Book Review: Between Starfalls (Children of the Nexus) by S. Kaeth

Between Starfalls

Series: Children of the Nexus, #1

Author: S. Kaeth

Genre: Fantasy


Book Description:

Never leave the path.

It’s sacred law, punishable by exile.

When her son goes missing in the perilous mountains, Kaemada defies the law to search for him. She enlists the help of her hero brother and two friends: a priestess berserker and a fire-wielding tinkerer.

But the law exists for a reason.

When the search party is captured by the mythical Kamalti, they learn that Kaemada’s son was sent to ancient prison city. As they battle for freedom, they discover a horrible truth that will change the future of both races forever.

With their world in upheaval, Kaemada must find a way to peace if she’s to save her son – but tensions between the two races are leading to war.

Rating: Unforgettable, Compelling Characters and Story, Thoughtful, Inspiring and Hopeful

The First Review:

Even without stars, you can probably tell a lot about how much I loved Between Starfalls from that rating!

Also, let me thank S. Kaeth for having a book description that lets me know what I don’t have to worry about so-called ‘spoiling.’

Between Starfalls is a book like (almost) no other to me. The characters feel real and deep, with real personalities, but it is not that that stood out to me like nothing else, though it could not have happened without the characters! I do not think it could have happened if the story was not driven by the characters – more about Kaemada and Taunos (her hero brother) and Ra’ael (the priestess berserker) and Takiyah (the fire-wielding tinkerer), and all the people around them, and their choices, than about the “story” or anything else! I don’t think I have ever before (though I hope to again, and I have sometimes come close) read a character novel quite like this one, that deals with trauma and evil, with the horrible things in experience and in the heart and the ones that seem complicated and hard to understand, and at the same time with what I call ‘idealism’ for lack of a better term, with commitment to ideals, to hope, to convictions, with good in the same way that this one has done!

The story shows things that happen that test (and sometimes overcome) people’s commitment to who they are, their understanding of what is right. But, it never questions that there is a right. I really liked this! I almost never see it like here! The difficulty, the pain, the horror, confusion, uncertainty, doubt, despair, brokenness, sorrow, heartbreak – all are presented in a raw, true way, true to experience, but at the same time there’s not the suggestion that there is no right or wrong, that ideals are just ash to be blown in the wind. Instead, there’s holding on to them as well as one can see how in the midst of challenge, recovering and discovering them again.

Something else I appreciated was the presentation of a primitive society and people. I thought how the world – and how a civilization – might look to such a primitive people was well-represented and suggested. The song of the spirits, the way the Rinaryn think of their priestesses and about religion – that it is the business of each one to find the way for him or herself to worship Eloì and no one can teach another – all of it was interesting, and I thought appropriate. I enjoyed the setting thoroughly. It was also interesting the setting of a people who were once civilized, living in cities with terrible weapons, who rejected that to live in harmony with the song of the spirits and nature. Everything really made a lot of sense and fit in a very poetic way, but also there were some group dynamics that cause trouble everywhere, whether people are civilized or not, that made sense. It was very, very rich.

The characters are very real and authentic. I could talk about all of them, but I will start with Kaemada. Her hopes, her dreams, her courage and determination, her love for Eian, and her insecurities – they all form very much the shape of a unique person, and it was interesting and insightful to read about someone like her. She has a lot of very strong feelings, and she is very loyal, and she is committed and very good-hearted. She is kind, and she believes that things are good, wants to make things better, believes that it’s possible to make things better and for people to be good, and she keeps trying and returning again and again. I really liked Kaemada. I liked Taunos and Ra’ael and Takiyah, too, and they also are very real, awesome characters, but if I talk about how I liked all of them, I am going to so-called “spoil” the book (though I don’t see what this process or result would have in common with spoilt fruit, rotten eggs, or anything else of that sort). I liked other characters too, like Maeren, the Saimakhae or Great Mother of the kaetal (the community of the Rinaryn).

I would not have minded if more time had been spent on people’s lives, day to day, but what was spent on that was sufficient, and I think it allowed the plot to move forward at a pace that more people are likely to find comfortable.

So I just want to share a short interaction:

Talaera retrieved a bowl from her basket and began separating the stems from the petals of the flowers. They would be crushed and used as a seasoning once dried. “Takiyah’s forge? Psions living together outside the kaetal? We must look to the rest of Rinara and be harmonious with them.”

