The Broken Heavens

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 14 Dec 2019

Member Reviews

The Broken Heavens is the third and final book in Kameron Hurley’s Worldbreaker saga. The previous two books were complicated, deeply weird, incisively fierce work. I’m more than happy to report that the conclusion follows in their footsteps.

Worldbreaker is set in a world surrounded by parallel universes. Quite literally. It’s possible to rip holes between parallel realities, leap through, and find yourself in a world where your double made different choices, or their friends did, or their politicians did. To stride from a space where someone is your lover, to one where they’re your worst enemy. But to cross those boundaries, your duplicate needs to be dead.

That drove the central concern of the previous book, as an invading army overwhelmed the pacifist Dhal nation, engaging in genocide in order to save the population of its own ruined world. Now the Dhal are intruders in their own space, occupied by a people who have become a bit more blasé about mass-murder than is good for them. The story explores that occupation, and the conflict that preceded it, with a forensic care, but also with real humanity. There are members of the surviving Dhal who want to rise up and fight. There are members that just want to run, to go somewhere else, to get away from the scene of their catastrophe. Both make excellent arguments, both feel like people trying to do their best by the people behind them. Of course, “their best” is debatable. Nobody here really has clean hands. Those few who appear to are also those with seemingly the least impact on the world. If they’re not willing to get dirty, they’re also not going to get anything done – and will bear the costs of their inaction in any event. The story explores this dichotomy between moral clarity and the personal cost of action – and it does so in an engaging way, using characters that we care about, even as we watch them stand on different sides.

This is a book that really reaches, that is grounding big ideas in its world and in its characters. The world is centred on constantly shifting parallels, but it’s also defined by its magic, itself driven by a complex, shifting pattern of celestial satellites. It’s a complex, detailed, richly imagined universe. But there are enough unanswered questions to make the reader wonder how it all hangs together, and why. The big ideas, the big questions, are the bones of this narrative. Looking at consent, at morality, at what people are willing to do, what costs they’re willing to bear, and why. Examining ideas of love and of understanding, of betrayal for the sake of power, or for the sake of advancement, or for that very love. Of seeing people stand up for what they believe in, and be beaten down over and over, and still fighting. Or acquiescing and working within a system. Or both. This is a text that peels back the human experience, flensing to the heart of the lived shared experience, showing that everyone is as much the same as they are different, that monsters are heroes of their own story – and that you can flip a coin between those seen as monsters and heroes.

So yes, this is a big ideas book.

It’s also an intimate one. While we’re tracking the characters through woods filled wit carnivorous plants, or through disturbingly organic temple-strutures teeming with magic, they’re having heartfelt, genuine discussions. There’s an openness there, a front-faing truth which makes the dialogue feel genuine and heartfelt. That the dialogue includes more than a few sharp words, and the occasional verbal assassination makes no odds – they feel equally real. There’s a sense here of real people, who love and live and hurt and die, and invite the reader to experience that alongside them. Some of these people are, incidentally, not very nice people. But they’re people nonetheless, ones you can empathise – if not sympathise – with. In a world populated by doubles, not everyone is who they seem to be, and truth isn’t always what it appears either. But the people, the people are real. And the way they speak to each other lays aside illusions, and has a sort of emotional honesty which gives the words a serious punch – even if (especially if) the words are a horror, or a lie.

So yes.

A broken, strange world, one that carries a weight of history, and is screaming from the changes imposed upon it by its own paradigm.

Characters who feel real, who you’ll care about, who will make you laugh and cry alongside them, who will make you cheer their failure and fear their success. Who are brave, or not, heroes, or not, terrified, or not, magical, or not. Who are, when it comes down to it, people – with all the behavioural spectrum that entails. But they’re real, and you’ll feel for them, and with them.

There’s the story too I mean, I’m in love with the weird world, and the horrendous, compelling, wonderful characters. But there’s the story too. And it kicks arse. I won’t spoil it. But it has all the explosive, strange, unbelievable magic you’ve been looking for. All the unexpected tragedies. All the moments of soaring triumph and sour defeat (possibly in the same paragraph). It’s complex, with tales interweaving as they build to that climatic conclusion we’ve been waiting for. And that conclusion is painful and glorious and fierce and bloody and wonderful. This one has serious emotional energy, and the kind of compelling prose that leaves you turning just one more page before bed – and then suddenly it’s five in the morning and you’re not entirely sure how that happened, but know you loved getting there. This is a story that makes no apologies, that sears the reader as much as it delights, that wants you to think, and will pull you heart and soul into its story.

This is a damn fine conclusion to a damn fine trilogy, and if you’re here trying to decide if it’s worth finishing the series – yes! If  you’re trying to decide if  the series is worth reading – also yes!
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Before reading The Worldbreaker Saga, I’d already read one trilogy and two standalones by Kameron Hurley, so I knew the series would be great. And yet my expectations were completely blown out of the water. I’m in awe of Hurley’s worldbuilding, of the fascinating magic system she’s created, of her effortless inclusion of diversity, and of her ability to write so many complex characters. 

There are quite a few POVs in this trilogy, and Hurley pulls it off flawlessly. This is a series about parallel worlds, and each POV both adds to the overall picture and makes it impossible to say “those are the good guys and those are the bad guys.” Characters you see in the first book only through another character’s eyes have their own POV in the next book, and suddenly their motivations become clear. Every single character does horrible things, and yet I was still able to sympathize with and understand them. Hurley takes morally gray to the next level, and I love it. 

This series is #ownvoices for queer representation and is set in a queernorm world. There’s bisexual rep, gender-fluid rep, poly rep, multiple recognized genders, and so much more. One of the main characters also has a chronic illness and a physical disability. I appreciate the fact that Hurley doesn’t gloss over the character’s struggles. Her problems are real, and they make it so she often has to work harder, but still she keeps fighting. 

The Broken Heavens, the last book in the trilogy, is my favorite. I couldn’t have asked for more from a series finale. I honestly had no idea what to expect from the ending. I didn’t even know what I should hope for, with all the conflicting POVs. It made for a thrilling read, and I both didn’t want it to end and could hardly put it down. This series is made for binging, and I’m so glad I didn’t have to wait for book three. Do yourself a favorite and give this epic fantasy series a chance!
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I feel like I’ve been waiting for this concluding book forever, though in reality it really hasn’t been that long in book terms and Hurley has produced a lot of excellent sci-fi for me to glut myself on in the meantime. I love this series. The world building is wonderful, drenched with the trademark Hurley levels of gore which manage to be vast but never gratuitous (quite some trick!) The characters and the way they interact is excellent, nuanced and intelligent. The plot is a real zinger. An excellent closing novel. Highly recommend this dark epic fantasy series.
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I think my favourite book so far by Kameron Hurley has been The Light Brigade, this story was fascinating and I was swept along by the interplay by the characters and their development, a very good read
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