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Friday, March 13, 2020

SPFBO Finalist: A Sea of Broken Glass by Sonya M. Black (reviewed by David Stewart, Justine Bergman, Lukasz Przywoski and Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order A Sea of Broken Glass over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)



AUTHOR INFORMATION: Sonya M. Black lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, son, and kitties. She enjoys reading books in a wide range of genres and takes her inspiration from fairy tales, folklore, myths and legends. She enjoys working with children, especially of the teenage variety. Writing is her passion and she loves using her imagination to explore the endless possibilities.

CLASSIFICATION: Flintlock fantasy.

FORMAT: A Sea of Broken Glass was self-published by the author in March 2019 as the first book in The Lady & The Darkness series. It's available in an e-book and paperback format. Kindle Unlimited eligible. The book counts 392 pages and is divided into 32 numbered chapters. 

DAVID


There is a book somewhere within A Sea of Broken Glass that feels familiar - like I've read it before or maybe imagined it. It has some solid hooks that grabbed my attention right away. I like the world-building, for one. There is a concept of tethering, that the novel's heroes can magically attach themselves to one another, and I even like the way in which it is described. The novel's heroine, Ris, has a Sword, a Shield, and a Cloak, which are all titles given to Paladins who are tethered to her and whose purpose is to protect her in their various ways. Paladins are central here, and as someone whose very first Dungeons and Dragons character was an ill-fated paladin who was seduced and killed by a nymph, this all felt historical to me. There are also the bones of an interesting magic system that revolves around music - harmony and disharmony, that I could see value in. Regrettably, it was never explained very well and ended up feeling irrelevant to what the magic actually did. Had it more integration or explanation I think it could have worked.  

On the surface, this is a book I might like, but as I dove down beneath the waves, I found ideas and themes that simply did not resonate with me. 

Ris is a vessel for a corrupted deity, named the Lady, and she discovers this early on in the novel right after she is charged with witchcraft and tortured by a fallen Paladin. The beginning of the novel is a bit of a bait and switch, as it almost feels Salem-like in its condemnation of the "dark arts," but it is quickly shown that her conviction and banishment are irrelevant because there are much larger forces at work. In short, the corrupted Lady and whatever has corrupted her wants to bring Ris down into the darkness with them. It is her job, and that of her protectors, to stop that from happening. This is fairly standard light versus dark stuff, and in fact it displays very little subtlety where that is concerned. At times, I felt like I was reading the fantasy Bible, so heavy is this book in its white versus black themes. I don't think I ever found a shade of grey. 

This brings me to my biggest issue with A Sea of Broken Glass. I need those shades of grey. I need well-rounded characters in my fantasy, and while there was plenty of angst to Bran and Ris and Michal, I never found them to be anything other than their obvious natures. Their only struggles were with their environment, and even on that front, the environment itself seems to lack any sort of variation. It is always an all or nothing battle against the good guys. 

I made it to about the 50% mark before I realized that I was not invested in any of these characters at all. I had no desire to see where Ris' quest would lead them, and I found the constant battering of the protagonists to be exhausting. I also found that there was a strange love triangle happening, or something like it, that felt discordant in some way. The whole tethering aspect, where everyone is attached to Ris, started to feel polygamous in a way that bothered me - while at the same time everyone is so chaste and upstanding that I couldn't even see this as a romance.  

In all, A Sea of Broken Glass did not work for me, and I stopped the book when I realized that it was not quite in the same league as some of our other finalists. There are interesting concepts in it, some that I might even like to see expanded, but in this instance, I had to put the book down and move on. 

JUSTINE

A Sea of Broken Glass by Sonya M. Black is a fun and brisk tale of the fragile battle between good an evil. It's a story that follows the misadventures of a young healer as she journeys to save the world from absolute destruction, but shadows plague her at every turn, threatening to tear out pieces of her true self along the way. An homage to classic fantasy, it promotes the idea that even when all seems lost to the darkness, hope and faith should never be abandoned. The first entry in her The Lady & The Darkness series, it's a solid foundation for an epic tale of fate, demons, and resolve.


The story is told through the eyes of four separate characters; Ris and her pack of ancient wardens. It begins by dropping readers right into the thick of things as Ris is accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death. Imprisoned and tortured by a sadistic Inquisitor, as well as Black assigning her the only first-person viewpoint, it was easy to quickly feel sympathy for her. Bran, her Shield, is portrayed with a hardened constitution, but also masks the pain of what he has endured. Aeron, her Cloak, a rogue with an easy smile, yet haunted by his past sins. Michel, her Sword, a master swordsman, but a lone wolf hesitant to get too close to anyone. Each chapter focuses on a specific character, allowing for small insights into the past, but their brevity and central focus more on the journey itself also prevents from making the strong emotional connections that I always hope for.


