I will admit, although I often read novels, fantasy is something that I have not read for a couple of years. I’ve sort of banished that subgenre in my mind, taking to other books instead. However, while reading Evryn the Light by Kaighla Rises — a Danville, Illinois based author — I was captivated. This book will take you on an adventure alongside the main character, Evryn, and explores various themes including feminism, sexism, and imperialism.
The cover of Evryn the Light shows a unique structure of a person with branches as hair and a turquoise forest background. The cover does not allude to much, and I had not read any reviews; just the short summary posted on Amazon. So, starting this book, I did not know what to expect exactly. I entered the book feeling disheveled, waiting to get over the hump of the beginning and excited to get into the meat of the book, where I felt absorbed. At times, that is what happened. I felt engaged, excited, and quickly dashed from sentence to sentence to get to the next part.
This review contains some spoilers.
The beginning of the book immediately enraptures the reader in the action. The book opens as Evryn is attempting to escape her home, Kenozaria, which is being invaded by Branngard. Kenozaria is run by women, specifically Evryn’s mom, Korina Freya. Korina makes the decisions for the village after her husband passed away. The death is a source of tension in the story since Evryn feels neglected by her mother at times and had a strong connection with her father. Through Evryn’s narrative, we understand that most of the pillars in her life are women.
Conversely, Branngard is a village ruled by The Torch, a kind of modern-day Pope named Akkar, and where all the Branngardian people worship the god Rhys. The Torch’s main purpose is to share Rhys’ power and greatness with the rest of the world. I asked Rises about her inspiration behind the imaginary religions created for the novel, and she told me that “there were no specific religious influences behind the practices…as much as a smattering of some universal experiences I have found explored in several religious practices — and the practices which impacted me most personally across my own journey.”
When Akkar invades Kenozaria, the dangers of imperialism appear; the Kenozarian people are expected to be taught Branngardian ways, let their village be ruled by Akkar, and disregard their own cultural values. Branngard is a ruthless, old-fashioned patriarchy. The wives are solely for their husband’s entertainment and to have children; The Torch even has his own personal concubine called The Jewel. However, Lukin, Akkar’s nephew, is honorable. He acknowledges women’s emotions and cares for them in a way the other men in the novel do not. Early on in the book, Lukin marries Evryn to protect her from Akkar and his threat to make her the next Jewel. About halfway through the story, Lukin urges Evryn to return home, firstly, so Evryn can be with her family and Kenozaria as the war becomes increasingly pressing. Secondly, to protect their own companionship from Akkar’s perverse desires. On her journey back home, despite being married to Lukin, she encounters an old lover and the two reconnect, adding the drama of a love triangle. Because the book ends with an old enemy still lingering and wanting revenge against Lukin and Evryn, the conclusion perfectly sets up the possibility for a sequel.
Each chapter of the novel is told from the point of view of Evryn, Lukin, Korina, or Torek. Hearing the different points of views at times would be a bit jarring, but after finishing the book, I realized that this was an interesting twist on a book that is considered Evryn’s story. You can tell that she is the main character, but hearing the other characters’ opinions throughout the book allowed for the reader to more fully understand some of the dynamics of the relationships by offering both sides’ perspectives.
This book was a balanced mix of adventure, violence, love, and identity. Even as Evryn was living in Branngard with Lukin, she remained true to herself and her culture. Rises told me this was what she liked best about her character: “My favorite thing about Evryn is her refusal to abandon herself, ever, under any circumstances.”
To be honest, I didn’t even know that Evryn was pansexual until the author told me. Evryn did sleep with Akkar’s Jewel, Pomisha. So, after that encounter, I believed Evryn to be bisexual, but Rises provided more insight into Evryn’s sexuality: “Her experience with Pomisha was not the first time she slept with a woman (which is alluded to fairly early on in the book) and it won’t be the last.”
This book has strong themes of love and preservation. True love for the partner one marries, as well as love for your mother and family and overcoming what has happened in the past. Evryn’s hard feelings towards her mother eventually fizzle out and their relationship becomes closer throughout the two years of time that this book is taking place. Preservation for Kenozaria is paramount in this book and represents the importance of home, connection to the land, and how that greatly influences a person, as well as the cost of such preservation in war.
Rises is currently working on book two of the Chronicles of Kenozaria series. Tentatively titled Ksenia, the Shadow, the sequel will feature “the next phase of Evryn’s life, as a mother and a partner and member of the rapidly changing community of Kenozaria. And we’ll get into Ksenia’s life as a young woman and both her and Evryn’s experiences of confronting their shadow selves,” Rises said.
Rises has multiple projects in the works, including a poetry collection, a sequel to their 2019 memoir (published under their former pen-name Kaighla Um Dayo), a short story, and the audiobook version of Evryn, the Light.
Even though I’m not normally a fantasy reader, I enjoyed this book because of the twists and the anticipation. This book will keep you interested through its complicated characters and fast-paced plot. Readers will appreciate Evryn’s heroism, passion, and endurance in retaining one’s identity.