Serena’s Review: “He Who Breaks the Earth”

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Book: “He Who Breaks the Earth” by Caitlin Sangster

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, April 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Mateo spent years believing he suffered from a strange wasting sickness, but he’s finally learned the much darker truth. Now he will do whatever it takes to save himself, even if it means betraying Lia, the one girl who’s ever made him care about something more than his research.

It doesn’t help that his father kidnapped the last living member of Lia’s family, and though it means Mateo will get to see her again, it’s only because Lia is already hunting them.

Anwei’s rage can’t be contained after the disaster at the tomb that ended with Knox almost dying. Worse, she learned that the brother she’d been desperate to avenge has been living a life of luxury, raised by the monster of her nightmares. With the power of an ancient, nameless god running in her veins, Anwei vows to end the shapeshifter once and for all.

But the members of her crew each have their own motivations—and their own gods whispering in their ears. Anwei has never put much stock in the divine, but as she gets closer to the shapeshifter she’s chased for so long, she realizes that the gods’ plan and her own might diverge. But Anwei has only one goal: revenge, and she’ll destroy anyone standing in her way.

Previously Reviewed: “She Who Rides the Storm”

Review: I always love being able to read books in a series back-to-back. I suspect this inclination is the same as the one that has lead to the preference for binge watching shows for many viewers. I just want to sink into a world and stay there as along as I can. Also, as a SFF reader, many of the stories I consume require a decent amount of brain power and memory to fully understand the world and culture of the story. So there’s a premium to be found in not having to re-learn all of that from book to book when there’s a year plus waiting between stories. All of that to say, I was excited to jump right on to the second and final book in this duology after finishing up the first one.

After the explosive events at the end of the previous book, nothing is as it seemed. Anwei’s entire world has been shaken. Her brother, a beloved sibling whose “death” she has been trying to avenge for much of her life, has instead been alive and well living with her worst enemies. What’s worse, she almost lost Knox in the pursuit of this vengeance. But now her fury cannot be contained, and she vows to hunt down the shapeshifters who have so destroyed her life. For his part, her brother Mateo has had to face some harsh truths about his own existence. Now, both siblings will have to confront just how far they will go in the pursuit of their goals. And who they are willing to sacrifice along the way.

I was in a pretty good place to start this book coming off the last one. While the first book was quite a commitment, page-length-wise, this definitely felt like one of those reads that would benefit from a back-to-back read. For one thing, the pacing and reveals came hot and heavy towards the end of the first book, leaving most of character reeling from one discovery or near miss or another. There was a lot revealed, and I was excited to see how it would all be resolved here in the second book.

One of the things that has stood out from the very beginning of this read was the quality of the writing itself. It is clear that the author has a very clear vision for her characters, both their strengths and flaws. This last part, in particular, is difficult to pull off. How do you write characters who behave badly, who make selfish choices, who risk others in the pursuit of their own goals without alienating readers from those same characters who, ostensibly, are still the “heroes” of the story? But I think Sangster really has a handle on how to do this. As alluded to in the book description, both Anwei and Mateo face choices that will seem them prioritizing themselves and their goals over the ones they care about. However, the characterization is so solid that their decisions, even while questionable and, at times, incredibly poor, make sense within the realm of them both being flawed individuals.

I also still very much like the overall world-building and the use of shape-shifters. Shape shifters are the sorts of paranormal creatures that you rarely see, often falling to the side in favor of the ever popular vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. There were some interesting twists and turns to be found in this aspect of the story, as well. I also really liked the way the gods and their powers/connections with each character were used.

I will say that I some of my positive reception of this book could come down to the fact that I was able to read it immediately after the first one. For readers who have had to wait the full year, there is a lot of wading in that will likely need to be done to refamiliarize yourself with this world and the characters. As such, the pacing can also feel a bit slow and tedious at times. I do wonder, overall, whether this series and Sangster’s writing in general might have better translated to adult fantasy. I think some of the pacing and expansive world-building might have worked better with that audience than with younger readers who like faster moving stories.

Overall, if you enjoyed the first book, I think this is a good conclusion to the duology and will appeal to those fans. In general, readers who are looking for a more “meaty” YA fantasy, this might be a good read for you!

Rating 8: A solid conclusion to a unique YA fantasy duology, though the overall pacing might be slower than younger audiences may appreciate.

Reader’s Advisory:

“He Who Breaks the Earth” can be found on this Goodreads list: YA Novels of 2023.

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