Maeren raised her eyebrows at Talaera. “I seem to hear more shrieking. Is it just these old ears?”

“They’re not Rinaryn. These antics of yours – nursing that pegasus colt to health, the conversing with birds, this talk of training psions as group – must end!”

Kaemada’s eyes narrowed. “It would be easier to train psions as a group, as Galod trains Ra’el, Takiyah, and me. Especially if you wish me to have more time for other tasks.”

“It is not our way. You must be above any suspicions. The honor your mother gathered to herself, despite being a psion, will not protect you if you continue such ways. Please, Kaemada, for your own sake, please. Do not be so strange.”

Why was it that her mother and her brother – even her sister – were highly honored despite choosing tasks her people thought unusual, yet Kaemada couldn’t manage the same? Wilting, she scowled at the berries. “I only wish to help, not bring disharmony.”

I really liked Kaemada’s bond with Tannevar. It was so sweet. The bond between her and the wolf is just really cool, and Tannevar’s thoughts have so much personality and are also so wolf-like! Tannevar is very wise with a perfect wolfish wisdom that I loved! And I also liked Kaemada’s friendship with Shareilon, the pegasus.

So onto …

The Real Review (Where we believe that the more you know about a good book, the better it gets! A great book is always fresh!)

I will focus on Kaemada first. I love her spirit, how courageously she pleads for kindness and consideration. After she is thrown down the cliff, and finds herself in the City of Lost (with Tannevar) she looks for Eian. After she finds him, she is captured by the king of the City of the Lost, who is a horrendous tyrant, maimed inside by his tyranny. Here is a scene I loved from where Kaemada is first brought before the king.

How would her brother get out of this situation? He once told her that he always found his way home by remembering who he was. Kaemada shifted to a ready stance.

Who was she? She was a Rinaryn, and Rinaryn do not kneel.

She was of Torkae, they who struggle to maintain the original vision.

She was a student of Galod’s, trained to be a fighter and a psion.

The man rose to his full height, staring down at them. “Bow before your king!”

Show no weakness to a bully of a leader. A lump formed in her throat as she thought of dear Tannever. She would never see him again.

She straightened and returned the man’s gaze, striving to mimic Ra’ael’s confidence. “Rinaryn are forbidden to kneel to any other Rinaryn.”

“Or to demand the best knee of another,” Eian finished in a whisper.

And here’s what happens a little later:

She bent her knees as she knelt, knowing, even so, that she couldn’t hide the tears streaming down her cheeks. They fell, marking the stone below her with drops of darkness. She turned her head and looked at Eian once again. She had shown the king defiance, and moments later, Eian had watched her surrender. He’d watched as she bowed, a thing she said she’d never do. But impossibly, there was still trust in those brown eyes.

Skies, I really, really want to quote the whole book at you! But I can’t and I must, so hopefully these pieces are good enough to hint at what I really loved, or some of it! It’s so hard to share personality, character, all the nuance and the exactness of it, in snippets! (I actually don’t think it’s possible, that’s why people write and read stories, but I’m doing the best I can – that’s why we write reviews!)

“Ra’ael said participation is most important, even when you do not know the words.”

Kaemada nodded. “She’s right. Participation first, then rhythm, then tune, then words. All are important, but the doing is most essential – the singing of the songs, the dancing of the dances, the telling of the stories. Pieces of the song Eloì sang when they created the world are found in the songs of all, so singing your song is important. Just as your story adds to the story of the whole, your song adds to the greater song of all Rinaryn.”

“But we’re not home.”

Her gaze went distant, a realization striking her. Participation first, the trying. Then the rhythm, to help all around you continue the energy, the âti. Then the tune, joining your song to the greater one. Finally, but still important, are the words. Finding the right words is hard, but if you can do it, great good can come about.”

Kaemada is so touching. This is after she overextends and is very exhaused, after they break their way into the Kamalti mountain after the loss of Eian.

“No need to fight … We … do not … threaten them,” Kaemada breathed.
“You cannot know that, Kaemada,” Ra’ael said. “They could be like anything. They’re not necessarily civilized.”
His sister met his gaze, then faltered.
Taunos forced a grin. “Little sister, you would go willingly into a dragon’s claw if it told you it meant you no harm.”
She scowled at him. “What little trust … life … would be brighter … if everyone … gave others a chance.” She trailed off, out of breath and unfocused.

