No Safe Haven is the second volume of James Lloyd Dulin’s anti-colonialist dark fantasy series, Malitu. I will keep this review completely spoiler-free for readers who have not yet started the series.
No Safe Haven picks up immediately following the conclusion of Dulin’s debut novel, No Heart for a Thief. As in the first book, there are two main protagonists: Kaylo, an aging thief and spirit dancer, and Tayen, a fourteen-year-old girl on the run from enemy soldiers who murdered her family. While Tayen recognizes Kaylo as a legendary hero, Kaylo is much harsher on himself, feeling personal responsibility for the war between his homeland of Ennea and the colonialist Gousht Empire. Despite his initial reservations, Kaylo becomes an adoptive father of sorts for Tayen, serving as mentor and guardian for the orphaned girl.
As in No Heart for a Thief, No Safe Haven is told on two timelines: a present-day narrative centered on the relationship between Kaylo and Tayen, and a flashback narrative where Kaylo recounts his backstory which may hold some important lessons for his young protégé.
My main criticism of No Heart for a Thief was that the story felt off-balance between the two timelines. As soon as I felt fully invested in the present-day narrative, the action switched to the past, with Kaylo’s backstory taking up most of the remaining page count. I’m happy to report that James Lloyd Dulin achieves a much better balance between the two timelines in this second volume of his series.
However, the dual timeline format still did not work for me as well as I had hoped. The present-day narrative in No Safe Haven mirrors many of the key thematic elements from Kaylo’s backstory. I know this is intentional, as Kaylo’s story is meant to be didactic for the young Tayen. However, the parallels between the two timelines made the present-day narrative feel a bit repetitive and predictable.
There is a strong anti-colonialist and anti-racist message to the Malitu series, which works well whenever it comes to the forefront of the story. Unfortunately, No Safe Haven focuses more on Kaylo and Tayen’s anger management issues rather than the larger external conflict. I would have preferred a better balance between these introspective aspects of the novel and the greater outward conflict with the Gousht Empire.
Although No Safe Haven didn’t work as well for me as No Heart for a Thief, there is still lots to love here for fans of thoughtful character-driven fantasy with a socially conscious message. The series will continue with the third volume, Only a Grave Will Do.