Stars: 5 out of 5
I absolutely loved this story! The setting is unique and the characters are memorable. Exactly what I need in a fantasy book.
This story is in fact two stories told parallel to each other. One is about the journey of a young heir to a powerful city, charged with bringing magical fuel out of the Broken Lands to keep the flame going that protects his city. The other one is of his uncle who undertook the same journey over 50 years ago. The common denominator for both stories is Nonnie – the last living weapon created by the mages before they annihilated each other and created the Broken Lands.
It is interesting to follow two similar journeys of two different parties of characters. Their mission is the same. Their destination is the same. They are going into the same lands… but their stories are as different as the Broken Lands themselves.
The Broken Lands, what an intriguing concept! Image a land created by magic, and then scarred by the same magic during a horrible war. There are fixed points in the landscape – places that stay the same, no matter what happens. Everything else is… malleable, mutable, and definitely hostile to outsiders. See, the road between two fixed points can take a day during the first journey and meander for four during the next one. It can cross a lush forest one time and become a murderous swamp other. Landscape, weather, and even time are not set in stone.
This makes both journeys fascinating. Just because Ryan and his crew have the accounts of his uncle’s journey, their own adventure takes a different turn. They never cross the same landscape, apart from those fixed points. And I think that is the point of this book, no pun intended: each team gets their own share of trials, tailored specifically to them, like that dark tunnel in the cave that was the second fixed point. The Broken Lands force them to confront their own fears and insecurities an emerge on the other end changed. Some for the better, some for the worse, but always as a consequence of their own choices.
That’s another thing I loved about this book. There isn’t a big bad to fight against here. Yes, the mages who created the Broken Lands were horrible beings (I wouldn’t even call them human by now), but they are dead. The horrors they left behind stay in the Broken Lands. There isn’t immediate danger to the lands around them (apart from some incursions). Our protagonists choose to cross the boundary and travel these lands, so all the horrors they encounter are the consequence of their own choices. You could say that what they find in the Broken Lands is a confrontation with themselves. It’s a crucible, in which they either crumble or are mended into a better version of themselves.
And all the characters are memorable, even those you begin to hate by the end of the book. Which is no small feat, considering that we have two distinct groups of around eight people each (even though not all of them make it back out of the Broken Lands). They all felt distinct and “alive”, and I mourned those who were left in the Broken Lands along with their surviving companions, because they weren’t just numbers, they were people.
Nonnie is the glue that holds his story together. It’s amazing to see how much she’d grown between the story journeys – from a weapon that barely spoke and didn’t even consider herself as a person, who could have feelings and desires, and who was forced to undertake the trip into the Broken Lands, to someone fully accepted into a community, valued and respected, who chose to accompany this new group because of a promise she’d made to a friend. And she knows that the Broken Lands test people both physically and mentally, so she lets her companions make sometimes stupid choice because she knows they need to go through those trials. Like she lets Ryan find out for himself what his precious fuel really is, and make his own decision about what he wants to do with that knowledge. Just like she let his uncle fifty years ago.
I will definitely check out other books by Tanya Huff because I was impressed with her imagination and storytelling.
PS: I received a copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.