“We cannot … fight them. Our changes of finding Eian … be less. Show them … not empty words.”

This is much, much earlier, but I wanted to share it, since it shows another piece of Kaemada – and her friends and their relationships.

If she had to leave them, would she grow jealous watching them gather all the glory they deserved? The very thought caused her chest to tighten. She didn’t want to be jealous – she just wanted to be equal to them once more. She couldn’t let them see the turmoil inside her. If they knew she considered leaving them, she’d never hear the end of it, and already the very thought dragged her low.

That is IT for Kaemada excerpts, or I will never stop myself!

Kaemada has tried very hard to be good enough, to be able to be part of her group, after her knee was injured. She harbors insecurities and guilt, guilt that the things that happen are her fault for not being good enough, or choosing wrong, that she brings her friends and those she loves down.. But she sees the good, the thing to hope, desire, and strive for so clearly, and she cannot give up or give in for long. It’s really hard to describe. I’m not good enough at describing characters outside of books. She needs to find who she is, to accept who she is. She is stubborn, not all wrongly.

What happens to Takiyah and how she is abused and mistreated, and in many ways broken and crushed by it, during her captivity as a slave (since going into exact detail about what an ebr means would take too much space in a review, I think) is really sad and heart-breaking. Earlier, Takiyah is so bright, with such curiosity and interest in everything.

Takiyah only nodded, leaning over the edge to gaze in wonder, under Taunos wanted to snatch her back from the drop.

“Look at the lanterns!” Takiyah’s voice was thrilled. “The metalwork is beautiful!”

Taunos had to smile at her undaunted love of adventure, even as Ra’ael hissed, “Takiyah, stop admiring our captors!”

Those are a few that shows interactions between Takiyah and the others, but here is a piece from her perspective:

It was as if something in her mind had unlocked, as if a chest full of hidden treasure had appeared, and she couldn’t wait to open it and explore. Already, she could see there were differences among the types of stone around her, and she knew, somehow, that each had a name. Rinaryn had nine words for mist and only one for rock – it was ridiculous. Here, all around her, lay secrets waiting to be uncovered.

And, later, during her captivity, there is this passage that really sings (though always remember: snippets are never as good out of context!):

The balloon was rising again, fire spouting upward from the fire-maker in the middle.

This was how she was meant to live – on the edge, with a chance of survival, of adventure. Not that captivity she’d run from, but this wild freedom, where only her choices, her wits and her strength, determined whether she lived or died. Whether she crashed or flew.

Ra’ael is a priestess of the Rinaryn, who has the blood rage – she goes berserk. I really liked her and her story, too. Here is where she describes to Dode (the woman to whom she is assigned as an ebr in her captivity, and who comes to respect her so that eventually they makes friends and Dode becomes an ally to all of them) what the role of a priestess and religion is in the Rinaryn society.

Then her [Dode’s] browridge raised. “Priestess, you say?”

She [Ra’ael] hadn’t meant to let that slip. Still, why shouldn’t she be proud? “My role among my people.”

Surprise and delight glowed on Dode’s face. “Oh! So you guide your people in their beliefs?”

Ra’ael’s brow knitted. “I make sure the traditions and ceremonies are conducted as is proper. How can any guide another’s beliefs?”

Dode had the gall to look disappointed. “I see. Here, a priest has a vital task. He guides the sacred rituals, but he also guides the people to the sacred truth, away from the lies seeded by selfish thought, cowardice, and laziness. This is the job of a proper priest.”

“In the end, the spirit must makes its journey alone. How can we expect that it’s proper for another to guide that spirit? We celebrate and live life as a community except in one thing – each practices his or her faith in solitude. Only alone can we see Eloì unencumbered by the expectations of others.” Ra’ael found herself warming to the debate. She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed arguing with Takiyah, the way they kept each other’s mind strong through opposition. Conversation with Dode would have to do as a substitute for now.