Let's talk about worldbuilding. I'm going to be honest here - I wanted more. I want to know more about the fall. I want to know more about the curse that fractured and blighted the land. I want to know more about the relationship between the Lady and the Darkness that sparked it all. There's a world defined by an implied rich history - give it to us! Brief dreams and visions build upon these elements, but they can be unclear at times. I'm hoping future installments offer answers to my lingering questions.


While I enjoyed my journey alongside Ris and Crew, there was one essential thing missing for me: tension. We're presented with the idea that the stakes are high - the fate of the world rests in Ris' hands - but I just never felt the severity of what was laid before me. The start of the story is strong with a perfect loathsome antagonist, but he's quickly removed from the equation and replaced by a threat made of shadows. The journey is quickly embarked on, mini-bosses quickly dispatched, an underlying conflict of betrayal hinted at, but not yet developed - things just felt a bit shallow for me at times. The ideas are there, the foundation is set, but I was waiting for that extra something to add the wow factor.


Well written and edited with very few errors between the covers, a straightforward plot, and a dark and gloomy tone with the light of hope shining in the distance, A Sea of Broken Glass left me needing to know what happens next. I found its mysterious magic system both beautiful and intelligent, using the law of opposites to both bring people together and tear them apart - a concept touched upon often throughout. There were some great moments that I hope to see built upon in the future, and I'm looking forward to the continuation of Ris' journey in From Bone and Ash.


LUKASZ

As a fan of flintlock fantasy, I had high hopes for A Sea of Broken Glass. Its unattractive cover works against it, but well-written synopsis promises exciting things and I read for both escapism and excitement. Does it deliver?

Plot & Structure

I appreciate A Sea of Broken Glass’ clear and logical structure. Merissa LaRoche is a Healer who loves her vocation and helping others. Beyond that she’s the last Vessel - if Darkness doesn’t corrupt her, she can harness the power of Light. Happily very few people know about it. Unhappily, wrong ones discover it and first accuse her of Witchcraft (a crime punishable by death) and, when she escapes, force her and her companions to run from demons, the Bastion, and the Darkness.

Characters

Ris grew up in Greendale and was raised by her guardians Bran and Aeron (known as her Shield and Cloak). They taught her how to fight, pick locks and shoot pistols. Bran is like a second father to Ris, overprotective, mature, and loyal. Aeron has a past that haunts him. There’s also Michel who became Ris’ Sword less than an hour after meeting her. She’s that special.

I liked characters and their dynamics but I wasn’t able to emotionally engage with any of them. Not that they lack anything. Except, maybe, they’re too good and pure deep inside for my taste?

Point of view

We follow the story through four POV’s - Ris and her “guardians”. The chapters alternate between characters and the author handles multiple POV with gusto. Their arcs intertwine and complement each other. Through the first-person narration in Ris chapters, we get a very clear idea about her motivations, desires, and internal conflict. Her struggle feels convincing and credible.

The narration changes to third-person limited in chapters focused on her “guardians“. As a result, it’s more difficult to connect with them as strongly as with Ris. While each of them is interesting and has a story to share, I felt their POV weren’t distinct enough to make them stand apart.

Setting

The story takes place in a dark world where a fallen goddess unleashed a curse. The world-building could have been clearer to me in parts but it didn’t really bother me because I expect the lingering questions to be answered in future books. Ris will have to find a way to contain the Darkness and deal with the Bastion. Not to mention Plague and War. I see Big problems ahead of her.

Voice/tone

Light, I wish the characters could just say “fuck“ and use other dirty words when the situation requires it. I’m not too keen on fake swear words, especially not the ones as lame as Light. Sorry :)

A Sea of Broken Glass never becomes too gloomy in tone. It doesn’t lose its sense of optimism. I had a feeling throughout that everything not only might, it surely would turn out all right in the end. I wasn’t entirely right, but I rarely felt the stakes were high (even though they were high).

Timing/pacing

The Sea of Broken Glass has a steady rhythm and finds a nice balance between action, introspection, and world-building. It never drags or focuses on unnecessary things. With (relatively) short chapters and focused narrative it effectively tells the story.

In closing

I kinda liked it. It’s well written, well-edited, and smart. Because I couldn’t develop any meaningful emotional attachment to characters, I can’t rate it higher, but it’s just me. It’s well worth your time and money, especially if you need another flintlock fantasy fix.


Final SPFBO rating





2 comments:

Ed said...

This is a brilliant review. It captures all aspects of a good review. I will not be following this blog for my reviews. Kindly review some books by Wilbur Smith. I need to give this author a try.

Łukasz said...

Hi,

We'll take a look at his books. Thanks for the kind comment.

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