Kyrin is the only person in Alinor without magic. Alone on the city streets, he strives to win fame and escape the shadows—and that means robbing the famous Knights of Alinor.
When Kyrin’s heist goes awry, he stumbles across a witch in the middle of her own crime. She steals the Anchor Key, the artifact protecting Alinor from the magically shifting landscape, and flees—but not before offering Kyrin a place by her side.
To reach her, Kyrin must travel across the shifting landscape of his shattered world.
The Knights are on a witch hunt, too. Determined to save the city, they force Kyrin to join their quest to retrieve what the witch stole.
Kyrin has a choice: getting the girl means condemning the city to destruction.
Saving the city means giving up on his dreams.
Wardbreaker is a fantasy novel and debut novel from Mara Mahan. It follows a young thief, Kyrin, and a group of Knights on a variety of adventurous adventures. It's fun, doesn't seem to take itself too seriously, and features some fantastical fantastic fantasy elements. Ahhhh, alluring alliteration.
Let's just get to it.
I have a lot to get to here, so I'll just throw them out as they occur to me.
The world. The world of Alinor is, as far as I'm concerned, the star of the novel. Consisting of shifting domains (think magical tectonic plates) it is only kept under control by the Anchor Key, a magical artifact that the Knights must retrieve. I first heard of the idea for the world from Mara herself before the book had officially released and I loved it immediately. Imagine coming to the "border" and while you may be standing on a hot and sunny beach, one more step and you are in the frozen tundra. Not only that, the domains rearrange like puzzle pieces, shifting (at random?). If there is one thing I'd like to steal-I mean borrow-it's that concept. Which I thought up first. I swear.
Fantasy with a dash of fantasy. Throughout the course of the novel, Kyrin and the Knights cross through a number of varying domains. And as they should, they encountered a number of bizarre creatures. I won't spoil any of Mahan's creations here, but they were each unique and... bizarre. It seems Mahan approached the writing of Wardbreakers with an attitude something akin to "Magic, shifting domains, impossible creatures popping up whenever they darn well feel like it? Screw it, this is a fantasy world, I'll create what I want, when I want, and how I want." Now, that may seem like a complaint, but this is The Good, so it's not. I truly love seeing a new writer just have at it in an imaginary world. And you can't argue with her, because, after all, it's fantasy. And that translates into "a bunch of magical bull-$hit." I think. Again, I think it's fantastic. A number of times, I thought "Why didn't I think of that?"
Magic on a tight leash. Now, while I may have insinuated that Mahan went at the creation process like a toddler doublefisting Red Bull, it was not without thought. The magic system is a great example of that. On one hand, it's very simple. People just have magic. Some call it their soul, but at the end of the day, they just plain have it. Nothing fancy there. But it's also limited compared with a lot of fantasy out there (my own included). Each individual has control over a certain magical trick, if you will. One may be able to summon heat and flame, another can speak to plants, whereas a third can shift into an animal form. (These are three of the Knights, fyi). The powers are incredibly varied, but are even further limited by how far an individual can push it. For example, Mr. Fire Knight(not his actual name) runs the risk of falling unconscious, running out of go-go magic juice, or even dying if he casts his flames for too long. And a system like that is perfect. While magic is everywhere, it takes a back seat to the larger story.
By and large, the best character creation was used on the novel's group of delightfully fallible group of heroes. As a whole, they are not your dominate bad a$$es like you may expect. While the Knights of Alinor serve to protect the world and are revered by everyone it would seem, they read more like an after school A/V club (yes, I'm old). Like they should have a tree fort and not a magically guarded castle. And it works so well. They're human. Vulnerable. Dependent on each other. And that all makes them interesting. Goofy. That's another word to be used for them. In the best possible way. They'd make a great cartoon.
Now to bring down the hammer. Like Thor. Or Mario.
I hate Kyrin. I didn't realize it at first, but now, looking back, I realize I hated the main character. Not because I was supposed to, even though he's a bit of an anti-hero of sorts, but because he felt so... blah. As three dimensional as the Knights are, Kyrin is a tad less so. He's not one-dimensional, per say, maybe more like two-dimensional. He's just a cookie-cutter fantasy character. He's a thief that only steals because he had a rough childhood, and now must battle the tendency to be a jerk to uncover the gold at the middle of his heart. Now, using a stereotype isn't bad at all. After all, there are no new ideas out there anyway. But I just couldn't get behind him. I loved the journey, but it wasn't because of Kyrin. I loved the idea of having everyone in the world have magic expect him (usually it's the other way around), but even that... Ah, I don't know. There. That's my opinion on Kyrin. I just don't know.
We need a pace car over here! (I'm in a weird mood, bear with me) I'm no expert, but the pacing felt off. Most of the novel is a journey. But it felt like it was all just fodder (enter domain, deal with monster creature(s), move on. rinse repeat) leading up to the conclusion. Which was great. But that great part lasted all of what felt like ten pages. When I say "great part" I just mean the part that felt more central to the overall story. (I'm trying to avoid spoilers) because the journey part of the story was a ton of fun. It really was. But once we reached the "great part" I was like "yes! Here we gooooo!" Then I turned the page and it was over. I needed more of the "bad guy" character. A lot more.
Let's nitpick. Because, like Kyrin, I'm a bit of a jerk. The last few notes I'll leave aren't major issues and did nothing to take away from my enjoyment of this story, but they are worth mentioning. First, what happened to all the chapter breaks? Did a monster in the desert domain gobble them up? For a full length novel, there needed to be more chapter breaks. When I read on Kindle, begin a chapter, look to the bottom, and see "52 minutes left in chapter" I don't even feel like starting. My mind goes "That's sooooo long." But I'm also lazy. So there's that. Second, while the writing style was right up my alley, full of lyrical metaphors flowing like a glorious stream of molten word candy, there were some metaphors used that seemed... well, out of place. Again, this is me nitpicking, but in a fantasy world, the narrative shouldn't include references to things that exist in our modern era and plane of existence (famous works of literature, for instance). Now, being fantasy, you could argue that any of the things mentioned could exist, but I say that's cheating. Third, the POV. I feel like this was supposed to be written in third person limited, or at least felt like it should have been. We focus solely on Kyrin, but often are given things a limited narrator wouldn't know, ie: other characters emotions, intentions, etc. But I don't know what the intention of Mahan was, so I can't say for sure what my complaint is. If it was supposed to be 3rd limited, I'd say it wasn't fully, and we got information we shouldn't have gotten. If the intention was to be 3rd omniscient, I would say that it shouldn't have been. I just felt like I was hanging somewhere in the nebula. Without my water wings. Er, nebula wings.
I was far harder on this review than the previous, but I did enjoy this novel. Honest, I did. And while I didn't get into it fully, the writing is superb, and the editing solid. After reading just the first page, I said aloud, "this girl can write." or something equally embarrassing. My criticisms don't detract from the overall quality, and will most likely be matters of personal preference, just as what I loved will be.
In the end, this is a super fun, almost goofy, fantasy romp. If you're looking for grimdark, sex scenes, and gratuitous violence, this will not satisfy. But if you want something more lighthearted, all while maintaining a serious and important theme, then this may just scratch that itch. There's a good amount of humor (again, I love the Knights), and though I've said it before, and I know it's cliche, I'll say it again. Wardbreakers was a ton a fun to read. And I will be buying the sequel.
Now, if I might have a word with Kyrin... Please stop copy/pasting "shut up" in the chat. No one likes a troll.
Final Score: 80/100