Review: “Savior of the Sun” by J.L. Estilo.

Debuting as a self-published author is truly impressive. It’s a tough, tough process, with little reward and much strife along the way, and I can see how much love Estilo put into this book. “Savior of the Sun” is an ambitious portal fantasy with an interesting presence. It almost reminded me of a very grown-up episode of the “Magic School Bus” series, with a quirky teacher and her students transported into a new world–except this world isn’t just magical, it’s also incredibly dangerous.

I also really appreciated Estilo’s dedication to diversity. I don’t know much about Filipino culture, which I believe heavily influenced the book, but I enjoyed learning as I read!

I did find this a very challenging read. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for me personally, I wasn’t sure the payoff was there in the end. Some of the choices that made this book tough to read (like the decision to keep most character dialogue in their original language instead of translating for readers) were very worthy ones. However, others confused me. Usually, portal fantasies start out here, in a world we’re familiar with, before transporting us to a new one, and I think we need that familiarity to understand an entirely new fantasy world in less time than we get to spend there in a second-world fantasy. In this book, however, we start out in a world that seems futuristic, as well as being in the familiar setting of a school. I was a little lost and that made it harder to transition to the fantasy world, which is very rich but not laid out with particular clarity.

There are also a lot of characters. I like the sense of a large cast in a book, but to me it was often difficult to remember who was who or get emotionally invested in the characters enough to stay engaged in the story. I did think that Theresa was a great protagonist, and I loved seeing a lead character with a genuine religious faith throughout. When she wasn’t “on-stage,” as it were, I found myself not feeling as connected to the story, maybe because I didn’t feel like I’d had time to get to know the other characters really well.

Though the use of multiple languages was really cool, many of the translations (at least in French, which is the only other language I speak fluently) were incorrect. It read almost like they’d been run through Google Translate and not corrected by a human: things like “se taire” for “shut up”, which is the unconjugated form of the verb. The imperative would be “tais-toi”. I think the idea to keep dialogue in the character’s original language was so cool, and that generally language diversity was handled much more responsibly and thoughtfully in this book than it usually is in fantasy, but that didn’t extend to the translations.

Thank you to the author for providing me with an ARC, and I wish him all the best of luck with this thoughtful and important book!


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