There is so much depth in the story – sometimes even the Rinaryn’s practices don’t align with their best beliefs, the Kamalti said grand things about lies seeded by selfish thought, cowardice, and laziness, yet their whole civilization seems to be built on such things. I loved all the characters, how they learn, or don’t – their thoughts, journeys, the conflicts within and without them, hopes, ideals, what challenges them – oh, I loved it so much! I really enjoyed how Ra’ael’s relationship with Dode developed, eventually becoming a sort of friendship even under its circumstances, and there was such balance and thought in the reactions and thoughts of everyone – Dode, Ra’ael, and Taunos – when Dode arranged for them to perform at the Opera House to give the Kamalti a view into the Rinaryn culture, hopefully so the Kamalti would start to see Rinaryns as people. Ra’ael’s arguments, her stance on no religious songs, how she comes to see that Dode might have a point, Taunos’ opposition – I liked it! And so much more!

Here’s a piece of a conversation between Dode and Ra’ael that points something out to Ra’ael:

“It is a sacred ritual, available only to some. Never to ebrs.”

Ah yes, the secret of Kamalti society. Money. “Only to the rich, you mean.”

Dode raised her browridge. “Only to nobility, yes, but not all nobles have the Gift. Your priestesshood is restricted, is it not? Does, perhaps, your own parentage influence your status?”

Ra’ael scowled at her, irritation twisting her heart. Her mother had been highly honored, and Ra’ael longed to make her proud. Had her mother’s deeds been taken into account when she’d been made priestess? The truth sang uncomfortably in her head.

Taunos is so touching. He appears to be such a hero. He is so dedicated, so devoted. He hides his pain and worry under a veil of cheerfulness – cheerfulness that is not all a lie, not all unreal. It is very real, often, but still a veil, not all there is. He bears burdens in secret that no one should bear alone, and bears burdens and responsibilities that should not be his and are not one’s. He misjudges and makes mistakes, but he cares so much for his sister, Kaemada, and for his friends. And he holds so truthfully to what he believes and knows, and it saves him. In some ways, he and Kaemada are very, very much alike.

Taunos said nothing for long moments, struggling for control. He’d misjudged, had let his curiosity sweep him away. He wasn’t used to working with others he cared so much about, wasn’t used to worrying about them and accounting for them not following directions. And once he’d realized the risk was too great, that these people were unreasonable, he’d tried to get his sister out, and he’d failed. The hero of Torkae, and he couldn’t even save his sister.

And this choice …

“Wildling, believe me, if it were not for Eian, I would join you, and together we would take these murderers down with me. But now … I have to think of Eian. Going on a rampage through the city would lose us any chance of information on him, and though the chances are small, I will take them. Can he survive a summer on his own? Is he a captive, too? Is he with another family?”

Ra’ael broke free of his grip with teeth bared. “They’re murderous. Who’s to say they will keep their word?”

“I will not allow harm to come to you.”

“Who’s to say you can?”

Her words struck true. Part of him wished he could join her in her unfocused rage. Weary, Taunos sank back down on the ground near Takiyah and watched Ra’ael resume her pacing.

Unease sat in the pit of his stomach. The Kamalti had left him in a room unwatched, unbound. They knew they had him, that he wouldn’t escape. Their confidence was another blow in itself.

Taunos’ questions, his regrets, his doubts, feeling that everything he has done was useless in the last … I want to quote all of it, but I can’t! But I will offer this, because it meant so much, stood out so. He is a captive of the Kamalti family, who insist he cut his hair as is “decent,” but Taunos refuses to give up his practices:

In the days since his capture, Answer and her parents had blocked every attempt he’d made to find a way to recover his sister’s body. He had clung to the mourning rituals, hoping somehow they would lift Kaemada’s soul out of the mountain to the rim of the sky. He’d failed to save her from death; he could not fail to observe the rituals, not if there was even a chance to spare his sister’s spirit from endless wandering. He refused to disrespect his sister by cutting his hair as Ketrik daily hinted he should.

At the last, he fights as hard as he can (which is not very well, since he is being drugged) to avoid having his hair cut. And it is his constancy to his beliefs which (very slowly) impacts the proud, prejudiced scout Answer. Here is her perspective:

Her voice quavered as she answered, ignoring his pride with every scrap of pride she had left. “Are you making a habit of rescuing me?”

“I will always defend the defenseless.” He clenched his jaw. “But you kill the defenseless, tossing prisoners off cliffs.”

Of course he had to bring that up again. She took a deep breath and lifted her chin. She was above him. She would not stoop to his level. “Do I get a lecture, again, on my evils?”

“Do you want one?”

