Title: The Killing Light
Author: Myke Cole
Publisher: Tor.com Publishing
Publisher’s Blurb: Heloise and her allies are marching on the Imperial Capital. The villagers, the Kipti, and the Red Lords are united only in their loyalty to Heloise, though dissenting voices are many and they are loud.
The unstable alliance faces internal conflicts and external strife, yet they’re united in their common goal. But when the first of the devils start pouring through a rent in the veil between worlds, Heloise must strike a bargain with an unlikely ally, or doom her people to death and her world to ruin.
I was provided an Advanced Reader’s Copy by Tor Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!
“But I am thine Emperor, and the harder the step, the closer it taketh thou unto me. –Writ. Lea. IV.2.” (p. 167)
In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner writes, “The primary subject of fiction is and always has been human emotion, values, and beliefs.” (p. 14) and “The writer must enable us to see and feel vividly what his characters see and feel …” (p. 44)
Any writer who can make the reader feel great anxiety for his characters and drive them to tears in relief has most definitely met the criteria set forth by Gardner. That Myke Cole’s writing kept me fully engaged and emotionally involved says something about the great talent he has for telling a story.
There’s a thread running through The Killing Light about men and how they must be treated by women. Repeatedly a female will say something like, “Everything with men is a great care.” (p. 46)
Heloise was never meant to be and do all the things she does in The Sacred Throne trilogy. She was meant to be a young woman who marries the man her parents have chosen for her and to settle into the role of home keeper, as women in her village have always done.
But we don’t always get to choose the shape our life takes and who we fall in love with. The best we can hope is to be gentle with ourselves when we are tested. This is part of the story Myke Cole tells with Heloise, how she must accept and come to terms with herself, and her evolving beliefs and leadership skills.
Her world is one in which only hetero normative standards are accepted. In Book 1, The Armored Saint, she finds herself in love with her best friend who not only doesn’t reciprocate those feelings, but is horrified by Heloise’s feelings. Shortly after this reveal, Basina is killed and that death haunts Heloise more than anything else through the series.
Cole portrays her struggle with tenderness, and introduces Xilyka from one of the Traveling People clans who join Heloise’s army. Xilyka becomes one of Heloise’s bodyguards, never leaving her side. It is in the most tender moments we see Heloise began to overcome her fear of being a lesbian, and of driving Xilyka away.
In one such scene, Heloise’s father, Samson, has arranged a private place with hot water so Heloise can bathe after many weeks on the battlefield, stuck in the war machine. At this point, the agoraphobic leader trembles in abject terror at leaving the machine which has protected her and allowed her to become the leader she is. Samson the loving father tries to coax her out. Xylika literally rides to the rescue, leading Heloise in her machine behind the screen and bathes her tenderly. Cole does not ignore the sexual tension such a situation would create, but neither does he dwell on it. His deft writing shows us the normality of two people getting to know each other, carefully exploring the beginnings of a physical relationship.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is Onas, a 16-year-old boy from a different Traveling People clan who also becomes bodyguard, and tries to assert his authority over Heloise as potential husband. This does not go well. Heloise is exhausted, she doubts her moral imperative to be leading this fight, is grieving for the many deaths caused in this war, and is in despair over having to re-evaluate the values she was taught about the Emperor and the Order. She literally has no energy to put into this boy’s demands for romance.
Onas keeps pushing. Heloise side steps, telling him when the war is over, she will think about it. He sees what’s going on with Xilyka, which infuriates him and makes him push even harder. Then, the unthinkable happens and Onas’ mother, the leader of his clan, dies in battle. Onas blames Heloise for his mother’s death.
It becomes too much for him to bear when they stumble upon a band of the Order whose leader has killed so many, and Heloise refuses to let anyone kill Brother Tone. She recognizes Tone can provide entrance and information into the Emperor’s city and palace that will prove useful. Onas throws a teenaged temper tantrum and runs off taking other disgruntled fighters with him.
This is not unusual behavior. Boys have been conditioned to believe that their wants and needs take precedence over a girl’s. So it is with Onas and Heloise. Despite the many stupid reasons he throws at her as he storms away, the one he cannot voice is he expected her to fall into his arms and she did not. All logic does not penetrate.
Onas is not the only male in this story who treats her as less than because of her gender. Sir Steven, leader of the Red Army which falls in with Heloise and her villagers, treats her with great disdain both because she is young and, more to the point, a woman. During a council at which he has commanded Heloise attend, she questions him. Obliviously he says, “This is my punishment for taking a council of war with a girl.” That word, that attitude, meant to demean her in the presence of other leaders has exactly the opposite effect. She draws herself up and asserts her authority as the one who has killed a devil and therefore, has more expertise on this subject than Sir Steven.
When they reach the capital city, Steven’s attitude has changed and he treats her as equal. He has seen her leadership grow, witnessed her wisdom. It is her determination to get through, and her insistence on continuing to fight when too many have died and others have given up, which leads Steven to fight more equitably alongside her.
Even Brother Tone who for two books did everything he could to kill Heloise and her village because of her questions regarding the Emperor’s governance comes to accept, and follow, her leadership.
In one of the pivotal scenes of The Killing Light, the reveal literally drives Tone to his knees, and makes him question everything he has ever believed. He becomes vacant and only continues the fight at Heloise’s insistence. His knowledge is the key which will lead to stopping the war between Devils and humankind.
Tone goes from murderous devotee to thoughtful follower, all due to Heloise’s mission to settle things once and for all. Most of the characters, male and female evolve, becoming more self-aware and thoughtful about their actions and the effects those have on the bigger picture.
Teenaged Onas is not completely immune to this, but his maturity will come only through time. Myke Cole’s writing shows he’s attentive to what makes the most sense for the entire cast, including keeping Onas true to his male teenaged arrogance.
The Killing Light is the satisfactory and logical ending to this trilogy. Heloise becomes what she’s destined to become after all the pain and death she’s been witness to. Heloise remains the hero we need for today.