Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard (Realm Breaker #1)

A strange darkness grows in Allward.

Even Corayne an-Amarat can feel it, tucked away in her small town at the edge of the sea.

She soon discovers the truth: She is the last of an ancient lineage—and the last hope to save the world from destruction. But she won’t be alone. Even as darkness falls, she is joined by a band of unlikely companions:

- A squire, forced to choose between home and honor.

- An immortal, avenging a broken promise.

- An assassin, exiled and bloodthirsty.

- An ancient sorceress, whose riddles hide an eerie foresight.

- A forger with a secret past.

- A bounty hunter with a score to settle.

Together they stand against a vicious opponent, invincible and determined to burn all kingdoms to ash, and an army unlike anything the realm has ever witnessed.

TITLE: Realm Breaker
AUTHOR: Victoria Aveyard with Natalie Naudus (Narrator)
YEAR: 2021
LENGTH: 576 pages (18 hours)
AGE: Young Adult
GENRE: Fantasy

Queer Rep Summary: Gay/Achillean Minor Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Minor Character(s).

This was almost a DNF for me, except that by the time I was thoroughly bored by very little happening of importance, I was already almost done. As an audiobook, at least, the story flies by, unafraid to spend a very long time on each event without quite being dull. I wasn’t engaged by the chemistry of the main band of heroes, though a particular character who appears helpful and then is shown to be nefarious was much more interesting. This lands in a weird middle ground, like it’s trying to be a character-centered narrative with a traveling party that’ll be a tightly-knit found family by the end, and it’s aiming to be a grand journey epic that takes its time and goes to interesting places and is more concerned with the journey than the destination. I can recognize that it has an assassin with a mysterious past, a battle-hardened immortal, a squire trying to never fail anyone like he failed his last knight, a young woman finally making her way in the world, and an old woman who is prophetic and mysterious. It also has a queen trying to consolidate her power, a mysterious and malevolent prince, and a traveler trying to get help. However, these brief descriptions are more exciting than what actually happens in the story. I recognize the roles they play in the narrative but I don’t care about them as people and I keep forgetting who everyone is. I made my list of important characters without reviewing the list from the official blurb (available above), and my list doesn't quite match because it feels like the characters were chosen based on tropes, but a slightly different list were actually interesting in the story.

Part of what makes everyone feel interchangeable is that most of their individual goals aren’t well-defined. The main antagonist wants to open the spindles as a kind of revenge for his twin being stolen and raised to an inheritance that he only lost due to the luck of being born second. That explains why he’s angry but doesn’t sufficiently explain why he chose this particular plan as his revenge. The queen is my favorite character, her goals and motives are really clear and they make sense in the story. I understand why she’s doing what she’s doing, whether or not I think it’s wise or good. As for the others, they want to stop the spindles from being opened because the spindles let in deadly creatures. Great, love a “save the world goal”, but their individual goals other than “stop the antagonist and don’t die” are lost in favor of cultivating mystery and potential later reveals. It makes them feel interchangeable, because even if their goals are explained before or during the journey they don’t seem to affect what actually happens. At one point they get imprisoned, and not only has one of them been in prison before, they’ve been in this particular prison and already has a way to get out as soon as they decide to implement it. It means that even a prison break (traditionally a pretty dramatic bit of story) is anticlimactic and almost immediately solved.

The events of the prologue felt like they should have been the end of the first book, there's so much tension and depth in such a brief space, and then the rest of the book doesn't live up to that promise.

The worldbuilding related to the spindles is interesting, but the details don’t have time to matter before this portion of the trilogy is over. I have no interest in the sequels. This was bland in an inoffensive but uninteresting way. I don’t hate it, I don’t like it, it’s just blah and I don’t recommend it.

Graphic/Explicit CW for blood, violence, war, murder, death.

Moderate CW for grief, alcohol, toxic relationship, injury detail, animal death.

Minor CW for ableist language, adult/minor relationship, panic attacks/disorders, excrement, chronic illness, self harm, slavery, animal cruelty.

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