RADIANT by Karina Sumner-Smith, book 1 of her brand new fantasy series, Towers Trilogy, is one of those series that has a lot of potential. It also straddles a few genres like dystopia, sci-fi and paranormal and has quite an exciting mix of elements like ghosts, abusive oligarchies, uncovnetional heroines, and SUPRISE! No romantic premise!
If you like the sound of this little intro, read up to find out more about Towers Trilogy.
RADIANT | Towers Trilogy 1
September 30, 2014 | Talos
Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.
When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.
With two extremely strong female protagonists, Radiant is a story of fighting for what you believe in and finding strength that you never thought you had.
Hi Karina! Welcome to Talk Supe and congrats on the release of RADIANT! Must be exciting! Where were you when you found out that Talos was going to publish Towers Trilogy and how did you celebrate?
KARINA SUMNER-SMITH: Thanks for having me! RADIANT is my first novel, and the whole publishing process has been a total rollercoaster. When I first heard that the book had an offer, I was just sitting at home – and good thing, too, because oh, I was a mess! There were some semi-incoherent calls with family and friends, some tears, and a whole lot of disbelief. To celebrate, I finally opened the fancy bottle of champagne that I’d been saving for just that moment. (I won’t tell you how many years I’d had that stashed away in a cupboard. I’m just glad it hadn’t gone bad!)
Oh gosh, opening that bottle must’ve felt like a million bucks! Your dream coming true is truly a cause for celebration. I have to say, RADIANT, was such a unique fantasy read. What was your objective or thought behind it?
KARINA SUMNER-SMITH: It was really a matter of combining some of my favorite things – ghost stories, magic, post-apocalyptic ruins, cities built in the sky – and just letting my imagination run wild. One of the things I love best about fantasy is that feeling of escaping to a totally different place. That’s really what I wanted to give to readers: a fantasy world that felt new and different and surprising.
I remember tweeting you when I started reading RADIANT regarding its genre. Can you expound on that?
KARINA SUMNER-SMITH: I think RADIANT is one of those books that exists between genres. I call it a futuristic fantasy, because the setting is our world many years after a magical apocalypse, in a new society that uses magic for everything.
I’ve also gotten a lot of questions about whether the book’s YA or adult. Though the two main characters are teenagers, RADIANT is being published and marketed as an adult fantasy novel. Personally, I love both YA and adult fantasy, and just hope the book finds readers who will connect with these characters and enjoy the story.
From someone who’ve already read RADIANT, I can say that it has that YA/Adult feel to it. I don’t know if that’s the best way to describe it. Shedding the fantasy elements, Xhea is a “normal” person given the circumstances. No particular characteristic that would make her strictly YA, NA, or even Adult.
Outside the blurb, what else can you share about RADIANT and Towers trilogy as a whole?
KARINA SUMNER-SMITH: I think that RADIANT really sets up this fantasy world and magical system, and shows the reader how it all works and why. DEFIANT and TOWERS FALL are about tearing that world apart, turning it on its head – and the quest to build something new and better from the wreckage.
RADIANT also has a fairly narrow scope, which keeps Xhea and Shai in the forefront. But the scope expands – and the stakes get much higher – as the trilogy continues. (Also: the bounty hunters that show up very briefly in RADIANT, Torrence and Daye, end up becoming much bigger characters in the next books – and oh, they’re such great fun to write!)
What a tease! I hope you’re already writing book 2 because I can’t wait to get my hands on it! Now Xhea still remains a mystery to me. What and/or who is she anyway?
KARINA SUMNER-SMITH: That’s a great question – and one that drives a lot of what Xhea does in DEFIANT. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but I can tell you that she’s not the only one in the City who has dark magic or the ability to see ghosts – and that learning what her power is and does tests Xhea to her limits.
Shai is like Casper, the friendly and powerful BFF, is she a permanent character or is she going to cross over in later books?
KARINA SUMNER-SMITH: While I can’t say that she’ll stay in the living world forever, she’s definitely going to be one of the main characters in DEFIANT and TOWERS FALL. She’s actually a point of view character in the later books, and the City and Lower City look very different through her eyes.
