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From Book 1:
A girl who sees ghosts navigates a world of magical haves and have-nots, in the “ingenious, insightful debut” of a dystopian fantasy epic (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

In the City, magic guarantees a life free from illness, hunger and hardship—unless, of course, you have none. Without even a spark of bright magic, Xhea can't even buy breakfast, let alone tell the City's systems that she exists. But she does have a special gift: an ability to see ghosts and control the tethers that bind them to the living world.

Xhea thought she knew everything about ghosts—until she took possession of Shai, the ghost of a girl who hasn't actually died. Suddenly Xhea finds herself hunted through the Lower City's dangerous streets. Because Shai's body has been stolen, her ghost is running scared, and Xhea is now trapped between two powerful entities that will stop at nothing to regain the girl, dead or alive.

But soon the manhunt for the living ghost is eclipsed by the strange power that Shai's presence brings to life in Xhea: a dark magic that is slowly growing in power. A magic whose very touch brings death…
In this “captivating start” to the Towers Trilogy, a multiple Nebula nominee invites readers into a dark and dangerous world that is about be changed by two remarkable girls (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

400 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 2014

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About the author

Karina Sumner-Smith

17 books165 followers
Karina Sumner-Smith is the author of the Towers Trilogy from Talos Press: Radiant (Sept 2014), Defiant (May 2015), and Towers Fall (Nov 2015). In addition to novel-length work, Karina has published a range of science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories that have been nominated for the Nebula Award, reprinted in several Year’s Best anthologies, and translated into Spanish and Czech. She lives in Ontario with her husband and a small dog.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 188 reviews
Profile Image for Mogsy.
2,073 reviews2,635 followers
November 18, 2014
4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum http://bibliosanctum.com/2014/11/18/r...

Is Radiant science fiction? Or is it fantasy? Perhaps it is both, just as I like to think this book could fit comfortably in both the Adult and Young Adult categories. No matter how you look at it, it seems there’s something for everyone in this brilliant and unique cross-genre piece from debut novelist Karina Sumner-Smith.

It all begins with a ghost. Teenager Xhea may have been born without magic – not one bit at all – but she has a power that allows her to see and speak to the dead. Forced to live in the Lower City where those with little to no magic struggle to eke out a living, Xhea manages to survive by scavenging and selling her services to the haunted, offering to take on their ghostly burdens for a few days in exchange for some food or money.

This is how Shai comes into Xhea’s life. Even as a ghost, Shai has so much magic that she can use it to generate the power that keeps the floating towers of the city’s upper class supplied with endless fuel and energy. This is because Shai is a Radiant, a rare individual who is literally a magic generator and there are powerful factions out there who will stop at nothing to get their hands on her. To these individuals, Shai is nothing but a tool. They care nothing about the pain and torture her ghost will endure, and it is up to Xhea to protect and fight for her new phantom friend.

The story of Radiant revolves around this incredibly beautiful relationship. Xhea is a down-on-her-luck outcast who has survived years of abuse and trauma. Shai is a dead girl who, in her living years, only knew a life of luxury and comfort, albeit burdened with the responsibility of being a Radiant. And yet, a friendship is forged between these two very different characters, and the bond only strengthens with every page.

This central dynamic serves as the novel’s entire backbone, and I’m glad for it. There is very little fluff or filler content to distract from the main plot, no stale romantic arcs or angsty teenage drama to get in the way, just a compelling journey of two strong young women who go through many adventures and much strife in order to help one another. Even divided into three parts, the story is tightly told, and I enjoyed Sumner-Smith’s straightforward and easy-on-the-eyes writing style. She doesn’t go overboard with descriptions or the details of the characters’ backgrounds, providing enough to keep the reader engaged yet also satisfy the folks like me who crave world building and character development.

The remarkable friendship between Xhea and Shai alone makes this a very special novel, but I also loved the world the author has created here. Like I alluded to in my introduction, it would be impossible to assign just one genre to Radiant – and quite honestly, it wouldn’t do the book justice if I did. There’s a mix of so many things here. Potent magical spells existing in harmony with advanced technology. The images of glimmering gargantuan towers in the sky suggest a futuristic setting, while the dirty and crumbling ruins of buildings and defunct subway tunnels in the Lower City are reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic dystopian. Mindless, shambling undead creatures resembling zombies stalk the broken streets at night, injecting a bit of horror into this already mind-blowing blend of spec fic elements.

Radiant truly stands out. As a debut novel from an author already highly acclaimed for her short stories, there is a quality of rawness to some parts of it, but it’s nevertheless a very polished and great book. Karina Sumner-Smith is one to watch, and I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the next installment in the Towers Trilogy.
Profile Image for Sarah Elizabeth.
4,745 reviews1,306 followers
November 7, 2016
(Source: I received a digital copy of this book for free on a read-to-review basis. Thanks to Perseus/PGW/Legato/Consortium and Edelweiss.)

“The magic… it’s sick, wrong. Broken. It’s all going wrong, all of it wrong – it’s eating me from the inside out and I can’t – I can’t – I can’t stop it.”

This was a YA dystopian/fantasy story about a girl who had no magic, but could see ghosts.

Xhea was quite as stubborn character and kept fighting even when things seemed hopeless. I also admired the way she cared so much about Shai and her wellbeing.

