Things that are good
The book's fast pacing will never leave the reader bored.
Distinctive and interesting characters.
Sympathetic bug aliens.
Things I did not like
Some content is not appropriate for all ages. Specifically a suggested rape. Also children die and it is shown in detail, but feels gratuitous.
The ending, while not bad, feels unsatisfying.
Who Will Enjoy This Book?
Breakers of the Dawn is soft science fiction. This isn't an exploration on the viability of technology or a study on how technology shapes culture, but a more character focused narrative. Those looking for hard science fiction will likely feel shortchanged by the lack of focus on technology. Breakers is more like Star Wars; a fantasy story with science fiction trappings. I worry that a few Star Wars fans may find some of the content too dark for their tastes, but Game of Thrones fans may recognize the structure and grim tone. Wheel of Time fans should consider giving Breakers a chance since it matches the tone.
I have tried to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but I do reveal a few minor plot points in order to discuss certain aspects of Breakers in depth. Major spoilers are only hinted at and not discussed in detail.
Breakers of the Dawn feels like it has a slow start, but that's because of its structure rather that its pacing which is actually fast. The story jumps between points of view and locations each chapter Game of Thrones style. Consistent pacing does an excellent job of setting up most of the characters and their respective conflicts as each separate character's story moves closer to intersecting during the climax. Around six heroes and two villains each get their own POV chapters. At times it verges on overwhelming, but the story wisely pulls back before becoming over saturated with characters.
All characters feel distinctive and there is plenty of variety. Tremmilly and Cazz-ak-tak stand out as particularly good. Tremmilly is the best character of the book in my opinion and recipient/victim of a long prophecy. She is young and inexperienced, but she throws herself into her adventure without a lot of fuss. Her role seems to be that of a leader who is to gather a bunch of heroes of prophecy and to make sure the tone of the story doesn't become so dark that it alienates the reader. I think she works because the tone in her chapters is the most consistent.
Cazz-ak-tak is the reader's window into the culture of the Entho-la-a-mines, a peaceful race of telepathic bug aliens. Entho culture and their telepathic abilities are given far more attention than human technology. Their chapters tend to showcase a deeper level of detail and world building than the other sections spent on various human planets. It also helps that I am a sucker for bug aliens in general and I adore their rare sympathetic portrayals in fiction.
Other characters have interesting angles as well. Lothis, a kid around 10 years old who lives in an isolated room in a secret lab whose story reminds me of Plato's allegory of the cave. Maxar, a futuristic gladiator, and Wake, a competent engineer, are both characters who give the reader a critical perspective on depths of corruption within the human government called the Ashamine.
The Founder and his right hand man Crasor give the reader a villainous POV. Crasor is of particular note since he stumbles onto the meta narrative of the series, but I won't spoil anything here. Both Crasor and the Founder do okay at selling themselves as villains and they get the job done, but they are not as engaging as the heroic characters.
Felar is the only problematic character. She is supposed to be a highly competent, dangerous, and elite Founder's Commando. Much of the first chapter is spent building up her character and showcasing her skill only for the tables to suddenly turn and end in her possibly being raped. Maybe. It's suggested that something else might be going on, but nothing is resolved by the end of the book and the event in question doesn’t come up again. Regardless, I feel the end of her introduction undermines her character and calls her competence into question.
The early story quickly establishes the setting. The “totally not corrupt” and “definitely not an evil empire” Ashamine is the central human government featured in Breakers. Aging, bloated, corrupt, mismanaged, and overly militarized, the Ashamine is an empire in all but name. They are led by the Founder who is a huge fan of government cover ups and false flag operations. Since cover ups and false flags are expensive, the Ashamine is waging a war of expansion on the only other major power in Breakers, the Entho-la-a-mines
The Entho-la-a-mines is where the meat of the world building is. The Entho have a communal hive mind called the Great Thought and are mostly peaceful to the point where they really don't know how to even fight a war. Although they are bug aliens, they really are more like Hollywood's post western Native Americans with a 'one with nature' theme. Or in science fiction terms, think Na'vi from Avatar rather than the bugs from Starship Troopers. I don’t think the 'one with nature' aspect gets overplayed like in a lot of fiction. Thank goodness, because too much nature worship in fiction makes me want to become a Captain Planet villain. The Entho provide a sharp contrast with the warlike Ashamine, but as the story unfolds it becomes clear that something greater is on the horizon.
While the story's tone wavers quite a bit, there is little ambiguity as to who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. This straight forward hero vs villain narrative is consistent throughout the book and resonates well with the story's simplistic approach to technology. It makes for an easy learning curve for new readers since there is no need to wade knee deep through pointless techno babble.
That said, the climax feels a bit weak. The book just kind of ends right when it was starting to come together and does not feel complete. Breakers is fairly short. I would guess around 70K words long. I would have preferred around 10K more words to see some of the characters finally interact with one another since the story ends with them meeting and not really getting to know each other. I guess there had to be room for a sequel, but I like books in a series to stand on their own while still leaving room for a sequel. But, I suppose I can't begrudge a book that is wise enough to not bite off more than it can chew.
Ending aside, it's still not bad. The simple and direct writing style is accessible and easy to read. Breakers manages to still feel epic without becoming a sprawling mess like so many other stories that feature a large cast. For those put off by the first chapter, I would highly recommend they keep going since the story gets really good near the end. Breakers of the Dawn is a good quick read and an excellent match for anyone who likes science-fantasy.
(reviewed 4 months after purchase)