That’s great news because I am a Shai fan. I’m curious why there’s no romance. Not that I’m complaining but a lot of readers love romantic tension, drama, etc. Is there a specific reason why there’s zero romance here? Will Xhea have a love interest in the future?
KARINA SUMNER-SMITH: It’s certainly not because I don’t enjoy romance. Some of my favorite comfort reads are science fiction and fantasy novels with a great romantic plotline. (My top picks are ARCHANGEL by Sharon Shinn and A THOUSAND WORDS FOR STRANGER by Julie E. Czerneda. Both highly recommended!)
The main reason RADIANT doesn’t have a romance is actually Xhea herself. Xhea’s had a hard life – she’s lost or been abandoned by the only people she’s ever truly cared for, and has built the emotional walls around herself really high. Love, for her, would need to grow from a place of complete trust and emotional vulnerability rather than physical attraction – but oh, she’s nowhere near ready for that. In some ways, RADIANT is the story of what it takes for Xhea to trust just one other person. If there was someone that Xhea was attracted to at this point in her life, her reaction would be to run away as far and as fast as she could – and to make sure that they never, ever follow.
I do know that there’s one character introduced in RADIANT that Shai would be quite interested in if she ever met him (yes, even though she’s a ghost) … but I don’t know if their paths will ever cross! I’ll have to see what happens when I sit down to write the final book.
And I can’t agree with you more on this one. Love is great but sometimes it doesn’t always have to be the be-all and end-all of every story. Her friendship with Shai fits and makes up for the lack of romance.
RADIANT has that dystopian air to it but not exact. What is the series conflict? To me it felt more like a broken system than a particular bad guy.
KARINA SUMNER-SMITH: I think “broken system” is a really great way to describe it. So many people live wonderful lives in the City above – but their happiness and prosperity is due to the suffering of others, never mind all the people forgotten on the ground below. That’s a really classic utopian/dystopian setup in that nothing is every quite as perfect as it first seems.
As things get more complicated as the series progresses, one thing I tried really hard to do was show that no entity in this system is all good or bad – not the characters, not the skyscrapers in the ruins, not even the floating Towers. But each have goals and people to protect, and will sometimes do some very morally questionable things to achieve those goals, and to protect their citizens and loved ones.
The floating towers are spectacular! I love the world you created with the Towers and magic. Can you give the Supies a brief background about the setting because world building is a very important element in fantasy so let’s give them a good teaser!
KARINA SUMNER-SMITH: It’s a world where absolutely everything runs on magic. Magic is money. You need magic to buy food, open doors, sign your name, take a taxi – everything. Magic is also what keeps the City’s floating Towers aloft – and the Towers battle, day and night, fighting each other for the best positions in the sky.
Because the Towers need so much magic, the people with the strongest magical power are highly prized. Strongest of all are the Radiants, like Shai, who become literally bound to their Towers like living batteries. But if you make too little magic – if you’re just naturally poor – the Towers have no use for you. You’re left to scratch out a living in the Lower City, the ruins on the ground.
Xhea, a homeless girl who lives in the subway tunnels beneath the Lower City, has no magic at all. Or, at least, no magic like anyone’s ever seen before …
Favorite line/scene in the book?
KARINA SUMNER-SMITH: The ending! When I started writing, I had no idea that that’s where the story was going to go – it was a total shock. And no matter how many times I re-read the book, those last few chapters are still my favorites.
What existing TV show/book series can you compare Towers Trilogy with?
KARINA SUMNER-SMITH: Oh, I’m so behind on TV shows it’s ridiculous. I was told once that RADIANT is a like ALMOST HUMAN meets GAME OF THRONES – though, given its success, I think every fantasy is compared to GAME OF THRONES these days! In terms of books, I feel that the style is similar to Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra series.
Where can readers meet you in person?
KARINA SUMNER-SMITH: I’m going to have a book launch for RADIANT in Toronto at Bakka Phoenix Books on September 13th (come on down, fellow Canadians!), and will be at the World Fantasy Convention in Washington D.C. this November.