The storyline in this was about Xhea who had no innate magic, living in a world where magic was everything. The thing that Xhea could do though was to see ghosts, and to change who they were tethered too, which is how she met Shai. Shai wasn’t a normal ghost though, and Xhea just ended up in more and more trouble for trying to help her. The pace in this was quite slow though, and the storyline was a little confusing in places.

The ending to this was pretty action packed, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the next book.

6 out of 10
Profile Image for Susana.
988 reviews247 followers
April 2, 2015

Release Date: October, 7th

Arc provided by Talos Press through Edelweiss

Radiant ups the game in the dystopian and post-apocalyptic story telling, joining the top authors with the most imaginative and well written stories on the subject.
Fans of Susan Ee's "Penryn and the End of Days" series will probably love this!

Radiant is such an amazing and complex story that I am afraid I won't be able to do it justice with my poor and basic review. In fact I'm fighting the urge to only say something as inane as: Wow...and wow...and go read it...and can I say wow again?

With traces of dystopia, sci-fi, post-apocalyptic (and I don't even know how to categorize the living, sentient A.I(?) parts), horror (get ready for some zombie like creatures...) this is basically a story about survival and friendship. Of holding on to something, to someone who is finally there for you, and who won't leave you no matter what.
Not even dead.

With a background of abandonment and neglect, fifteen year old Xhea lives as best as she can on Lower City .

In a world in which magic is the most powerful bargain in the world, Xhea barely scraps a life for herself, not having any magic of her own.

The Lower City part of her world, is where people with little magic _or as in her case, no magic at all_ survive amongst rubble and decay.

By contrast, in the sky, in the City , there are the Towers, floating islands of wealth and privilege, in which people with the greatest magical abilities live.

These towers are fuelled by their inhabitants' magic... and especially by some very important people called Radiants.

Radiants are like magic generators. They have so much magic inside them that it can literally kill them.

Now, magic in Xhea's world is as natural as breathing:

Magic gives you the magical signature you need in order to live a normal life. It allows you to buy everything you need by magically engraving coins with the value of their worth.

For Xhea, not having it, means accepting payments of small value that only children can use, or having to be as dependent on someone's good will to imbue her coins with someone else's magical signature...

Like I said, this is a complex world, and it takes a little while to get used to it. Maybe because it is so different of what we're used to! (at least in my case!) And that's a good thing!

This story is so different, so amazingly outstanding, and so prone to make our small grey cells work, that after awhile I'm telling you: You'll be like a fish on a hook. A very shinning and appetizing hook!
You won't be able to resist it!
So, please, please, just persevere and keep reading it, it will blow your mind!!
Of course, I wouldn't say "nay" to a glossary at the beginning of the book. :)

So, Xhea, an outcast in her own world, someone used to live as a city rat, has however a strong ability:
She can see ghosts.

So when one day a man approaches her, carrying with him a girl's ghost, Xhea's life will never be the same.
Shai is unlike any ghost Xhea has ever seen and, after awhile, these two very different girls start becoming friends.
But Shai has a very important role to play in her society despite being dead, and there are people who won't stop at anything until they get her back.

With cunning political intrigue, and moral dilemmas thrown into this plot, Xhea and Shai will have to rely on one another, and trust in their friendship to survive their ordeal.

As you can read, there's no romance in this story. *YAY!*

That means that if you're like I used to be, until about five years ago, a person that needed a romance thrown into the story to feel that things weren't too boring, then this book isn't for you... now.

In a couple of years _take my word_ you'll love it.

If... however, you like strong and intelligent characters, are sick and tired of cheesy romances, and are over and done with love triangles/quadrangles/... whatever, then this book is most definitely for you!

The plot is unlike any other I've ever read, and it kept me anxiously turning the pages to figure out what was going to happen next! The action and the visual setting that it gives us is so unique, that it is bound to make your head spin!

But if you're afraid that this is only about non stop action, forget about it!

This book deals with some strong abandonment issues. This means that the emotional part is as strong as the action one.

Xhea as been through so much in her life that you just want to give the girl a hug.
If she would let you.

You know... up until a couple months ago, reading arcs had the interesting development of steering me away from books that I would not, NOT, ever buy in my lifetime, because they were that bad!

Now, it has just the opposite effect! Because this is most definitely a book that I'll want to have in my bookshelf!
Go Read It!!

p.s- And luckily it appears that the second volume, Defiant, is going to be released in May 2015!! :)

Now I just have to get my hands on the author's short stories, and try to figure out which of them garnered a Nebula nomination!

Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,275 reviews227 followers
January 6, 2017
An amazing story of two young women, one alive and dark, the other dead and bright, as they find each other and take on the world.

The world is a dark one of magic and conflict which seems built on the ashes of our world. Xhea seems to possess no magic at all, or at least not the bright magic that everyone else seems to hold, and partly because of this she lives her life in the Lower City. Above the Lower City hover the Towers, places of luxury and magic which predate on each other and jockey for position. Life in the Towers is pretty wonderful, with technology fueled by magic, but it's bought for a terrible price paid by a very few.

Xhea does have some abilities though, one of which is that she can see and hear ghosts. Which is how she encounters Shai, one of the Radiants that the Towers depend on both in life and in death for their endless font of magic. But it's readily apparent that the existence of a Radiant is absolutely torturous and Xhea resolves to help Shai as much as she can.