I love how one can almost hear Taunos’s voice, his emphasis, here!

And here’s a bit more from Answer. I love this quote! To be honest the writing everywhere has such flow and matches the mood of the characters so well!

And yet his life was in her hands. His frightening, violent life. What was she to make of that? How could she repay such a debt? Indebted to an ebr, indeed – her mother would be appalled at such a thought!

Well, I can’t share everything! There’s so much I would want to, but I can’t. Answer is an interesting character. The way her convictions turn back and forth, her prejudice, how slowly it gets undone, sometimes turning back again, her conflict at the end of the book, when she has the chance to stand testimony and speak for whether the Rinaryn should be treated fairly and freed after all the abuse they have suffered, or punished for fighting back, and her inner conflicts about that, so many of them related to her peers. It takes too much space to quote – that almost makes it better! Sometimes there are no good quotable places in something very, very good – so I won’t, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was – I hate saying realistic, since that sounds like some sort of human experiences and responses might be more realistic than others, but … I hope the point comes across!

There is also Kaemada’s relationship with Theron in the City of the Lost. Her struggles and thoughts with trust, how she had a relationship with Tikatae who turned on her when she did not return his “love,” all of that, I liked it! And then when Theron turns out to be … an enemy of sorts, betrays her to the king, there is this. Just read it, and know the book all together is much, much better than all I’ve got here! I loved it!

Forgetting her body, Kaemada scrambled into his mind, past his barriers. His horror surrounded her, and she rode that wave of emotion to his greatest fears. In the dreamworld, emotion didn’t touch her, but still, she paused. Theron’s loyalty was his pride, but it was a mask. She pulled it away, and beneath it, the relief of not having to make decisions, of not holding the final say, shone through. He was afraid to lead. No wonder he was happy to do whatever was asked of him, so long as he didn’t have to take responsibility for the consequences.

And there is such an endearing moment when, after Takiyah runs away and Taunos hides him where he is being kept, and he faces Answer down and swears that he will not let Takiyah be abused, will do whatever he has to take care of her (though even now he will not kill unnecessarily), and they try to seek asylum, and fail (through treachery) and are sentenced to a Running of the Ebrs, to run until they cannot, beaten and over ground strewn with refuse thrown at him, and Taunos tries to take the brunt of it for the others as much as he can. And that is when Kaemada and Eian finally get back up, along with friends from the City of the Lost whom Kaemada inspired to dream and hope again, and there is such an endearing moment when Kaemada is stronger than Taunos for once, and shelters him.

By the way, I loved Kaemada and Eian. Kaemada and Eian are so sweet and endearing and kind and courageous and trustful together! And I thought it was really awesome and a cool device, how Eian can understand all languages – whatever people mean and how they will understand it. And there is a scene where two people are arguing, who speak the same language and understand each other, and Eian is translating, and someone asks why he is doing so since they can understand each other. And someone else points out that Eian is saying what they mean, the intent behind their words. I think it was so cool and so appropriate, of a child too!

And one of the best things (except there are no best things and I LOVED ALL OF IT) is Kaemada’s final, psionic battle with the Kamalti Collective, psions cast out by Kamalti society, which hates and fears “magic,” who have become almost one mind and want to take the Kamalti society, not caring who they destroy on their way to “freedom” and out of oppression and misery at the bottom of the ravine in the mountain, where the refuse is thrown.

I wish I could quote the whole battle, but I can’t! It’s pages of sheer goodness, and Kaemada’s greatest victory, finding, embracing, being who she is. Where instead of fighting, she asserts who she is and defines herself, to stand against the Collective who is trying to telepathically smother her into being part of them, while they invade the Kamalti city and wreck havoc and destruction.

No song stands alone, she shouted at them. We build our songs from those who have gone before us. We build our stories from theirs. And you need to know what you’re destroying.

The psions, in their search for vengeance, were jeopardizing all of those lives, including their own. All she’d been trying to build. Anger flared in her, even though she understood. How could she not, when she was so connected to the Collective? She drove her song into theirs, carrying with her the echoes of the tunes of their victims.

All in all, it was a really, really fun read in so many different ways!

S. Kaeth’s Website

One thought on “Book Review: Between Starfalls (Children of the Nexus) by S. Kaeth

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Let Loose the Fallen (Children of the Nexus) by S. Kaeth – Enthralled By Love

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