High fantasy is fascinating because of its vastness. An entire world is created, one that may be similar to our own, but with many differences. It’s a mirror to another world, one that’s filled with magic, monsters, and adventure. Think Tolkien, G.R.R. Martin, or even Philip Pullman’s world of daemons and witches. Victoria Aveyard’s newest book, Realm Breaker, is the newest addition to this incredible genre.
Aveyard is well-known for her #1 New York Times bestselling series Red Queen. The four books Red Queen, Glass Sword, King’s Cage, and War Storm stole the hearts of millions, establishing Aveyard as a fantasy queen. Her new book (the first of a trilogy) is also a YA fantasy, set in a mythical universe that’s about to crumble thanks to Taristan, a man who’s looking to bring, well, something, back from another universe. He sets about doing this by ripping open Spindles, or portals, to other realms – each rip causes a flood of monsters and undead soldiers to flood the realm, resulting in chaos and war on multiple fronts. The only way to close the Spindle is by using the same method to open it – someone of Corblood, holding a Spindleblade.
Who is the only one who can – our hero? A 17-year old girl named Corayne, one of the last living descendants of Old Cor, and her father’s sword. Oh, and the man that she’s fighting is her uncle – her father’s twin brother, left behind at birth and hungry for power that he never had, the power that his brother grew up with. Both boys had different weaknesses, points of pride, and trauma to deal with, and it’s fascinating to see how each one lived with the hand they were dealt. The twins were orphaned at a very young age, and Cortael is taken in by a group of immortals and raised to be a hero. Taristan is left behind, and years of abandonment and trauma have shaped him to become ruthless and subservient to a much darker evil that’s only hinted at in the novel.
The first book sets the scene – we see Taristan tearing open the first Spindle, and we see how Corayne finds out about her history, and the role she has to play in saving all the realms. The first book builds the Companionship (a lovely nod to Tolkien’s work), and takes them through a series of major ordeals, ending on an intense cliffhanger – on a world on the edge of destruction, but with a slight glimpse, just the tiniest peek, of hope.
Unlike her earlier books, Realm Breaker is high fantasy – set in a world completely unlike our own, akin to Tolkien’s Middle Earth, or Martin’s Westeros. The world she builds is expansive – it spans continents and seas, and she’s developed unique cities and cultures for each space, building traditions, and rituals based on geography. She builds on systems that we know – of characters like assassins, mages, and immortals, but puts them in new situations, with new perspectives. It’s a unique twist on an established trope, and it’s a fascinating world to enter, as she’s made the entry seamless, thanks to her descriptive writing.
Realm Breaker is told from five different points of view – from Corayne (the hero), Andry (the noble squire), Domacridhan (the immortal), Sorasa (the assassin), and Erida (the queen). The multiple perspectives means that the viewer has a much wider understanding of the story – each scene is understood from every character’s perspective. What I found fascinating was that even though Victoria Aveyard shows us the entire world, there’s one character that’s left in the dark – Taristan.
We don’t really see his point of view because his ambition is clear. His only goal is to serve What Waits, and nothing more. In fact, what’s mysterious isn’t Taristan himself, but his companion – a wizard always clothed in red, named Ronin. He carries an aura of power that’s intimidating, yet always remains to the side. Who is he? It’s clear that he doesn’t serve Taristan, so who does he serve?
Like Ronin and Taristan, Corayne’s team, too, has a mysterious witch, except this one isn’t intimidating, but mostly harmless. She guides the group as best she can – in verse. Valtik is the mysterious older presence, the all-knowing presence (or at least seems like it), and can only converse in riddles to provide clues.
One thing I loved about this book is the companionship itself. Half the crew is young, too green and fresh-faced to be saving the world. This is Corayne’s first expedition to the outside world, and even Domacridhan – an immortal being who’s at least a few centuries old – is, well, young and immature. He is yet to grasp the nuances of the situations he ends up in, and he’s more of a powerful battering ram than a subtle knife. That’s where Sorasa comes in, and her reason for saving the realm is selfish but true – she wants to save it because there isn’t really a choice in the matter.
YA fantasy is a broad genre, one that grows constantly. Victoria Aveyard’s newest series is another addition, one that I found to be engaging and fascinating.
The only downside so far? Waiting another year for the next installment to come out. Rest assured, I’ll be biting my nails with anticipation till then.
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