This book is written around the friendship between these strong and independent young women as they struggle for the basics of life: the right to exist without being exploited because of what they are. Their fight against the injustice of what other people have planned for them is a righteous one and drags the reader along with them.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,109 followers
April 22, 2018
I was recommended this one a while back and I feel slightly sheepish that I’m only just now getting to it.

I wanted something close to Jemison’s Fifth Season and I can see a few similarities, but other than the eventual near-end blow-out that takes on some huge-magic ramifications, it’s really its own beast.

Skyscrapers of magic. This part is rather cool. Kinda modern but after some huge collapse, the technology is now almost entirely based on magic. I’m reminded of Max Gladstone and dystopian urban fantasy mixed heavily with ghost talking. Sound cool? It is.

It takes a while to get into the magic system, otherwise focusing mainly on relationship building, a friendship between an abused ghost and the mc girl who, rather than disposing the half-alive mostly-ghost for the complicated job that it is, develops a strong friendship, instead.

Later on, however, is where I think this novel shines, when the world building blooms and the magics develop and then, all of a sudden, everything goes to hell.

It is technically a YA fantasy, but it is easily strong enough as a regular modern fantasy. I’m definitely continuing this.
Profile Image for Emma.
2,512 reviews857 followers
September 18, 2016
Original mash up : fantasy, post-apocalypse, dystopia, magic, ghosts,zombies...and it works!
I love the fact that we don't have all the answers about this world. It is quite inspiring as our main character overcomes the odds. She is quite a tragic character but they say you cannot feel sorry for some one who doesn't feel sorry for themselves, and it is certainly true here.
Her relationship to ghosts reminds me slightly of The Girl with Ghost Eyes, but the book has a flavour all of its own.
Very intrigued to see what the sequel offers. Want something a bit different fantasy and sci Fi lovers? This is it! Enjoy..
Profile Image for Robyn.
827 reviews131 followers
January 9, 2017
Very original world & compelling friendship, as well as excellent writing. However, for some reason I just wasn't as gripped by this as I wanted to be; I really had to force myself to finish the last half. Maybe a mood thing!
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 2 books4 followers
June 1, 2014
For anyone who has been longing for a book in which the central relationship around which the story revolves is a really amazing friendship rather than a romance/love triangle (because let's face it, you can only listen to the Wicked soundtrack so many times, and romance is all well and good but one can't live off a diet of romance alone), this is the book you have been waiting for.

RADIANT is a book full of wonderful things, and there is so much about it that I love. I love the detail that the author has built into the world that has grown out of the remains of a ruined city. The tiny elements of world-building that lurk in crannies and around corners like the mysterious creatures heard shuffling around the streets at night. I love how the author explores ideas of morality, the contrasting worlds of light and dark, as the shining towers of the City above contrast with the ruined skyscrapers and caved-in subway tunnels of the Lower City. The Lower City lives and breathes -- its sights, smells, textures, and tastes present both in vibrant colour and in the shades of grey seen through the eyes of our protagonist.

But more than anything, I love the friendship between Xhea and Shai that forms the heart of the book. Two wildly different young women from two entirely different worlds, who would never have been friends in life, connected after Shai's death by a bond that surpasses the boundaries of the job for which they were originally brought together and becomes something wonderful and new. These are beautifully realized characters with hopes, dreams, faults, and flaws, and watching their friendship as it blossomed organically between them was my favourite part of a story full of wonder, mystery, fear, intrigue, and adventure.

With an ending that resolves just enough to be satisfying in a way that makes you sigh as you close the book, while simultaneously whetting your appetite for the next book and the answers to questions that still remain, RADIANT has earned itself a spot on my favourites shelf for a long time to come.
Profile Image for Molly Mortensen.
441 reviews211 followers
April 2, 2018
I'm sick of dystopians but throw in fantasy and ghosts, and you've got my interest.

The story and worldbuilding are definitely unique. A lot of thought went into this society. The world was cool, with floating towers for the upper classes and the lower classes living in the ruins. All technology is run by magic, so magic is currency. Xhea has no magic, so she's essentially always broke. She can see ghosts though and that's where the action comes in.

I love good friendships in books and I really fell for Xhea and Shai's. Though on their own neither character was anything special. Shai's a big question mark, because her history is the mystery of the book. Xhea is a the kind of character, which on paper (figuratively speaking) I hate. Bitter, angry, and a bit of a magic addict. (Though she didn't face any of the problems normal addicts face, so that part didn't bother me.) But in the end she was a sympathetic character. At first she comes off hard, but we quickly learn that she isn't really.

There were a few minor characters but none got enough page time to get to know them. Lorn, the young ruler of one of the lower skyscrapers, has the most promise. I'm curious about his mysterious history with Xhea.

The plot was rather slow, dispite all of the action and running. Xhea just reacted to everything, not really having a goal. Towards the end, she gained a goal but not a plan or the intellect to enact it. (Which was annoying but still entertaining.)

I hadn't planned to read the sequel but I might have to. No cliffhanger, but the author didn't answer all my questions!
Profile Image for Renay.
236 reviews125 followers
March 21, 2016
Oh man talk about LADY FRIENDSHIPS I am HERE FOR IT. I need the next book IMMEDIATELY.

(I still don't quite understand the magic system.)

(This is not the book's fault.)
Profile Image for J.M. Frey.
Author 30 books150 followers
March 24, 2014
(Full disclosure: I recieved an ARC from the author.)

