Book Review: City of Shattered Light by Claire Winn

Banner image featuring cover of City of Shattered Light by Claire Winn superimposed over zoomed in image of same cover. Text reads "Book Review" and "Off The TBR"

Claire Winn delivers an action packed, sapphic cyberpunk space romp in City of Shattered Light. If you’re looking for some fun, can’t put the book down YA thrills then I recommend you check out Winn’s debut which is set to be released this Tuesday from Flux Books.

Cover of City of Shattered Light by Claire Winn

As darkness closes in on the city of shattered light, an heiress and an outlaw must decide whether to fend for themselves or fight for each other.

As heiress to a powerful tech empire, seventeen-year-old Asa Almeida strives to prove she’s more than her manipulative father’s shadow. But when he uploads her rebellious sister’s mind to an experimental brain, Asa will do anything to save her sister from reprogramming—including fleeing her predetermined future with her sister’s digitized mind in tow. With a bounty on her head and a rogue A.I. hunting her, Asa’s getaway ship crash-lands in the worst possible place: the neon-drenched outlaw paradise, Requiem.

Gun-slinging smuggler Riven Hawthorne is determined to claw her way up Requiem’s underworld hierarchy. A runaway rich girl is exactly the bounty Riven needs—until a nasty computer virus spreads in Asa’s wake, causing a citywide blackout and tech quarantine. To get the payout for Asa and save Requiem from the monster in its circuits, Riven must team up with her captive.

Riven breaks skulls the way Asa breaks circuits, but their opponent is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. The A.I. exploits the girls’ darkest memories and deepest secrets, threatening to shatter the fragile alliance they’re both depending on. As one of Requiem’s 154-hour nights grows darker, the girls must decide whether to fend for themselves or fight for each other before Riven’s city and Asa’s sister are snuffed out forever.

Goodreads Blurb

Highlights

  • YA
  • Cyberpunk
  • Sapphic YA Cyberpunk
  • Fast paced
  • Matriarchal Crime Bosses
  • LGBTQ+
  • Fast Paced Sapphic LGBTQ+ YA Cyberpunk with Matriarchal Crime Bosses

My Thoughts

This is a review I’ve been waiting to share with you for over three years. In late March of 2018 Claire Winn asked if I’d be interested in being a beta reader for her “crazy cyberpunk story.” I agreed even though it was perhaps a little out of my normal wheelhouse. I’ve not read too many cyberpunk stories, and I don’t read much YA. Something just said “give it a go” and thankfully I did. What started as just a read of the first six chapters quickly became a read of the whole book. I gave what was probably the most useless of feedback she received (I didn’t know what I was doing) and sat back to see what happened. It’s been fun following along as Winn first hooked an agent, then as word came that the book found a publisher, then an actual publication date, then to actually have a final copy in hand (or in Kindle as it were) to read. This version of the book after having gone through additional edits is even better than what I read originally. Given that I don’t have a completely unbiased relationship to this book I wanted to get this all out up front. As such this may be a slightly different review than normal from me.

I noted above this is fast paced sapphic LGBTQ+ YA cyberpunk with matriarchal crime bosses. Like that could almost be my review. If that doesn’t hook you I’m not sure what else I’m gonna say that will. It’s just a fun, exciting, space/cyber adventure that will hit you in the feels every now and then.

I mentioned somewhere above that I don’t read much YA so it’s hard for me to compare some of the story elements other than to let you know what I enjoyed about them. First the characters. Asa and Riven get the top billing here and they are definitely our protagonists. The POV switches back and forth between them. They are largely opposites when comparing their pasts, but must find a way to work together in the midst of some heavy trust issues. It doesn’t help that Asa doesn’t fully open up about her past. Asa grew up rich and highly educated. Riven grew up in homes and didn’t get the level of support as Asa. One is an heiress and the other a criminal pilot who is a bit more rough around the edges. It’s not exactly like a Leia and Han kind of situation…but that isn’t a horrible comparison.

There’s so much more to the story than what the blurb indicates. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and both times I read it I didn’t want to put it down. Just when you think you know where it’s going, and who the ultimate baddie is there’s a twist and you’re re-evaluating what you think you know. Then you start to wonder if there’s more than one baddie, and ask how deep do things go? There’s a father who is so fucked up he is willing to experiment on his own kids, rouge AI who is chasing everyone, and shutting everything down, there’s matriarchal crime lords, and this one other badass female rogue who consistently shows up at the worst times to derail everyone’s plans. Things aren’t always what they seem and there’s more than a few surprises. All this happening on Requiem, a moon with a dystopian city run by those matriarchs. It has the feel of criminal underworld mixed with the hottest nightclubs you can imagine. It’s like New York City on Mars but seedier and more dangerous.

Winn keeps the story moving along at a clip. The opening chapter dumps you into the action and it doesn’t really stop from there. Well…there are a few breaks here and there that allow the characters (and the reader) to catch their breath and get ready for the next big event, but the narrative moves along at a pretty consistent pace. There were a few scenes that just really gripped me, one of which was this lengthy set-piece in the Olympus Nightclub. I won’t say more so as not to ruin it, but it’s one of my favorite sets of scenes in the book in terms of action and drama.

Readers who love found family will also enjoy City of Shattered Light. That’s because this thematic element is found on multiple levels in the book. It’s really like EVERYONE is looking for a new family that is better and safer than their real one. But it comes with some bumps along the way. There’s a constant struggle between being a family or a team, and with being alone. The characters have to really work for it and prove to themselves and others how much they really want it. It makes the story so much better having seen what they are all willing to do to keep their family whole. I just really appreciated what Winn did with this theme.

There’s also some dark parts. Some sad parts. You’ve already seen me mention Asa’s dad who you’ll sit back and ask yourself “who the hell experiments on their kid!?!?” I mean I felt so strongly I wrote it down in my notes. Asa’s dad has other faults as well, elements of his character that cause pain for everyone. The characters must work through and past it to survive what’s being thrown at them. It drudges up painful memories that threaten to tear things apart. They must work through the darkness and the pain to succeed and it always leaves this tension and question of whether they will.

Everything just keeps picking up steam and building toward an explosive conclusion. When I put the book down I felt satisfied. That satisfaction you get when you’ve read a good story and you wouldn’t have changed anything. That satisfaction of being taken on a journey and left in a good place. That satisfaction of a time well spent. I hope that City of Shattered Light gets the attention it deserves. I hope you’ll pick it up and enjoy it as much as I did.

*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Author: Claire Winn
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: October 19, 2021
Format: Kindle Advanced Reader’s Copy
Pages: 400 (paperback)

Book Haul: March 2021

Banner collage of book covers for Legacy of The Brightwash by Krystle Matar, City of Shattered Light by Claire Winn, Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo, and Tower of Mud And Straw by Yaroslav Barsukov.

It has been AGES since I did a book haul post. Ages like as in last October…for books I’d hauled last August. I’d promised a post about my September hauls and never got around to it. Or any others since then for that matter.

One of my blogging goals for 2020 was to be to be more intentional about Book Haul posts and I’d like to continue that this year. I realize we are a quarter of the way through the year and this is the first one but better late than never. I’m also still aware that it’s possible nobody cares about the books I’ve bought or received, but I kinda like when bloggers post these because it not only puts new books in front of my eyeballs that I might not be aware of, but they also give me an idea of the blogger’s tastes. For my purposes a Book Haul post can include any book I’ve come to possess, not just those I buy, so arcs requested or just sent from publishers will be listed as well.

I don’t plan to recap all the books I’ve hauled so far this year, I’m just gonna start with March. So here we go…

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