The Godbreaker

Book cover: The God BreakerAs omens and natural disasters assail Narida, people flock to the banner of Nari Reborn. Natan the God-King faces a battle for his birthright – and he doesn’t even know that the Golden is sailing for his shore intent on killing a god…

Oddly, that feels like one of the most dishonest blurbs I’ve ever written and no word is a lie. All these things are true and are absolutely the backbone of the plot of this trilogy-ending finale – whilst also being the least interesting things about it. The God-King Chronicles have been remarkable from the start for the way Mike Brooks simultaneously embraces and subverts epic fantasy tropes: the dragons are dinosaurs, the patriarchy is secretly ruled by a knife-throwing princess, the God-King is awfully human, conflict is solved with compromise and the real villains are those who oppose societal change.

…I’m pleased to say that The Godbreaker is no different, although it works very hard to look like an epic finale of clashing armies and rival gods. Running to over 600 pages, it’s appropriately chonky too – and while I had my doubts Brooks could possibly wrap up all his plots satisfactorily in a single volume, if anything I found The Godbreaker a bit baggy (for all the same reasons as The Splinter King).

This is due in part to the masterful opening, in which a tsunami sweeps a heap of inconvenient characters and plot off the board. With their besieging enemies drowned, Daimon and Saana can get back to ignoring tradition in favour of effective problem-solving and Brooks can level up Yarmina (by far the most interesting scion of Black Keep’s rivals at Darkspur). In other words, events proceed elegantly and at pace – and with Zhanna’s reappearance, we are teased with the possibility of a lesbian or bisexual awakening that I was entirely here for.

In half-drowned Narida, Tila is keeping the peace on the streets as criminal queenpin Livnya the Knife until the Golden’s fleet makes landfall in search of a god to kill. The Godbreaker cements Tila as (predictably; I am who I am) my favourite character of the trilogy: brave, clever and ruthlessly efficient at whatever she turns her hand to. If your beef with epic fantasy is that it tends to uphold monarchies and other entrenched power imbalances, Mike Brooks is the author you’ve been waiting for and Tila definitely has at least one more knife up her sleeve.

Tila Narida had only ever needed two things in her life: her wits, and someone who underestimated her.

In the north, Marin’s faith in Tyrun as Nari Reborn is shaken by his reaction to adversity, but the more uncomfortable the scholar-thief grows, the closer the God-King wants to keep him and his blademaster husband. The relationship established between the husbands and Ravi the healer unexpectedly became a highlight of this final volume (having got relatively little out of their contribution to The Splinter King), although I found myself on edge whenever the action returned to Tyrun’s army. When I finally figured out why – this narrative reminded me entirely too much of R Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing – I gave myself a good shake. Brooks does not deserve my mistrust, but it turns out I’m still carrying that baggage 20 years later. Sheesh.

It sounds like more than enough to be going on with, but like The Splinter King that’s only half the story, which means the other half does little but weigh it down. Thankfully, the points of view do eventually converge, enabling Brooks to leave me screaming as my favourites all entered battle on opposite sides (whilst low-key hoping that Stonejaw would die. Her POV always felt like filler to me, so it’s irritated me all along). Fair warning: Brooks is unafraid to kill off your darlings, which meant that at about the 75% mark I found myself with no compelling reason to keep reading …until suddenly I did.

And that oblique comment is the reason this series stands out for me. Brooks is not here to simply have gods and their armies confront one another, and while that delivered an extended ending that felt weirdly anticlimactic in some ways it also meant that the final act took an unexpected and glorious new direction that I can only applaud.

You developed a plan to [redacted, ye gods] in half an hour?”

“More like ten minutes”

The one story that remains entirely peripheral – and so serves mostly as a distraction – is that of Bulang the Splinter King and their thief-lover Jeya. As Kiburu ce Alaba heads towards rebellion against the Hierarchs, they must navigate foreign magic and the unreliable protection of the underworld if they are to survive and build a better future. Spoilers be damned – if you stick with the trilogy waiting for the other shoe to drop here, you’ll be disappointed. These two are part of a completely different story and it’s not about lost heirs to thrones. While I loved having a narrative centering a trans character, you could leave this storyline on the cutting room floor and have no impact on the entire trilogy.

One of the things The God-King Chronicles has made me realise is that I’ve largely lost my taste for epic fantasy. I grow impatient with all the extraneous detail and additional supporting narratives; I start tapping my foot and waiting for the plot to get to the point. I adored The Black Coast because it meandered through fabulous worldbuilding; I have far less patience when the same level of attention is lavished on minor plot progressions.

That said, The God-King Chronicles rewarded my patience with excellent characters (Tila! Saana! Daimon! Zhanna! Jeya! Alazar! Ravi!) and a full-blooded commitment to rebuilding the inequalities built into its own world. Brooks makes clear from the start that he has neither heroes or villains – all his societies are flawed and the most amazing things happen when people bury their differences and cooperate rather than stabbing one another (sorry Tila). While I have quibbles about some of the delivery (seriously, cut some subplot), I can only applaud the trilogy’s ambition even as I weep into my Kindle. Is it perhaps a little too neat? Maybe. Do I care? Hell no.

I received a free copy from the publisher. This has not influenced the content of my review. THE GODBREAKER is out now in ebook and paperback.