RADIANT is a tense, wonder-and-horror-packed, political thriller at whose heart is cradled the glowing importance of the bonds of friendship; the desperation of loneliness; the pain of magic; the impertinence of power; and the misery of a child’s abandonment, misunderstanding and desperate desire for a place to rest, to be safe, for a home in a world where such a thing never comes without a price.

RADIANT follows Xhea, a Lower City dweller in a broken, filthy cyberpunk future where the rich are only rich by virtue of having been born with magic. Xhea, so devoid of magic that it has even stripped her of her ability to see in colour, scratches and scrabbles out a living in the literal underbelly of the world. To make ends meet, Xhea pawns the treasures of the time Before that she scavenges, and for a price, will take on the burdens ghosts so that those to whom they’re tethered can take respite from their haunting for a few days.

Into Xhea’s bleak and gray world comes Shai, the ghost of a girl who once lived and died in the great, powerful, and magically charged Towers that float above the Lower City. A melancholy, forgetful ghost whose harried and erratic father wants free of her, Shai glows with a magic so bright that Xhea has never seen its like before.

And, if the guards of the Tower that Shai’s father escaped from has anything to do with it, never will again. Now Xhea is on the run from Tower officials, forced to hide Shai and her powerful, terrifyingly bright magic, just save her own skin. But there are other players on the board who want to control Shai’s hoard of magic, people who know Xhea’s horrifically scarred and traumatic past, people who have debts or grudges against Xhea to either reel in or repay.

Oh, and there are the zombies too, who tear apart anyone stupid enough to be outside after dark, and who seem genuinely drawn to Shai’s bright power... and the strange, dark magic that Xhea is starting to discover within herself, something that makes the very magic that makes up the wealth of this world a poison to Xhea.

What first began as a financial transaction grows into a strong and vital friendship between Xhea and Shai. In this age of Gossip Girls and Pretty Little Liars, a book which not only features but celebrates a genuine, strong friendship between girls built on mutual trust and respect is vital for young readers of all genders.

Sparse, spare, and at the same time a rich tapestry of worldbuilding and the soft misery of her blighted main character Xhea, Karina Sumner-Smith’s smashing debut is a page-turner of the highest pedigree. Sumner-Smith’s excellent, subtle, wringing worldbuilding abilities is supported by her clean, clear, precise wordcrafting. RADIANT is a book that is both a joy and a pleasure to read, with a breathtaking climax that rivals the greatest scenery pieces of the blockbuster films, and an ending that is both satisfying and intriguing, which promises a greater world filled with bigger and brighter mysteries for Xhea, Shai, and all those who dwell in the Lower City, a place – now that Xhea and Shai are in it - is no longer without hope.
Profile Image for Online Eccentric Librarian.
2,980 reviews5 followers
October 13, 2014

More reviews at the Online Eccentric Librarian http://surrealtalvi.wordpress.com/

More reviews (and no fluff) on the blog http://surrealtalvi.wordpress.com/

Radiant tops my list of best books of 2014; neither the cover nor the blurb accurately foretold just how good a story was contained within. Very intricate and unique world building combined with highly nuanced characters to create a story full of pathos. I couldn't put it down once I had started reading.

Story: Xhea lives on the ground in a post apocalyptic Canadian City with magic-powered floating cities. Humans have found magic and it fundamentally changed the world, creating inequalities based upon the strength of a person's innate magic. It is currency and coin, and the heart of Xhea's poverty. For she doesn't have magic, only a very rare ability to see/hear ghosts. On the ground are the poor and in the outskirts, the Walkers - zombie like humans who are a horror of their own. When Xhea is paid to temporarily separate a ghost from a man, she will become unwittingly embroiled in world politics. For the ghost, Shai, is special. And the two girls will need each of their unique skills if they are to survive what is about to come.

Both main characters, Xhea and Shai, are very fully formed. Each is strong in a unique way that will both help and hinder their journey together. But it is their interactions and halting friendship that give this story heart. Rather than being enemies or screeching females, each recognizes the gravitas of their situation and make use of their talents. For once, we have characters who understand just how perilous their lives have becomes and act accordingly.

The side characters are just as human (or inhuman, as in the case of the ghosts). There are no mustache twirling villains or too-good-to-be-true friends who will end up as tombstones. Rather, loner Xhea has those she can sort of depend upon but whom will end up disappointing when she runs into trouble with the Towers.

The human aspect of the story is very well complemented by a fascinating and intricately conceived world. From the politics of the elite in the Towers to the scrabble on the ground - it all makes sense and it is all incredibly unique. A post apocalypse world with magic running throughout - powering elevators or cars and defining the worth of people. It's a capitalist society run on magic rather than gold or currency.

There's a lot to like here. Those who are looking to avoid yet another sloppily written, illogical YA dystopian with copious amounts of meaningless action culminating in a soppy insta-luv romance will find a lot to love with Radiant. It's the antidote to the rash of very poorly written books springing up since Divergent and Hunger Games became popular.

