Book: Sky Breaker
Author: Addie Thorley
Narrators: Caitlin Davies & Natalie Naudus
BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Enebish and Ghoa discuss the First Gods.
Content Warnings: Grief, violence, blood depictions, mild torture, near drowning, death, mentions of imperialism, forced labour, mind control over a person
Spoiler Alert: This review will contain some spoilers for Night Spinner, if you have not yet read it, stop reading here.
I read Night Spinner last year whilst I was in Cape Town (I still can’t believe that 2020 was last year, it feels like it should be way longer ago than that, ah weird pandemic time vortex) and though I never wrote a review of it due to limited Wi-Fi in South Africa, I really enjoyed it. I’m only really familiar with The Hunchback of Notre Dame through the Disney film, but Thorley’s retelling was great, I thought she managed to take the original elements of the story and really make them her own with this really cool arctic tundra setting and a weather inspired magic system. Unfortunately, Sky Breaker, the second book in her duology, didn’t quite live up to the heights of the first one. It suffered with serious pacing problems, much worse than the first book, and unlike in the first book, I really disliked Enebish as she’d undergone a serious character change from the first book. It also just wasn’t as exciting as I was hoping it would be after the way that Night Spinner ended. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
Enebish has been deceived by everyone she once considered a friend. On the run across the tundra, her only allies are her best friend Serik and a band of ill-tempered shepherds. Her only hope of bringing peace to Ashkar is to unite the people of the Protected Territories and make a stand against the tyrannical Sky King and the hostile nation of Zemya. But that’s easier said than done. As supplies dwindle, the shepherds become far more desperate for food than freedom.
Meanwhile, Zemyan forces have stormed the Ashkarian capital. Imperial Army Commander Ghoa throws all of her power into a last-ditch effort to save her king, only to be abandoned by her fellow warriors. Held captive in a prison forged of magic and tortured by the zealous sorcerer Kartok, Ghoa learns his true ambitions lie far beyond the warring countries—he wants vengeance on the gods themselves.
The war between Ashkar and Zemya began centuries ago as a feud amongst the gods. Now it’s up to the two most hated people on the continent—the monstrous outcast, Enebish, and the notorious war criminal, Ghoa—to heal that spiritual divide before Kartok brings the skies crashing down on all of them.
I’ll start off with my biggest problem, which is our old friend PACING. I know you all probably get tired of me going on and on about it, but it really is so important to my enjoyment of a book. The first book was also kind of slow to get going, but this one was definitely worse in that department, half of the book was Enebish journeying across the country with the shepherds and there is nothing I hate more than extensive journeying because it is just so boring. This meant for the entire first half of the book, I wasn’t really engaged with what was going on in the story, and whereas in the first book, I had learning about the world to keep me interested, because this was the second book in the duology, I didn’t have that and so the slow start felt like more of a slog.
My other major problem with the book was Enebish, the main character. I really liked Enebish in the first book, I liked seeing her come into her confidence and her power, and I felt like she really grew so much through the book. However in this book, she undergoes a pretty stark character shift, she spends so much of the book being mistrustful and negative and paranoid, and it does make sense given the betrayals she endures in Night Spinner, but it also makes her character super frustrating to read, because after a while her constant negativity and paranoia becomes very grating.
We also get Ghoa’s POV in this book, which I thought I’d love as I found her really interesting in Night Spinner and I was looking forward to seeing how she was developed in the villain role in this book as that was probably one of the biggest reveals of Night Spinner. However I wasn’t completely sold with her character development in this, Thorley was definitely going for the villain redemption arc, which is fine, except that it didn’t feel believable. Ghoa does a complete 180 in terms of her beliefs and the side she’s on, and it was kind of unbelievable because it was so rushed. Had it developed slowly over the course of the book, it might have worked well, but it was so sudden, it definitely felt manufactured for plot purposes. I did find Ghoa’s part of the plot more interesting than Enebish’s though for a lot of the book, as it definitely had more action!
I was glad Enebish and Ghoa were able to repair their relationship, but much like Ghoa’s character development, it felt incredibly rushed for the sake of plot purposes.
I wasn’t a big fan of the narrators for this audiobook, there are two, one for Enebish, and one for Ghoa, but their voices weren’t distinct enough, so I kept getting the POVs confused. I also found that Ghoa’s narrator had an incredibly grating voice. I don’t know if the pandemic had some influence on this, maybe recording from home or something but I found both narrators spoke very quietly and I had to turn the volume up to full to hear (not ideal if you’re listening to a lot at once as it really hurts your ears!).
The shepherds were super annoying, I really couldn’t understand why Enebish kept helping them, as they were so ungrateful to her for protecting them and blamed her when everything went wrong, even when it wasn’t her fault, and they didn’t exactly seem to add much to their fight against Zemya anyway!
I did appreciate how important religion was to Enebish, as I’ve not read all that many fantasy books with religious characters, but I didn’t love the First gods actually being included in the story as real people, I think it would have been better if Enebish’s faith had been neither confirmed or denied.
I wasn’t happy with the way Temujin was used in this book, I thought after the events of Night Spinner that he had the potential to be a really great villain in Sky Breaker and provide a great challenge to Enebish but that never really happened. He was totally underutilised and I was really disappointed because I thought the first book had set up great potential for a massive showdown between Enebish and Temujin.
As expected, Serik and Enebish end up in a relationship in this book, which was fine, but I can’t say I was massively invested in it. I think this was largely because of Serik, as I found him kind of bland as a character, so I just didn’t really feel the chemistry between the pair of them. I was happy that it didn’t overtake the main plot of the book though, and I didn’t have to sit through pages and pages of Enebish mooning over Serik.
The Zemyan prince Ivander was an interesting new character, it was nice to get a different Zemyan perspective, as prior to this book, we only had Kartok who was obviously a villain. His relationship with Ghoa was one of the highlights of the book, he really brought out the best in her. I did think that Thorley was going to go down the romance route with them at one point, but I’m very glad that she didn’t.
The other major new main character of this book was Ziva, a Verdenese princess. I found her kind of annoying to start off with (she’s initially pinned as the classic perky younger kid sidekick) but she grew on me over the course of the book, and I felt bad for her that Enebish was so dismissive at first. It was nice to see Enebish eventually take her under her wing though!
I felt really bad for Ghoa when she was under Kartok’s control, the whole being able to control someone else’s mind/body thing has always made me really uncomfortable, and this was no exception. It was bad enough when he was controlling Orbai, but controlling a person? Not cool.
I liked how everything was resolved with Orbai in the end, I always have a soft spot for animals in books, and I was really worried that she might die in this book so I was glad that wasn’t the route that Thorley went down.
In terms of the ending, I kind of liked it? I liked where both Enebish and Serik ended up, I think they both ended in places that best suited them, and the final scene of the book was a really lovely way to end the story. However, I wasn’t best pleased with how the war between Ashkar and Zemya was resolved, I thought the solution Thorley came up with was a bit of a copout and I didn’t think it would have changed several hundred years of bad blood between the two nations.
Overall, this was a disappointing resolution to the duology, I was expecting a fast-paced, exciting book with a big showdown between Enebish and Temujin and instead, we got a lot of journeying, a lot of moaning shepherds and a slightly disappointing ending. I would like to read more by Addie Thorley in the future though, as I think she’s a really creative writer and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
My Rating: 3/5
My next review will be of one of my September audiobooks, Witchshadow, the most recent instalment of the Witchlands series by Susan Dennard.