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Book Review

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The Glass Breaks (Hardback)


Author: A. J. Smith
Publisher: Head of Zeus
483 pages
RRP: £18.99
ISBN: 978 1 786 696885
Publication Date: 13 June 2019

Duncan is physically weak for a Sea Wolf. At the age of seventeen he undergoes the ritual drowning. Completely against both his father’s hopes and wishes Duncan survives the ordeal because of his powerful and wild magic. Accepted and yet not accepted into the ranks of the Sea Wolfs, Duncan must strive against both his physical limitations and the power that he is able to draw from the Void. Adeline Brand is an accomplished duellist, that portion of the Sea Wolf society who act as enforcers and assassins. When disquieting rumours start about a new threat, she is sent with companions to investigate…

The Glass Breaks (2019. 491) is the first part of a new fantasy trilogy from A. J Smith.

I was really in two minds about this novel. On the one hand there are many elements which are tropes that are so well worn that there is a part of me which despairs when it looks like I am reading yet another book about a young, disadvantaged character, who hold potentially great power. We just know he/she will go through a trial and come out the other side triumphant. On the other hand, the story does draw you in.

The story splits the book between the first person POV of Duncan and Adeline, neither of which are particularly sympathetic characters. Duncan yearns to be taken seriously as a Sea Wolf, even given his physical disadvantage; he is wracked by doubt and fear, a situation which is continually being reiterated to the reader. He doesn’t even seem to find solace in the immensely powerful Wyrd he can control.

Adeline leads a conflicted life, even if she does not feel the conflict. On the one hand she has a Pure One lover, whilst simultaneously glorifying in the killing of Pure One’s – humans without Wyrd - who never stood a realistic chance of causing her harm.

It is the Wyrd, a form of unexplained magic, which gives the Sea Wolfs their advantage and has enabled them to triumph over all their enemies save one. Not only does it give them an edge in battle, but it also enables them to enter the void, a parallel dimension. This allows them to slip behind or next to Pure Ones and attack before they even have to exit the void.

Behind all of this set up is the one devastating military defeat suffered by the Sea Wolfs. Many years ago a great fleet set sail to conquer the Sunken City, home of the mad and sleeping god. They never returned. The men of the Sunken city did not forget what the Sea Wolfs had done and have set in motion plans which threaten both the Sea Wolfs and the Pure Ones.

Even though there was little to like about either Duncan or Adeline, both characters were superbly crafted. Obviously they were designed to be the polar opposite of each other, Duncan wracked with doubt, where Adeline only feels doubt for the first time when it looks like she might lose.

The tag line on the books spine is J. R. R. Martin meets Lovecraft and while there are recognisable elements from both, especially in the grotesque Lovecraftian men of the Sunken City and their dreaming god, it does the book a disservice as it sets a very high bar in originality, which the current novel cannot attain. True there are many elements which have either been known tropes or borrowed from other authors, but Smith writes an enjoyable, violent and well-paced novel.


Charles Packer

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