Published : March 19th, 2018 by Head of Zeus
483 Pages : Paperback
I grew up reading, and loving, fantasy. While it wasn’t the first book genre I read as a kid, it was the one that stole my heart and became THE genre I preferred to read. That journey, of course, started with The Hobbit.
After spending time in Middle Earth, I discovered the world of Shannara and by then I was hopelessly in love with the fantasy genre. Over the years I’ve enjoyed journeys to the Forgotten Realms with Drizzt, watched the Wheel turn with Rand al’Thor, watched Westeros burn, and so many more. But I found in the last few years that I needed to continue to expand my reading into other genres, so have been away from fantasy for quite some time…truly probably a decade by this point.
I say all this only to explain my feeling when I picked up this book and finally jumped into the world of the Sea Wolves.
It was like coming home.
It had been so long since I let myself get involved with a proper fantasy series and while I’ve LOVED exploring all the new stories, I had forgotten how much I’ve missed being home.
That being said – The Glass Breaks is not a perfect book. But none are. And none will ever compete with whatever your first love in fantasy was. And that’s ok. The Glass Breaks was still very enjoyable in it’s own right.
What Smith gives us in this book is an intense warrior culture full of badass pirates that wield magic called Wyrd. They believe that all problems can be solved in battle and if they can’t kill those in their way, it’s an honor to die in a fight. They don’t lose often, due to their use of the Wyrd. It allows them to channel it’s power into their bodies, making them more powerful, faster, able to heal, and, even more terrifying, they can step out of the natural world around us(the Form) and into the Void and then reappear somewhere totally different, which is an obvious plus when battling to the death and conquering everything in sight. These pirate warriors are known as the Sea Wolves and for a Sea Wolf, to feel fear is a weakness, and to show it a deadly sin.
For nearly 170 years they’ve enjoyed a reign of prosperity, as nothing and no one can stop them. But now, something is threatening to not only stop them, but to end the existence of everything in their world and two Sea Wolves embark on a journey that has the potential to change everything. Either they’ll save the world or die trying.
The story is told with alternating perspectives and is broken down into 8-10 parts, with each part told from the perspective of either Duncan Greenfire, a young Sea Wolf that is pulled from his initiation into the brotherhood and thrown straight into the fire, and Adeline Brand, a Sea Wolf duelist that has a fierce reputation as one of the best the Sea Wolves have to offer.
While the storytelling is brutal, both in violence and language, there is one prevalent theme that carries us through the first book in this series. It’s a theme of self discovery, of learning how the culture you’ve been raised in is viewed by those outside of it, and how when faced with these truths we all react differently. It’s one of the things I loved most about this book is how different Duncan and Adeline react to learning about not only the external forces that threaten to end the world, but to some of the truths behind the great Sea Wolves and their history.
Don’t get me wrong though, the book is NOT preachy about morals in any way. It’s a full on fantasy adventure that is brutal and action packed. The biggest issue I found with the book was that at times it felt like the story was more interested in setting up a larger story down the road and as such it left moments in the story feeling poorly explained or expanded on. As such, at times, the motivations of our characters feel a bit hollow if not completely unknown.
The magic system, the Wyrd and the Form and Void structure itself, is a great example of this. It’s introduced right off the bat in the books, we’re told characters are using it and then the story moves on. At first I thought that it would become better understood as the book goes on with more of the story unfolding, but that doesn’t really happen. We see it used a lot more. It becomes a larger part of the story the deeper you get. But there is never a moment where anything is actually explained in terms of what it is they are doing and how it fully works.
Instead we are given glimpses of various facets of it’s power, and left to form a best guess of our own as to what exactly is happening with the magic system or how it actually works. Thinking back on it I can’t decide if this is a misstep by the author or if it was intentional to create a further “tunnel vision” view of the world that the Sea Wolves have as it is hinted that while they use Wyrd fiercely, they are potentially only scratching the surface of it’s true power and may not fully understand just what it is themselves.
The cover of the book describes this book as a hybrid of George R.R. Martin and H.P. Lovecraft, and honestly, that’s probably the best way to describe it. You have fierce warriors, a hint of the social/political landscape of the land and it’s people, magic, and eldritch style old gods and evils that threaten everything.
Keeping in mind that many of the drawbacks I have from this first book, the incomplete feeling magic system and the somewhat basic trope of reluctant hero being forced to confront all that he knew to be true, may simply be a result of this being the first book in a trilogy. With all that, I enjoyed this book quite a bit, flaws, warts, scars, and all.
Sometimes, it’s nice to return home. Even if, when you get there and spend some time, you are greeted with a home that feels not quite the same as you remember from your childhood.
3.5(rounded to 4 on Goodreads) out of 5 stars
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