I eagerly look forward to the next book in the series and I give my highest recommendations for Radiant. Reviewed from an ARC.
126 reviews19 followers
January 10, 2019
Intense and affecting. This is a story about social obligations and the lines between responsibility and exploitation, told from the perspective of a magicless outsider who can see ghosts who unexpectedly finds herself tethered to the ghost of someone from very deep inside the society of magic-powered floating cities that hover over the postapocalyptic landscape. I'll be thinking about this one for a while, but I think I need to let it rest a bit before I continue on with the series.
Profile Image for Anya.
763 reviews168 followers
November 11, 2015
This wasn't at all what I was expecting but it was still excellent! The writing is really lovely, the ghosts and world are spooky, the magic is fascinating and the focus on a female friendship instead of a romance is marvelously refreshing. I'm hoping for more details about the timeframe and how the heck the world turned out this way in the sequel ;-).
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 4 books52 followers
October 6, 2014
I can’t remember how I first heard of Karina Sumner-Smith’s debut novel Radiant (most likely somewhere on Twitter), but the premise grabbed my attention right away. Even better, the persuasion worked twofold: a clever plot, but also an invitation to a world where a magic system exists alongside urban, paranormal, science fiction, and dystopian elements. Sounds fascinating, doesn’t it? If your answer is “yes,” then Radiant will be a welcome addition to your bookshelf.

One of Radiant’s greatest strengths is the fantastic world-building. Despite what seems like a hodge-podge of elements – ghosts, magic, floating Towers above the impoverished Lower City, hovercrafts, ground-to-Tower elevators, night-walkers – Xhea and Shai’s world feels incredibly real. Everything fits the gritty, futuristic setting in tone or image. Sumner-Smith’s evocative writing style also enhances the reader’s experience in the City. It allows readers to picture the crumbling buildings and caving subway tunnels, hear the heavy breathing of the night-walkers (I swore those creatures would give me nightmares), and feel the bumps and shakes of the aircar ride (my favorite scene in the book!). Finally, I appreciated the fresh twists on trite fantasy tropes, particularly how magic is considered a form of wealth because of how commonly it occurs in the City – and how not having magic throws a resident into poverty.

Another aspect I enjoyed about Radiant was seeing a friendship between female characters as the primary relationship. This rarely happens in the fantasy genre. At the same time, Xhea and Shai aren’t just two young women gushing about boys, fashion, and superficial subjects. Instead, they’re struggling to protect each other as they navigate their hostile environment and thwart enemies from rival Towers. The fact that Shai’s a ghost – dead, compared to the alive and (literally) kicking Xhea – adds a whole other dynamic. What makes this friendship so believable despite that fantasy “difference” is the balance in personality. The homeless Xhea is plucky, feisty, and tenacious, while Shai retains the innocence, warmth, and grace she must have possessed when living. The two characters motivate each other as a result, and grow from their comradery.

One supporting character who intrigued me was Lorn Edren, one of the authority figures of Tower Edren and a man who Xhea rescued in the past. He’s fair and protective toward Xhea, yet the few hints of backstory offered suggest a troubling past. This duality of darkness and light makes me hope we’ll learn more about him as the Towers Trilogy continues and see him play a larger role as a second friend and ally to Xhea.

The only downside with Radiant is that it relies too heavily on narrative. Sometimes the story goes on for paragraphs of world-building, thoughts, or description of setting or action before a character speaks again. I think this angle can be justified: Xhea is used to being alone, so she spends chunks of time thinking to herself and observing during Radiant. However, without the normal dialogue-exposition balance, there were times when the pace should have urged my heart to pump with fear but didn’t. It does pick up for the middle and most of the final third, though, so don’t give up on this book too soon.

And in hindsight, I’m glad I stuck with Radiant. I came away from it feeling as battered as Xhea did (Sumner-Smith isn’t afraid of making her characters go through hell to achieve their goals) and with wide-eyed wonder. The world that Sumner-Smith has created here is riveting, with its mix of terror and beauty and the stark disparity between the City’s haves and have-nots. Plus, it’s impossible to not root for Xhea and Shai. Radiant allows both characters – especially Xhea – to evolve, and their teamwork is unlike anything I’ve read about before. Fans of adult and YA fantasy shouldn’t let this book slip under their radar. It’s a darkly immersive read with an ending that steals your breath and stays with you for days afterwards. I’m already looking forward to my next ticket to the City when Radiant’s sequel Defiant comes out next year.
Profile Image for thefourthvine.
577 reviews202 followers
March 29, 2016
It was only after I finished the entire Tower Trilogy – and it does stay good, all the way through – that I realized that I've had an unplanned run of books about female friendship. (Mars Evacuees, Giant Days, and the Towers Trilogy all feature a central, pivotal friendship between girls or women.) I like this trend and hope it continues.

Of all of those series, the friendship is definitely most important in this one, where it's between Xhea, ghost-seeing magic-null (...or is she?) citizen of a magic-obsessed world, and Shai, a dead girl who has All the Magic. The friendship is the engine that drives the books and their plots. I think if it doesn't work for you, the books won't work at all.

Fortunately, the friendship very much worked for me, and thus so did the books. They're fascinating, with novel, interesting worldbuilding and a driving central plot, plus main characters I really liked, who do not always make the right or best choices, but who do always make the choices that makes sense for who they are.

The books are a trifle uneven. You can tell the first one is a first novel, but the author finds her feet by the third one, and stops introducing characters by going, "Oh, here is this other person that Xhea has known for years that I never mentioned before. Let me give you a quick paragraph of background!" (That, for the record, is not the way to do that.) And they've been astonishingly poorly served by their publishing house – the editing and the copyediting were neither of them good, and I think the book has been badly packaged and marketed. But that doesn't change the central facts: these are fun to read, compelling and painful in spots, with gripping worldbuilding and good characters.

