Blog Tour Book Review: THE BROKEN HEART OF ARELIUM by Alex Robins

I received a review copy as part of the blog tour in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.

Blog tour banner with title on cloudy sky above a fortress and next to image of book
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 3 stars
Series: yes - first book

Synopsis:

Book cover for THE BROKEN HEART OF ARELIUM: title in black above a castle on a hill against a blue sky with an army in the foreground

Some Things Must Never Be Forgotten.

Over 400 years ago, twelve great warriors united the beleaguered armies of men and scoured the war-torn lands of evil, pushing the enemy back into the underground pits and caverns from whence they came. To ensure their legacy, each of the Twelve founded fortress monasteries to impart their unique knowledge of war and politics to a select few, the Knights of the Twelve.

But now the last of the Twelve have long since passed from history to legend and the Knights, their numbers dwindling, are harbouring a dark and terrible secret that must be protected at all costs.

Merad Reed has spent half his life guarding a great crater known as the Pit, yearning for some escape from the bleak monotony. Then the arrival of Aldarin, one of the few remaining Knights of the Twelve, sets off a chain of cataclysmic events that will change Reed forever.

To the north, Jelaïa del Arelium, heiress to the richest of the nine Baronies, must learn to navigate the swirling political currents of her father’s court if she hopes one day to take his place. But the flickering flames of ambition hide the shadow of an even greater threat.

And deep within the earth, something is stirring.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

THE BROKEN HEART OF ARELIUM is a slim little fantasy novel, the start in a series that clearly shows the author grew up and loves classic fantasies such as Eddings and Tolkien but has decided to give his series a more grimdark slant.

There are order of knights and foul creatures below, and a land full of internal divisions. A horde of the monsters have overwhelmed the crumbling wall around their pit and are now marching on the nearest big city. Which is undermanned.

The main character is Reed, last survivor of the wall’s guard who finds himself the companion of the light – and then central to the city’s defence. He’s the most fleshed out character. He also narrates most of the book, so the reader gets a good insight into what he’s doing and why.

It’s a battle of overwhelming odds, and there’s little hope, making it a struggle to buy enough time for people to escape. It gives the book a sort of tragic, desperate edge, which plays into the grimdark slant. I wouldn’t call it full grimdark, as there is still enough hope, but it’s not the much lighter (and at times very playful) tone of some of the classics where you know the leads aren’t going to die because the prophecy doesn’t specify any deaths.

There’s no prophecy here, just a lot of brutal monsters slaughtering comrades from the first chapter, which is an effective way of setting them up as a threat, even if they are the book equivalent of a CGI army whose leader hasn’t been revealed yet. The end of the book gives some pretty big hints that the reveal of the leader will alter the direction the series looks to be taking (so the villain structure is pretty much the opposite of the MCU at this point!)

As someone who’s been reading a lot of classic fantasy from the 80s and 90s over the last few months, it was nice to read something similar that was structured differently. Having read over 13,000 pages of classic fantasy in the past 6 months, it was nice to read something that didn’t fall into the same pattern (and was relatively contained in location, rather than taking the reader on a grand tour of the world without much reasoning for why! This was nice and focused, giving time to get to know the city.)

It’s also a very short read (either 232 or 308 pages, depending on which website you read!) It means it can be read in on go, to let the tension build without interruption.

The downside to it being so short is that there isn’t very much time spent on establishing side characters and setting up reveals. It leaves it feeling a bit unsatisfyingly slimmed down, like the meat’s been picked off.

The two side characters who are grievously wounded just feel like incidental characters as I couldn’t tell if the book was telling me to like them or think they were troublesome. I’m pretty sure it was meant to be the first, but the character work wasn’t there to set it up (no save the cat moments to show their goodness, no moments where they were clearly competent at their jobs, etc.)

This also plays into the unsatisfying reveals/twists because it means they aren’t set up. There are no hints of something else happening, no niggling sense of something being off, to then spark a “aha!” that makes reveals feel satisfying as jigsaw pieces slot together.

The female characters are also very under developed. There are three in the book, with very little motivation of development. One of them is the secondary POV character, Jelaïa – but she doesn’t do anything. Just stands around watching others make decisions as a device to get plot information out, rather than making an impact on the flow of plot herself. She has np goals (she’s just there, the heir of the house not happy with studying, not wanting to be married off when that’s brought up once, then decides “OK, I will” and then the siege comes so it goes nowhere – and that’s about all the development she gets.)

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