One of my very first posts here at Coven Book Club was a recommendation for Becky Wallace’s debut, The Storyspinner. Now, a little over a year later, I’ve had the chance to read the conclusion to this duology, and it was fantastic. Familiar characters grow closer together (and further apart), and minor characters come to the forefront, bringing the series to a stunning, magic-filled conclusion. If you haven’t read The Storyspinner yet, be aware that spoilers lie ahead.
One of the characters who intrigued me in The Storyspinner but didn’t seem to have much development was Maribelle, Duke Inimigo’s daughter. She flirts with Rafi, clearly at her father’s orders, but there’s an underlying sense that there is more to her than what we see. In The Skylighter, she remains mysterious and reserved, but slowly the reader (and Dom) learns more about her: her motivations, her desires, and her fears. She’s a fascinating character, not least in part because it becomes increasingly clear that, though her father abuses her and treats her like a toy to be bartered with the other dukes, but his behaviour has not left her meek and biddable, but only stoked her hatred of him.
Speaking of Maribelle, one of the things that Wallace does really well in this duology is the way she intertwines the romantic relationships with the wider storyline. While it’s never quite clear whether Maribelle and Dom actually have romantic feelings for each other, they both feign them at various times in order to attain their own ends, which causes conflict with Brynn, whose feelings for Dom are well-known to the reader.
Likewise, Johanna and Rafi’s relationship is inseparable from their duties to Santarem and Santiago. They were betrothed as infants, but with Johanna the only heir to the Santarem throne, after repairing the barrier she must remain near it in order to keep Santarem safe, which would make a relationship with Rafi, duke of Santiago to the south, impossible.
The relationships – romantic and otherwise – between the characters aren’t the only reason to read this book, however. Like its predecessor, The Skylighter blends them seamlessly into a world with a rich magical history and political intrigue. The machinations of the rival dukes, the dangers posed by the Keepers who wish to turn people into slaves, and the Brazilian-inspired culture will draw the reader in. I always say that relationships are only interesting after the author has made us care about the characters involved, and Johanna’s fierce determination, Rafi’s inflated sense of honour, Pira’s urge to prove herself, and Dom’s inferiority complex compared to his brother all mean that we do care. We care about their relationships with each other, we care about them protecting Santiago and Santarem, and we care about the threats to their safety. And if The Storyspinner has made you, too, care about these characters, then you’ll definitely want to pick up The Skylighter to see how it all turns out for them.
Nicola is sitting in her flat on a rainy Scottish summer’s day envying the people of Santarem for their mango trees and sunshine. They can keep the warring dukes.