Try RADIANT for a really different magical system, a great friendship, ghosts – and my heartfelt thanks for giving a new writer a try!
“Xhea?” That quiet, hesitant voice.
Xhea didn’t want to turn, didn’t want to meet those strange pale eyes and all the unanswered questions in their depths. Even so, she could feel the ghost. She had always been aware of ghosts, sensing them as it seemed they sensed her; yet never before had she felt a ghost’s presence like a bruise in midair. Though she willed it to stillness or oblivion, the darkness woken inside her reached for Shai, as if by yearning it could ease through the boundaries of her flesh toward the imbalance of a ghost lit with bright magic. Perhaps it could.
She should stand, she knew. Leave. Outside, this would soon be a morning like any other. On the edge of the Lower City core, small groups would gather: hunting parties with weapons and survival gear, planning their trips out to the badlands; scrounging teams going to search the ruins for anything usable; a few misguided souls with handfuls of seeds and fertilizer and more hope than sense. The rising sound of voices, the low roar of generators with their stinking plumes of dark smoke, the sizzle and smell of food frying. Breakfast.
It all seemed so far away.
Xhea turned to the ghost and found Shai watching from on high, legs curled beneath her, head cradled in one hand. There was no trace of her earlier pain and fear, only a slight wariness in the eyes Xhea knew to be blue. That was the thing with ghosts. They were terrified one moment, back to normal the next. Fears were strange and fickle when you no longer had a life to lose.
“Can you get down here?” Xhea asked. “You’re cricking my neck something fierce.”
“Can you put the knife away?”
Xhea glanced at her hand, surprised to find her fingers flipping the opened knife over and over in a familiar nervous gesture. There were no traces of blood on the blade, ghostly or otherwise. Years of obsessive polishing had worn the silver clean.
“It’s not like I’m going to cut you,” she said, thinking: Probably. Not yet, anyway.
Xhea shrugged and folded the blade but kept the knife in hand, fingers restlessly rubbing the mother of pearl handle, its weight a comfort she little wished to banish to a pocket. Even closed, it held her attention. It was, she knew, the simplest answer to this problem; cutting the tether that tied her to Shai was the only sensible thing to do. What had she promised? A day, maybe two, and then they’d discuss more. Surely, after that night and all the distress the ghost had caused, she’d done work enough for the payment received.
Besides, the longer she kept Shai, the greater the chances that the ghost would be called again to her body, dragged back along the second tether and into the cold shell of flesh that had once been her own. If that happened, what would keep the strange darkness from rising again? Black tears and vomit, breath and sweat, wrenched out of her regardless of what she demanded or desired.
And that, right there, was the part of the problem that she couldn’t cut away. The darkness, she called it—had always considered it such, if only in the part of her mind where fears and bad dreams lingered. Now that she had seen it, felt it ascendant, she knew it had another name and one far truer: magic. Magic unlike any she’d known or of which she’d heard tell. Magic dark and languid, like thick oil, like branching smoke.
Magic at last; her own magic. She choked back a bitter laugh. How long had she wished for magic, even the smallest glimmer? Her whole life, it seemed. She thought of the dark magic rushing uncontrolled from her throat and lips, leaking from her eyes and skin, and she shivered. Never had she imagined that having her wish granted could be so terrible, so horrifying or so cold.
Read my RADIANT review here
Karina Sumner-Smith is a Canadian fantasy author and freelance writer. Her debut novel, Radiant, will be published by Talos/Skyhorse in September 2014, with the second and third books in the trilogy following in 2015.
Prior to focusing on novel-length work, Karina published a range of fantasy, science fiction and horror short stories, including Nebula Award nominated story “An End to All Things,” and ultra-short story “When the Zombies Win,” which appeared in two Best of the Year anthologies.
Though she still thinks of Toronto as her home, Karina now lives in a small, lakefront community in rural Ontario where she may be found lost in a book, dancing in the kitchen, or planning her next great adventure.
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