SHADOW IN THE EMPIRE OF LIGHT by Jane Routley.
Solaris. p/b. £8.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Shine, or ghostie-girl as her favourite cousin calls her, turned her family estate around after her mother went missing. She may not have any magic powers, and she may be sharing in her spinster aunt’s fate, but she is well-liked by the peasants of Willow-in-the-Mist Estate and lives fairly happily there along with Katti, Shine’s huge, often smug hunting cat when the rest of the family leave them to it. Unfortunately, it is nearly Blessing time so they very soon the entire expanded family will be descending upon them, armed with intrigues and accusations.
When her beloved, albeit disinherited cousin, Bright, arrives ahead of the rest, Shine could not be happier. Especially as he brings with him a secret to share. When all is revealed at their old, secret hideaway, however, it is not quite what Bright expected. Her cousin is smuggling an outlander from the Bone Mountains, an unregistered one at that. Goodness knows what the family will do to them all if he is discovered, but this outlander says he can help to find Shine’s mother.
Hide a ghost, foil a plot, avoid her Great Uncle’s judgmental questions, save a matriarch, reveal a family secret or two and try to find a path to her own future. This year is going to bring an interesting Blessing time for Shine.
Shadow in the Empire of Light follows Shine’s adventures as she attempts all of the above plus whole many more shenanigans all taking place on the family estate during Blessing time – a festival celebrating fertility, where females are largely encouraged to mate (seemingly with whoever will have them) and hopefully conceive. This is a matriarchal society where female mages dominate above all, and each member of the notorious and rather dubious family appears to have their own selfish motives and secrets.
Routley delivers a playful story with a heroine you can’t help but like. Shine has quips and grit aplenty but also humility and a forgiving nature. The whole story is viewed through her eyes. The vast supporting cast of her wider family is fantastically well-portrayed and each distinct, from Katti to the ghost and even those whose page time is minimal. A superb romp of a fantasy.