Entirely worth it.
Profile Image for Hallie.
954 reviews123 followers
January 4, 2016
I wish I'd read this instead of listening to the audio, as the narrator had a very flat reading tone. Definitely preferable to over-emotive, or doing awful accents/opposite-gender voices, but still. There's so much that's great about the book, and so many typical tropes that were avoided, that I felt I should have got a lot more excited than I did. Solid world-building, no love-triangle, an unusual but moving slow-building friendship (with a ghost, no less). Really, I should have been doing All the Cleaning in order to listen every chance I could get! Will read the next book, and hope to be grabbed by it at least.
Profile Image for Abbie.
1,976 reviews581 followers
June 21, 2014
(I received a copy from Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.)

Radiant started out okay, but i lost interest very quickly.

The main character was an okay character. I really liked her in the first chapter because she didn't tolerate anybody's rudeness, but as the story progressed, i found her more annoying.

The pacing in this was just too slow for me. The first chapter was great, the couple of chapters after that were good, but the rest was boring.
It dragged, it was confusing, and i just couldn't get interested in it.

Overall, confusing, slow, not for me.
Profile Image for Sarah.
733 reviews73 followers
February 7, 2017
3.5 stars. I was torn between three and four but I finally decided that I don't want to continue the trilogy, which is one of my four star criteria.

It was a cool book with a really fascinating magic system. I went ahead and shelved it as dark fantasy because Xhea's actual ability is on the dark side and she was the main POV. There were some totally awesome scenes with such vivid imagery.
Profile Image for Jaime Moyer.
Author 22 books210 followers
June 7, 2017
There are books that you finish with a whispered "oh..." and a sigh, because you don't want to let the story end, or let go of the voice and the emotion.

Radiant was one of those books for me. You should all go read this book.
Profile Image for Nina.
534 reviews26 followers
March 11, 2015
This book showed some promised at the beginning and then it unravel and turned boring and unreadable for me. I wanted to finish it but I found myself avoiding it at every turn so I decided to DNF.
Profile Image for Allison.
489 reviews186 followers
June 9, 2015
I will try to write a longer review for this later, but it was pretty great and had me tearing up in a few places.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,954 reviews1,293 followers
November 2, 2017
I am always on the lookout for new and interesting takes on urban fantasy. I enjoy urban fantasy set in our world, where the supernatural are either covert or living openly, but there is something so good about made-up cities and their cultures. Radiant, Karina Sumner-Smith’s first book in a trilogy about the Towers, is a prime example of this. She creates a world where magic is as commonplace as technology is for us—but the protagonist, Xhea, can’t access it. This premise alone isn’t all that original, but when you toss in Xhea’s ability to see and interact with ghosts, you get closer to an amazing story.

Radiant opens with Xhea temporarily severing the tether that attaches a ghost to a person she’s haunting. But this is no ordinary ghost. Shai is the eponymous Radiant, and without going into spoilers, let’s just say that makes her very valuable to the upper class citizens of the floating Towers. Down in the muck of the Lower City, Xhea couldn’t care less, and she resolves to help keep Shai away from them and free Shai, if possible. There is much more at stake, of course. So Xhea finds herself a fugitive from multiple Towers, ghostly Shai in tow, as her own strange magic, so different from everyone else’s, finally starts to assert itself.

I loved Xhea’s characterization from the start, though I didn’t necessarily love Xhea herself, if that makes sense. Sumner-Smith portrays Xhea as a very exhausted teenager: she has literally been fighting for her survival every day of her life, ever since she ran away from the skyscraper that would have indentured her, discovered her darkness, and used it to their advantage. Her attitude is very consistent with this. A lot of her behaviour is reactive rather than proactive—she doesn’t really care about the larger political implications of what she’s doing, or what will happen in the short- or long-terms if she is successful. She’s just acting, because to stand still is to die.

Similarly, Sumner-Smith lays out the workings of this world with clarity and a minimum of exposition. The Lower City comes alive as Xhea and Shai duck, dodge, and dive through it. It’s a bustling marketplace of people just trying to get by, while far above them, these glimmering edifices hang in the sky like judgmental, inaccessible palaces. Citizens occasionally deign to descend from the Towers, in magical elevators, to purchase items from the Lower City’s markets, or make their own sales. But by and large, the Towers have their own politics, their own culture, their own problems—all of which I hope to learn more about in future books. Sumner-Smith presents a great example of a divided, polarized society that is almost allegorical for what’s happening in our own time without making the allegory too on-the-nose like some young-adult dystopian novels.

Radiant loses some of its lustre simply because I think we spend too much time with Xhea and a few other characters. Although she interacts with a small number of allies, and confronts a small number of antagonists, we never really get to know many other characters. Shai is about the only other one who receives any development. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a book, but I tend to prefer books with ensemble casts or, if we have a single, strong central protagonist, then a wider set of characters with whom they interact. Despite the awesome scope hinted at in this book, Xhea’s world is such a narrow slice of it that the novel feels constrained as a result.

The plot itself is also fairly simple. I enjoyed reading this book, and the last fifty pages really pick up and turn into a satisfying, action-packed climax. Yet for the middle third of the book, I vacillated between mild interest and mild boredom, much as Xhea’s status vacillates between mild safety and mild danger. If there had been even just a little bit more, just one more layer to the mystery, something else for Xhea to investigate or do, then perhaps that would have been enough to keep me interested.

