A review by Nalini Haynes
The Sun and the Void are symbols representing the gods of the native nonhuman species and races in this fantasy world that strongly evokes South America.
Reina is Nozarel so was rejected by her father’s race, the humans. She flees a harsh life where she is ostracized. Reina runs towards her grandmother, who she hopes will give her a new life, a family, love. However, barely a day passes before the austerity of Reina’s new life is apparent.
Eva’s family told her half-Valco father bewitched and raped her mother. The family condemns Eva for her father and her nonhuman blood. Eva flees her family, seeking others of her species. Thus begins an epic tale of love and loss, of shattered hope, and a brutal reflection of contemporary society with its intransigent racism.
Characters set the stage
Reina‘s grandmother is harsh, seeking power above all. However, Reina appears oblivious to her grandmother’s true character, despite it being screamingly obvious to readers. So obvious that I wanted to smack Reina upside the head and tell her to RUN AWAY. Her grandmother’s manipulation of Reina is heartbreaking.
Eva’s family are “devout” Catholics who condemn the magic innate in Valco’s being. Innate even for Eva, who is only 1/4 Valco. Eva struggles with their hatred, resisting their crushing disapproval.
Worldbuilding and inter-novel dialogue
The author’s worldbuilding in this South American-esque fantasy world is amazing, with its multiple races, its tiers of hierarchies, broken people, racism and religion. These deeply flawed characters mirror the human psyche today. Lacruz evoked memories of Lord Valentine’s Castle early in The Sun and the Void. There are significant similarities between both stories.
Lord Valentine’s Castle is also set in a fantasy world, in which humans rule over many non-human species. Valentine is a human man. A usurper forcibly body swapped to take his place on the throne as heir to succeed the Pontifex. The Pontifex rules from an isolated burrow in the ground, like some kind of ant queen.
It been many years since I read Lord Valentine’s Castle, but certain aspects – including my broken readerish heart, remain indelibly inked upon my then-15 year old heart.
The Sun And The Void also links to Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov for me. In Prelude, Harry Seldon the protagonist flees pursuers. This chase exposes Seldon to multiple cultures, helping him to develop a foundation for his psychohistory. And the rest, as they say, is history. History written across many books, many short stories, and now a TV series.
Lord Valentine’s Castle‘s protagonist wants to regain his “entitlement”, his throne. In contrast, Harry Seldon flees while being manipulated by others. I guess Prelude to Foundation may be closer to The Sun and the Void, where the protagonists are not overtly seeking the crown or power. Lacruz’s characters want respect and agency, which they believe will be in granted via acquiring a degree of power. But they do not seek to rule over this fantasy South American world, or one of the nations. However, Castle seems more closely linked, at least for this reader.
The Sun and the Void and Lord Valentine’s Castle both break my heart, but in different ways.
Authors reveal their beliefs
Several years ago, I attended a seminar where the speaker explained Robert Silverberg’s politics. I think the seminar was in a speculative conviction speculative fiction convention in Melbourne, around 10 or so years ago. It’s been a while.
Lord Valentine’s Castle broke my heart because I was absolutely convinced I knew the ending. How could Lord Valentine roam this fantasy world as an aspirant to the throne, learn about his people and their diversity, then assume the throne to rule autocratically while set apart from the people? I loved the story but, at 15, felt crushed by the ending. I’ve read a few of Silverberg’s other novels, which seem to align politically with this superior entitlement theme. Men, monarchies and entitlement ruling others. That lecture I attended was an eye-opener for me, explaining why I was upset about the ending every time. The speaker pointed out the stories are consistent with Silverberg’s politics.
Capricious gods and evil in their service
The Sun and the Void serves up capricious gods or demi-gods playing games with mortals’ lives. My sadness as a reader arises from a good person falling into evil, justifying their evil acts. And then almost effortlessly, with only a few regrets, reclaiming their virtue. I feel characters are as dismissive of the reality of their actions – of the evil of their actions – as Valentine was dismissive of the problems of autocratic rule by an isolated hereditary monarch due to his entitlement issues.
Trumpism in a story
Reina, to me, reeks of Trump and his cronies. Their entitlement, their belief that doing bad for their own ends will both win and come without a cost.
As Trump is only just beginning to learn for the first time in his life, actions have consequences. And he can’t control, threaten or bully his way out of everything.
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) August 25, 2023
And we finally have Trump’s mug shot to prove it.
It could be argued that Trump’s attack on democracy is worse than Reina’s actions but both cost lives. I’m not sure how many lives although the CIA and other agencies probably have an accurate accounting. Lacruz is vague about how many people – girls and babies – Reina kidnaps.
Reina can argue that leaving babies exposed on a mountainside where monsters roam isn’t technically murder. Trump can argue that giving access to top secret documents and identities of USA agents overseas wasn’t technically murder too. But if no one had done either, and if no one had incited an insurrection or called for the murder of others, both the fictional and historical people would be alive today.
Actual consequences, actual remorse
Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes features people struggling and committing evil acts. In those books, the struggle feels real. The remorse, the grief, the penance for their evil acts feels real. There is great depth to their grief and suffering after committing those acts. Like Elias killing during his time in Blackcliff military school, during the trials to become Emperor, and during his fights for survival. Then his penance. And his struggle to be true to his task like Sisyphus pushing that boulder endlessly upwards. While also wanting to save those he loves, other humans and, basically, the living world.
This is a stark contrast with Eva who easily embraces what she initially thinks of as evil. And, worse, Reina knows the Void is Evil incarnate, requiring great evil – including murders – committed by his followers. I could more easily believe a form of atheism as a reaction to feeling abandoned than a good person quitting the god of light to embrace a god of murder so quickly.
Race and racism
Lacruz created a detailed world, religions and races. I know a teeny bit about South America and its racial hierarchy. Simone Campos enlightened me somewhat in this podcast while we discussed her thriller, autism and South American setting. In Lacruz’s novel I wondered how literally to relate characters’ interpersonal dynamics to reality. I suspect some of it is an accurate depiction of some families, and more is relevant with regards to races and racism.
I grew up with the [incorrect] “knowledge” that Incas died out after the Spanish brought the common cold to South America. This myth is similar to Australia’s myth that Tasmanian Aboriginals are an extinct race. The Sun and the Void has a history rife with genocide and attempted genocide, just like the real world.
The Sun and the Void is a feat of great imagination that holds a mirror to the real world. This is the first installment of the story. Race and racism, religion-fueled bigotry and Queer romances are threads woven alongside an epic battle between two capricious gods or demi-gods, both of whom I suspect are evil. After all, murdering gods, gods setting up the need to murder and gods requiring murdering are not “good people”. People worshipping these beings seem blinkered, unable to see the trees for the forest. It remains to be seen how Lacruz develops this knowledge within her characters and whether her characters pay a real price for their evil deeds in volume 1.
So, I recommend The Sun And The Void but give a content warning. Babies die. Because evil people are evil.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9781837840083, 9781837840281
Imprint: Daphne Press in Australia; Orbit Books (Hachette) elsewhere
Released: August 2023 for paperback and December for hardcover in Australia
Category: fantasy, religion, race/racism, Queer romance (Gay and Sapphic)