Rating: 5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel


Zal and Torian have been traveling together for weeks. During this time, they have learned more about one another and continue to learn about each other’s culture and worldview. Truth be told, Zal and Torian make a fantastic, caring, and supportive duo. That’s important as Zal leads them both to the next logical step in getting Torian integrated into Zal’s world—namely, getting an audience with the Trine, a committee of three mages tasked with ensuring the safety of all sun- and earth-born. Zal is convinced the Trine will be deeply interested in meeting Torian and hearing their story. After all, Torian is the only moon-born to have survived the plague that wiped out all other moon-born some thirty years ago. Despite his optimism, Zal is keenly aware that he’ll have to tread carefully, since his mage’s staff shattered saving Torian, which may lead people to believe Zal broke his oath as a mage.

As much as Torian wants to trust the Trine, they struggle to reconcile Zal’s accounts of the group. These are the people who ordered Zal to hunt down a so-called rogue sun-mage, the same people who Zal himself fears will misinterpret his shattered staff. The closer they get to the capital and the Trine, the higher their anxiety. Adding to their stress is the fact that the annual judgment day is upon the capital. Scores of people have poured into the capital to see the guilty punished. The only small saving grace is that Zal has promised he won’t leave their side and kindness of the family that runs the inn where Zal and Torian will stay.

Principles is the second installment in E.J. Russell’s Sun, Moon, and Stars series. The action picks up almost immediately after the first book, Partnership, and can be broken down into two main chunks. The first is Zal and Torian continuing their journey to the capital and the second is what happens when they get there. In this story, there is a much heavier emphasis on the culture of Zal’s world in two main ways. The first is what this world will make of Torian’s existence as the last moon-born, but one heavily modified by the now absent star-born (note: the four groups are sun-born, who can be mages and wield magic; earth-born, who just live their lives; moon-born, who all died out some 30 years ago due to plague (except for Torian); and the star-born, who are mysterious and not well known). Second, is how Zal sees his future in this world versus Torian’s fears of how Zal will be perceived by the same. This second point becomes the major theme once Zal and Torian finally get their audience with the Trine.

True to the spirit of the first book, I felt like Principles did a great job developing an emotionally intimate relationship between Zal and Torian without a physical one. These two characters have clearly come to care deeply about each other, but that presents its own challenges once they’ve met the Trine. For example, Zal has started giving clear, subconscious signs of his closeness to Torian. Zal calls Torian “love” and shows his affection with kisses to the head. For a mage who has taken a vow of celibacy, these acts read quite differently to everyone else. On the flip side, after Torian spent the entire journey worried about how trustworthy the Trine would be, Torian discovers that they actually can handle anything the Trine can throw at them.

I really enjoyed the pacing and structure of the story. The journey was a good reminder/refresher of the exact dynamic between Zal and Torian. It also helped set the scene for their arrival at the capital. Russell does a fantastic job including little tells about the Trine right in the prose, like their symbols of wealth and how Zal now interprets them. Such descriptions made it fun to draw comparisons between what Zal believed of the Trine versus who they actually are. I also thought it was great how Zal reframes his understanding of the capital and the Trine, not just (or not even mostly) based on how he and Torian are received, but actually in relation to Loriah, the mage Zal was tasked with hunting down for being a rogue. Even with the ending of this story leaving things wide open for the adventure to continue, there was a strong sense that our main characters have made progress and at least a happily for now end to the book. Mostly, it left me anxious to read the next installment.

If you are a reader who enjoys well structured alternate universes or if you are fascinated with how a single story can seamlessly combine magic and science and the entire social constructs that encapsulate those concepts, then I think you’ll love the tone and world building in this story. Readers who fell in love with the caring, supportive relationship that grows between Zal and Torian in book one are in for a treat as affection continues to grow between them.