I don’t mean to damn with faint praise: Radiant is breathtaking for its originality and its writing. It’s a strong book—and that’s precisely why I’m trying to articulate why I didn’t love it. These are the books that are interesting, the ones you know are good yet don’t quite become favourites.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Luke.
8 reviews
July 2, 2014
I just finished the book Radiant last night in the middle of a thunderstorm. It was fitting to read about magic battles by the flash of lighting. It was better to discover a new young-adult fantasy author with potential.

Radiant starts with Xhea, a lone girl whose main source of income is expelling ghosts. In a world where everybody is born with magic and the rich live in floating towers, Xhea has no magic and lives on the ground. Yet she can see ghosts, and discern the flow of magic.

Xhea takes a job, thinking only to make a little money and to get high on somebody else's magic. Instead she becomes embroiled in a major struggle over the fate of a girl who is already dead.

While this book is clearly not as polished as it could be, it showcases the talents of a growing author with good pacing, compelling characters, and beautiful settings. The lower world is gritty while the travel in the Towers is beautiful. Though the author never explains a few key elements, this story is still a gem.

This is the first in a trilogy, though it stands on its own. I look forward to the next installments and you should look forward to this one. It comes out September 2 from Talos Press.
Profile Image for Amanda Sun.
Author 18 books907 followers
April 2, 2014
An imaginative and original tale of struggle, sacrifice, and friendship within a harsh cultural landscape. Radiant is a vibrant debut, infused with pure magic and strong characters.
Profile Image for Alicia.
218 reviews18 followers
March 12, 2016
Radiant is the book I didn't realize I was looking for after reading Julie Kagawa's The Immortal Rules series and good god I am so glad I found it.

I absolutely loved this story.

The setting is a mix of Magically influenced Dystopian Future, definitely in the Young Adult category, with a side of (almost Space-like) Sci-Fi and a dash of Zombies. It sounds like a lot - and some of those are categories I don't exactly love - but Ms. Sumner-Smith makes this blend work.

Oh and there's no traditional boy-meets-girl love story here though there is an intensely emotional and deep First Love development in the form of platonic best friends.

First of all, the prose was just lovely. I was hooked from the very first sentence:
Curled in a conrete alcove that had once been a doorway, Xhea watched the City man make his awkward way through the market tents, dragging a ghost behind him.

No time is wasted in getting to the point of this story and setting a dark and serious tone. The City man has a ghost-problem, and Xhea can help him - for a price.

What was it, Xhea wondered, that made the ghost-afflicted wait for the darkest, rainiest days to seek her out?

This kicks off a violent uphill battle that was so much more than Xhea signed up for, broken into three distinct parts.

Which brings me to the pacing...
Radiant has a lot of running, hiding, escaping, scary scenes which aren't typically my thing. I like tension but I hate being perpetually on the edge of my seat - especially with Zombie-ish things. But each of the three parts had various levels of escaping punctuated with The Feels.

The first part of Radiant is the least violent and the most heart wrenching. As Xhea comes to care for Shai, so does the reader. At first I was disappointed in the lack of description in Xhea's appearance while Shai was described in so. much. detail.

But after the first part I saw how well this worked. Xhea's appearance is kept purposefully vague just like we're never explicitly told where this dystopian city is actually located. This could be Tokyo. It could be New York. Shai is described as blond and blue-eyed but other characters have honey or even very dark skin color. And those details are slowly rationed to the reader throughout the story.

The second is focused on Xhea's past and how she became the girl she is today - details spliced between tense run-and-escape-in-the-dark scenes. Her backstory is as complete as it can be - though details are still sparse - and she shares with Shai as much as possible surprising herself along the way.

The third part is action. Lots of action and magic and if this were a movie, it would be all CG - but still plenty of Feels and beautiful writing, for example:
Of all the questions she'd asked all the ghosts she'd ever known, she'd never asked what it tasted like to die. Whether their last breaths were sweet, like fresh blue-berries stolen from the market, the juice of each so perfect it could only be experienced with eyes closed. Whether death smelled like the first violets blooming in spring, those thin stalks struggling to rise above asphalt and stone. Whether there had been joy in their last moments, not in death or dying, but knowing, merely knowing, that they had lived.

But most important of all: Xhea and Shai are wonderful characters and their relationship is beautiful.
Xhea starts off as an emotionally detached, jaded, magically defunct badass. She literally views the world in Black and White, she has dark magic she doesn't understand and can't control, she ties coins to her long twisted hair (can we just call them dreads?), she smokes cigarettes and lives in decaying subway tunnels, and she talks to ghosts that no one else can see while standing in the middle of the street.

While we don't know exactly what she looks like, I netted out with something like this (albeit a lot dirtier most of the time):

As Xhea moves throughout the three parts of her and Shai's story, she opens herself up to not only her dark magic but deeper thoughts as well.
For even if she was valued, was known, was even cared for, it could only be for a moment, brief and fleeting. There was always - would always be - something greater than her, more important. More worthy of time or attention. Something, someone, worth being loved.

As she would never be.

She is a character that is strong because she's had to be, but not stupidly so. This is where I was most reminded of The Immortal Rules who features one of my most favorite leading ladies ever.

