Rating: 3 stars
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Told in fractured order, with flashbacks and flash forwards, Broken is the story of an elven warrior and her need to come to peace with what she has done and the person she has become. In the middle of a fetid swamp, Katya lost her mentor, her rock, her dearest friend … and almost her own life. All around her men and women fell, their lives taken by a lizardman attack and their bodies lost into the swamp, leaving her the sole survivor. While healing from the physical wounds, Katya meets a witch named Athena who offers to help heal her soul, to help her overcome the nightmares that eat at her, and to help her find her center again.
With Athena, her falcon, and the growing relationship between herself and a young woman named Lili, Katya has to find a way to put herself back together.
Broken is the first book in J.B. Knowles’ Oathtaker series. The idea behind this book was strong enough to make me pick it up, because I’m really interested in a character, usually a someone who isn’t yet a hero, who has gone through hell (and then some). The weight of carrying the world, the loss of friends, the betrayal of those they trust, the self-doubt and the insecurity, and the pain and suffering that they endure in the course of saving the day and killing the unkillable villain cannot help but weigh on their souls and haunt their dreams. Such a person could surely use someone to hold them when they cry, a shoulder to lean on when they’re tired, and a counselor or mind healer to help them through their trauma. Unfortunately, this book is mostly just the surface of the idea and did not have the depth of character exploration that I wanted.
Katya is a warrior, enthusiastically so, in a fantasy world with dwarves, humans, lizardfolk, magic, enchanted weapons, talking animals, and adventuring guilds. Katya thrills for the fight, be it killing slavers or copperflies. She isn’t one for tactics and quiet, efficient kills and runs; she wants the slaughter, the lust for killing, the song of battle, so much so that her mentor has to tell her again and again not to rush off and do something foolish. To no avail.
Beyond that she has a pet falcon and likes alcohol — one of her primary coping mechanisms — and stabbing things, I don’t know much about Kayta. For a book about her pain and guilt, she’s pretty complacent about it until Athena asks her how she’s feeling and suddenly Katya’s feeling sad. Or guilty. Or upset. It could just be that Katya is not particularly introspective, which is fine, but because her thoughts are only ever surface deep, with the focus more on her physical actions, it’s hard for me to feel any connection with her or even sympathy. The big event that took place on Day Zero is fairly telegraphed and well set up, but I never got any sense of grief or rage or even guilt. And when she’s unburdening herself to Athena, it feels more as if she’s doing it because it’s expected than because she actually cares.
Lili, the human who falls in love with Katya, is sweet, pleasant, and seems to be there mostly to pat Kat’s arm and tell her how good she is. Lili discovers a secret about Katya’s guild in a book. A secret that, quite honestly, makes absolutely no sense at all to me. Kat’s guild is listed in among the dark guilds of the world (dark as in evil) for adventuring for profit rather than altruism. However, they protect the families of their members with lethal force, kill to protect one another, and don’t let in evil mages … and yet they’re still a nefarious dark guild?
I wanted to like this book because the idea is one that just appeals to me, but it’s an idea that really only works, in my opinion, if there are characters involved. Katya feels just too much like a generic warrior who likes killing; Lili is the pretty girlfriend and neither they nor their relationship have any real depth. I don’t believe Katya’s suffering, I don’t believe she feels any guilt, and I don’t believe she cares about what she did. I do, however, believe she misses her mentor, I do believe that the loss of her entire adventuring party shook her confidence, but that’s as far as it goes.
The writing is fine. The pace, because of the constant flashbacks and flash forwards, may be a bit awkward for some, but I didn’t mind it or find it difficult to read. Personally, this book just didn’t click with me and, given the lack of depth in the characters, the shallowness of the world building, and the lackluster romance, I don’t think that I’d actually recommend this. That said, if do you plan to read this book yourself, I hope you enjoy it!
Hi Elizabeth. I very much appreciate your review of my novel. I think you gave it a fair analysis and have pointed out a few spots I need to improve on for the sequels. Katya’s story is very much my own in some ways and I look forward to fleshing out both her and Nakall more fully in future volumes.
Thank you for the interest and the review!