My Rating: 6.75/10
For thousands of years, elves and non-humans alike had lived freely until humans colonized their land and forced them into hiding and subjugation. After years of living as slaves or second-class citizens, the elves rebelled, but their uprising failed, and humans remained victorious.
Mario Deschamps, a new graduate of the Knight’s College, sets off to complete his first deed, an accomplishment that will grant him knighthood and into the ordo equestris. But he has huge boots to fill. His late father, a famous knight and considered the Scourge of Bandits, single-handedly ended the Elven Uprising. Mario’s youthful confidence, vanity, and naivety don’t get him far in the real world, and he quickly finds himself trapped in a political climate where tensions are on the rise and war is inevitable.
In a world filled with monsters, outlaws, bounty hunters, demons, and murderous bandits, Mario is forced to make tough moral decisions. In a world fuelled by violence, hate, and bigotry, things are not as clear cut as he once thought. Lines have been drawn, but to complete his task, he must cross them all. With every choice, the consequences weigh greatly on him, leaving him full of guilt and doubting his path . . . and all the while, in the darkness, someone-or something-is waiting for him to break.
“A willingness to help people isn’t a curse, Mario. It’s a gift.”
Thanks to A.J Rettger for providing me with a copy of Oathbreaker in exchange for an honest review! I love the simple yet menacing cover chosen for this novel. This was a hard book for me to rate. For much of the book, I thought I was going to rate this much higher. I love dark fantasy and count Joe Abercrombie as one of the greats, so this gore and death-laden novel was right up my alley.
The book starts out pretty strong, with a prologue that intrigued me much more than prologues usually do. Minor spoiler, since it’s at the very beginning, but we find out quickly that honorable Knight Pascal Deschamps is used by the King to kill his own people and then quietly murdered. What follows is the journey of his son Mario, who is unaware of this treachery. Mario goes on into the footsteps of his father in hopes of achieving a full Knighting.
One thing I really enjoyed was the contrast of Pascal’s unfailing honor and skill to Mario’s somewhat clumsy fumble at Knighthood. The life of a Knight isn’t for everyone, and it’s not as glamorous as the stories boast. Mario does seem somewhat disillusioned as to what being a Knight is, he’s supposed to be one of the best pupils from the school but it seems he has built his head up with so much fantasy, that the reality is much harsher. He’s constantly getting his butt saved by friends he meets along the way, many of them meeting their death as a result.
I can appreciate the dark aspects of this novel. I’m okay with deaths of main characters and they don’t always have to serve a purpose other than showing off how hard it is to survive under the reign of shifting loyalties and warring people. One thing that bothered me was that our only main female character is raped and abused merely for the sake of rape and abuse. Yes, this hardens her and makes her more fierce of a warrior and yes, she’s considered a lower class for being an elf, but in the end her storyline didn’t really go anywhere because of it. I am not triggered by rape in books (though others are, understandably so) and I don’t immediately hate a book that features rape, but something about this didn’t sit right with me. It just seemed an unnecessary addition to the book.
One of the issues I found with this novel was that the ending happens rather abruptly. We have a few characters left standing and they’re all in grim situations, which is fine. As I said, I’m an Abercrombie lover, I’m used to this. Mario’s resolution seemed a bit unlikely and haphazardly done. The turn on Deidre also seemed out of nowhere and dramatic. There’s a character named Flint who is super interesting overall and his story leads to intriguing revelations. Honestly, the story as a whole was about an 8/10 for me until the ending if you don’t count my distaste for the rape. The ending threw off my whole rating. The ending and the raping took it down to the current rating, but I really did enjoy this book for the most part. Oathbreaker was also left open ended, so my befuddlement could be resolved by a second book.
Truly though, I devoured this book in a two hour sitting. It’s a quick and easy read if you’re into dark fantasy. The polishing that I wanted isn’t unexpected of a debut author. Honestly, this is a much better experience than I’ve had reading a lot of self published debuts. Rettger definitely has talent and a lot of cool ideas bouncing around. I LOVED that he didn’t limit his creature usage. We get vampires, werewolves, elves, wyverns, changelings, and more. It was a welcome change, I don’t often see all of those mingling in the same novel. This is fantasy! Add all of the mythic beings you’d like!
There’s also some great observations about prejudice, underhanded political dealings, and the weight of legacy. Rettger writes smartly and his work will only get better with time, I can bet you that.