There's a moment when she narrowly escapes death and finds herself crying in the arms of an old business associate. She's mortified but recognizes how badly she needed to have a compassionate moment with another - living - person.

Shai is quiet, poised, composed even in the confusion of life after death. She's a City girl that's known pain and sacrifice. Her heart breaks throughout the story but she is steadfast in her support of Xhea and her appreciation for all that has come to pass because of her death.

I don't want to head to spoiler-town, but at the end of Part I, only 25% of the way through the book, Shai and Xhea share an experience that changes them both so deeply they will forever be tied to one another. It's easy to understand how and why Xhea opens up to Shai and why they continue to seek one another out in parts II and III.

What more is there to say?
I stayed up until 5am to get to 75% and then spent the rest of my overcast Saturday holed up in bed to get to the end. Radiant was that good. Scratch that - Xhea and Shai's love and friendship story is that good.

The only thing I didn't love? How the Towers are powered and the magic that divides the two societies. I didn't 100% "get it" but I was still able to completely love everything else. I also have faith that I will learn more in book two.

If you're looking for a break from Boy/Girl first love and are up for the challenge of complicated (and sometimes bizarre) magic that rules a city of towers, get Radiant. Xhea's perspective on loss will appeal to your inner emo and Shai's optimism will keep you running with them despite every challenge.
Profile Image for Manda Scott.
Author 28 books609 followers
September 12, 2021
Glorious. Beautiful. Inventive. Magical.

This book is beautiful in so many ways:Xhea and Shia and their evolving relationship; the setting and the sense of magic; the parallels with our own crumbling world and the entitlements of predatory capitalists - and the language. Hundreds of writers have clever ideas.One in a thousand, perhaps one in ten thousand, has the capacity to shape those ideas into beautiful language and that language into a beautiful book. This is one such book. Treasure it.
Profile Image for Holly Scudero.
227 reviews5 followers
October 1, 2015
Magic is essential to life, both in the City and in the slums that lie below it. But Xhea is a walking contradiction; she has no magic whatsoever, not even the tiny whisper thought necessary to drive bodily functions, and certainly not any extra to use for bartering for food, clothing, or other supplies. But Xhea does have a unique talent: she can see ghosts and help them find peace by severing them from the tethers that bind them, and it is with this ability that she is able to eke out a living. But when a rich man from the City asks for her aid with a ghost, Xhea’s life will change. This ghost, a young woman named Shai, has such strong magic that it persists even after her death. Known as a Radiant, the powerful magic of Shai and others like her is what powers the City’s Towers themselves. And Shai’s tower is desperate to get her back and force her into an empty body in order to continue harnessing her magic, no matter how painful the process, and life itself, will be for her. At the same time, rival towers sense an opportunity, and would dearly love the opportunity to seize the wayward Radiant for themselves. Xhea is determined to do what she can to save Shai, but what can she do with no magic? Except it seems that Xhea has her own strange, dark, deadly magic… but can she figure out how to control it in time to help Shai?

I can’t remember the last time I was as excited about the start of a new fantasy series as I am about "Radiant," the first in a promised trilogy. Set in a strange, dystopian world that has echoes of our own, this novel is awash in breathtaking descriptions of the dilapidated world Xhea lives in; even described in shades of grey, which is how Xhea sees the world (except when she has the magic of others coursing through her veins), this story just begs to be turned into a movie. The entire concept of how magic works in this world is deeply intriguing, and the Towers, inexplicable living entities that they are, are hard to wrap your mind around. There is so much originality in "Radiant," and as the plot unfolds and builds to a fever pitch, the questions just keep mounting. Will Xhea ever get a better understanding of the darkness inside her? What is the true origin of the walkers, the mysterious and deadly zombies whose origin is somehow linked directly to the City above? What fate awaits Xhea back in the Lower City; will she ever truly face her past in the skyscraper Orren, or will she possibly join Edren? I can say with confidence that I am not the only reader who will be absolutely transfixed by the climax of this novel, and I am definitely not the only one who will be watching and waiting for word of the next volume in this promising new series.

Originally written for San Francisco Book Review.
Profile Image for Beth.
3,130 reviews270 followers
August 19, 2014
Radiant is the first book in a fresh new series called the Towers Trilogy. If you take 1 part Science Fiction, 1 part paranormal, definitely add in some dystopia and maybe a dash of fantasy and maybe some necromancy and you have Radiant.

This is my first time reading a book written by Karina Sumner-Smith but it won't be my last. She creates this incredible world of technology and magic. Then she gives you not one, but two, marvelously strong young women as the lead protagonists...ok, so one is maybe a ghost but not in the way you'd think of a ghost...more of a spirit. Lets just say your in for a great adventure.

The story is highly detailed and very descriptive. Much of the story is giving you required information for you to completely understand this new world, so it does slow the pace at times but it is a big help with the plot building.

Utterly entertaining, shockingly unexpected and delightfully brand-new, Radiant is sure to thrill the epic science fiction reader.

I received this ARC copy of Radiant from Talos in exchange for a honest review. This book is set to publish on September 2, 2014.

Written by: Karina Sumner-Smith
Series: Towers Trilogy
Sequence in Series: 1
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Talos
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
Rating: 4 Stars
ISBN-10: 194045610X
ISBN-13: 978-1940456102
Genre: Science Fiction | Young Adult
Find this book on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Reviewed for: http://tometender.blogspot.comhttp://tometender.blogspot.com/
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