Title: The Broken Heavens
Author: Kameron Hurley
Publisher: Angry Robot
Publication Date: January 14, 2020
Genres: Epic Fantasy
Shelves: Female-fronted, Female-authored
If I had to describe The Broken Heavens in a single word, ‘deceptive’ would be it. This is a book that’s deceptive in just about every way, and I can’t think of a better way to end the epic intensity of The Worldbreaker Saga.
As the book opens, we’re presented with what feels like a smaller, more intimate tale, one that is focused on a few key players and a pair of key conflicts – Lilia and the Dhai versus Kirana and the Tai Mora – but (of course) it’s not that simple. Lilia is just as much in conflict with the Dhai, challenging an entire philosophy of pacifism with her desire for revenge, and her followers are standing in the way of the nation’s retreat. Then there’s the matter of Lilia’s own deceit, hiding the fact that she burned herself out.
Layered on top of all that is the reminder that, when you’re dealing with multiple worlds, with parallel people crossing over between mirror universes, deception is everywhere. Compounding that confusion is the surprise return of characters thought dead, cloaked in questions of whether they really are the characters we think, or just mirror counterparts from another world. Adding to that doubt is a kind of self-deception, with one of those most surprising characters suffering from a sort of short-term amnesia, leaving us to wonder if they even know whether they’re the real deal.
“There’s always another monster, another and another, behind them. You kill them, you become them, you lose everything you ever cared for.”
And self-deception is not just limited to amnesiacs. There are so many characters here lumbering under their own sense of self-deception, fooling themselves as to what their true motives and goals might be. They have become so adept at spinning lies, at presenting the right illusion to those around them, that when it comes time to choose sides, to decide upon a course of action, they’re not even sure what they want. Of course, even the illusion of choice is a deception, as Roh reminds us:
“There are more than two choices. It’s not all good or evil, this or that. We have the power to find other choices . . . I thought I had two choices, always, but there were more than that, always.”
Perhaps the book’s biggest deception, however, is allowing us to believe that the conflict could ever be so simple, just one leader versus another, one race against another. There are glimpses of other worlds through, literal drop-in reminders of just how many people are fleeing the destruction of their own worlds, but the first real clue that there may be a third power to contend with almost sneaks by. It isn’t fully appreciated until after the fact . . . and by then it’s far too late.
In terms of characters, I really like how Kameron Hurley brought Lilia to a natural conclusion, allowing her growth, self-revelation, and moments of both triumph and tragedy. We see her full potential here, and she rises to the occasion. Kirana becomes even more well-rounded in this final chapter and, despite all that horrors for which she’s responsible, it becomes increasingly harder to simply see her as a villain. Taigan was always a favorite, and I really like their arc here, free from the magical compulsions of the first two books, and what Hurley does with their immortality is immensely satisfying. Roh gets back into the action, becoming a voice of reason and a guiding influence, if not quite the hero we might have expected, and Anavha becomes a character in his own right, defined by neither Zezili nor Natanial, and yet still very much cringing in their shadows.
“Owned. I know it’s wrong. I know you and Natanial don’t like it, but I miss it. I miss other people telling me what to do. I hate having choices…”
While I truly wondered how, or even if, the saga could end – the cyclical nature of sagas like The Dark Tower kept lurking in my thoughts – I think that is where The Broken Heavens shines brightest. It’s not just the characters and the conflicts that come to a head here, but the entire mythology of the worlds, the gates, and the temples. Given all the build-up to the temples, the satellites, and the breaking of worlds, there’s a lot to deliver here, and Hurley delivers on all of it. More importantly, she looks beyond the end, giving us a thoughtful meditation on all that’s happened and what it means going forward. Outstanding in every respect.
Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀
My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.