Toban saw in his eyes stilled her cousin instantly. “Better,” the man said. He shook his head. “Human children are more trouble than they’re worth. I don’t care what she’s paying me.”
Human children? Reiana wondered at the words as she struggled to push herself upright. What other kinds of children were there? She brushed the thought aside and climbed to her feet, her cheek throbbing, blood thundering in her head. She held her dagger out before her, focusing on the man who held Toban.
“Oh, no,” the man said, spinning Toban around, his arm around her little cousin’s neck and the rapier that had been at the stranger’s waist now drawn, its slender point aimed directly at Reiana’s chest.
She blinked as the length of steel sparkled in the evening light. Even his rapier was made of Kharidium!
“You stay right there, poppet. Your cousin is coming with me.”
Toban thrashed at this, and the man hissed in irritation. He spoke a word that twisted past Reiana’s comprehension, and Toban went limp in his grasp.
“What have you done to him!” Reiana shouted and surged forward, the threat of the rapier forgotten.
Mark Timmony was born in Sydney and grew up on the Northern Beaches. He’s wanted to write for as long as he can remember and has several notebooks filled with illegible scribblings from childhood to prove it. The desire to write led to work as a bookseller and he spent almost a decade working as a genre specialist in Sydney.
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If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.