Night Shine by Tessa Gratton (Night Shine #1)
How can you live without your heart?
In the vast palace of the empress lives an orphan girl called Nothing. She slips within the shadows of the Court, unseen except by the Great Demon of the palace and her true friend, Prince Kirin, heir to the throne. When Kirin is kidnapped, only Nothing and the prince's bodyguard suspect that Kirin may have been taken by the Sorceress Who Eats Girls, a powerful woman who has plagued the land for decades. The sorceress has never bothered with boys before, but Nothing has uncovered many secrets in her sixteen years in the palace, including a few about the prince.
As the empress's army searches fruitlessly, Nothing and the bodyguard set out on a rescue mission, through demon-filled rain forests and past crossroads guarded by spirits. Their journey takes them to the gates of the Fifth Mountain, where the sorceress wields her power. There, Nothing will discover that all magic is a bargain, and she may be more powerful than she ever imagined. But the price the Sorceress demands for Kirin may very well cost Nothing her heart.
CONTRIBUTOR(S): Mary Helen Gallucci (Narrator)
COVER ARTIST: LeVurong (illustration)
PUBLISHER: Blackstone Publishing
LENGTH: 400 pages (11 hours 48 minutes)
AGE: Young Adult
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Main Character(s), Gay/Achillean Secondary Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Secondary Character(s), Trans Secondary Character(s), Closeted/Questioning Secondary Character(s).
NIGHT SHINE is a story about being strange, in-between, and not quite fitting in, in a way that explicitly includes queerness but is not limited to it. It felt a bit muddled because although the Sorceress Who Eats Girls fits this in-between state and doesn’t mess well with society, a significant part of why she doesn’t fit in is that she eats girls (and not just in a fun way). Nothing asks her to not eat/kill girls anymore and the sorceress is willing to do this for her, but I think there should’ve been a higher bar than "please don’t be a murderer anymore". The sorceress keeps bringing up that the girls consented to what happens, but the very first chapter shows one of these instances and I don't think the the girls are agreeing to what the sorceress ends up doing. This also shows up in the way Kirin is portrayed. It slowly becomes clear that he is willing to be manipulative and disregard other people's desires in order to get what he wants. There’s also the implication that Nothing forgives him pretty easily.
The first part of the book is a really cool quest narrative, with vibrant and interesting characters. I like the early dynamic between Nothing, Kirin, and Sky. There's also a lot of fun wordplay with Nothing's name in the first half. I think Sky might actually be my favorite character, he gets more attention in the narrative than Kirin does because he’s present for more of the story. The Sorceress Who Eats Girls is a really compelling villain, but I didn’t totally buy the switch into a love interest for Nothing. There's a huge age gap between Nothing and the Sorceress, but it's not played with as a power differential. Nothing doesn’t really get a chance to decide that she might like something other than being with Kirin or with the sorceress. The ending was somewhat frustrating, but mostly because I wouldn't have made the choices Nothing does and so it was harder to believe the ending. That's not necessarily a problem, but it seemed like the ending prioritized continued friendship over addressing the boundaries which were crossed.
I have very mixed feelings about this book. I think overall, I do recommend it, but I’m not sure what point it’s making in the way that it plays with villainy and otherness. I'm intrigued enough to read the sequel, and I like that this book is unafraid to have messy and imperfect queer characters.
Moderate CW for dysphoria, kidnapping, confinement, adult/minor relationship, blood, gore, violence, murder, death.
Minor CW for sexual content, transphobia, excrement, self harm, child death.