Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review: Broken Wizards by Jeffrey Bardwell

Title: Broken Wizards
Series: The Artifice Mage Saga, Book 2
Genre: fantasy/steampunk
Pages: 468
Publisher: Twigboat Press
Buy: Amazon

What Goodreads has to say:

Would you flee into the land of dragons and evil wizards?

The wizard purge is in full swing. Sorcery is illegal in the modern, steam-powered Iron Empire. The Magistrate's Black Guards hunt the uncivilized mages using mechanized armor and mysterious, clockwork weapons. The guards deliver their prisoners to the Butcher, Captain Vice. All wizards are tortured and executed as traitors to the state . . . with one exception.

That exception is Devin, the outbreak mage and ex artificer, a prince of machinery. The Magistrate exiles the youth over Vice's protests to the wild kingdom of wizards and dragons. Devin only knows gears and springs, but his savage magic offers salvation, if he can tame it. The exile must learn to harness his dangerous, new powers before the Butcher tracks him down to finish the job.

Follow Devin's quest in Book Two of The Artifice Mage Saga. Join the fantasy steampunk brawl of metal vs. magic where sorcery is bloody, science is greasy, and nobody's hands are clean.

What I have to say:

In Broken Wizards, author Jeffrey Bardwell continues the story of Devin the artifice mage. When last we saw Devin in Rotten Magic, he'd locked himself in a room with his arch nemesis (the school bully) and it looked like he was about to torch the place. The stakes were high, the tension was real, and boy did I love it.

Keeping that tension, Broken Wizards starts off with pretty high stakes. We're not entirely sure what Devin did in that room, nor are we sure what happened afterward. We're concerned about what may have befallen Devin's very lovable mother and sister, and we almost can't watch as the young mage's punishment is meted out.

Oh, did I mention? Being a mage is a crime in the Iron Empire. And Devin has now officially "come out of the closet" as a mage - which means there's no sanctuary for him anywhere.

Banished from the Iron Empire, he wanders through the poorer Kingdom of Corel: a place where mages and dragons roam at large, though Devin seems to have a hard time finding either at first. Eventually he reaches Cornelius, a mage who agrees to help Devin harness his magic powers.

So yeah, this is that one book that every fantasy series has at one point, where the main character goes on a quest of self-discovery and basically the whole book is like, hero wandering from one town to the next, talking to a lot of people, learning about his/her parentage or learning to tame his/her powers. At best, it's Taran Wanderer, The Empire Strikes Back, etc. At worst, it's The Druid of Shannara (Man, I love Shannara but I hated that book. It just dragged on and on forever!)

I'm pleased to report Broken Wizards is much more engaging than The Druid of Shannara. It's not Taran Wanderer, but then what is?

Like I said, this book started out strong. And it stayed strong for a while. There were also parts where Devin and Cornelius just rehashed old arguments over and over again, and those weren't the most engaging passages, I must say. Don't get me wrong: I love a little magical philosophy in my books, but I felt like these characters could have used less talking and more doing. However, maybe that's their fatal flaw.

At other moments, the story is boss. Some of my favorite parts were when we left Devin's story for a while and saw through the eyes of other characters. Devin's point of view is muddled and meandering: which isn't exactly a fault in the narrative, that's just Devin's character and I'm all about those unreliable narrators. But because of that, transitioning to another character feels refreshing. I loved the passages from the magistrate's point of view, and I love that the book started out that way. It was different and it gave us some more context on the Iron Empire and its mage dilemma.

Also - Styx!

By far my favorite narrative voice was that of Styx - and I won't actually tell you who Styx is because it could be a spoiler, but he's a character, OK? The first time we got a passage from Styx's point of view, it was like a breath of fresh air in the story - so emotional, so poetic, I loved it. I also loved how the passages from Styx kept alluding to things that were going to happen in the future, teasing us with hints of prophecy and war - and then never explaining them! (I assume we'll get it in a subsequent book.) It was a brilliant way of keeping the reader engaged and guessing.

And did I mention how great Abigail is? Though it took a little time for me to warm up to her (as it should, she's kind of intimidating), I really liked her in the end. I don't think we ever got anything directly from her perspective, but she was a strong supportive character.

So there might be a lot of talking, but there are also parts in this book that are spine-tinglingly awesome.

Devin has a moment of revelation at the end of the book, when he realizes something about the dynamic between Cornelius and himself (I won't spoil it). I loved that part.

Also, Devin has some great one-liners, like this one that I don't think is a spoiler because I'm not giving any context and honestly Devin says this kind of stuff all the time anyway:
"None of your men will leave this beach alive," Devin said. "You only thought you faced a dragon before. I am the real dragon."
Boom. Devin has arrived.

It just takes, like, a lot of pages. (IDK how many, I read this on Kindle, OK?)

Final takeaway: I could do with less talking - especially when characters are in the middle of a life or death situation and they're like, o...k... time for a philosophic debate.... but overall this book has great characterizations, great alternating viewpoints, and freaking dragons. Plus some steampunk mixed with magic, which I dig. (Send me more steampunk books, yo!)

If it's a little broken, maybe that's because it's like its hero (anti-hero? both?): artifice mage (and occasional metaphorical dragon) Devin.


(Honestly I'd probably give it 3.5 but you can't have half a tree.)

Until tomorrow.