Monday, September 1, 2014

Curse Breaker: Guild Assassin by Berley Kerr

The Basics:
Curse Breaker: Guild Assassin by Berley Kerr
Curiosity Quills Press
Book One in the Curse Breaker series
New Adult, Steampunk, Fantasy
Published July 28th, 2014
Source: Received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Why I picked up this book:

The cover had a steampunk vibe and I'm really into steampunk these days. It's a really gorgeous cover!


Wendy Magdalena Braca lived in a Victorian mansion under three moons in Jupiter City.

But her privileged upbringing falters when after the death of her father and the murder of her mother, she is shipped away to Greenleaf Asylum for Troubled Girls and lived there for years until she is “rescued” by a strange guild that shows Wendy their world; the world of Guild Assassins made up of the Cæcus (normal humans), the Validus (magic-users), and Half-Breeds (demi-gods).

In this world, Wendy discovers she is the most special and powerful Validus known to exist, the Curse Breaker.

My thoughts:

I had this weird tug between love and frustration with Curse Breaker. For the most part, I enjoyed the story a lot. I thought the worldbuilding was intriguing, I felt like the pacing on the story was reasonably good, and I was engaged with the main character. Except - and this is a biggie - she experiences severe trauma during an early section of the story, and I didn't feel as though this panned out through the rest of the novel.

So, for some reason I completely missed the science fiction/other worldly flavour in the blurb. It came as a surprise to me when the book talks about hopping between Realms - basically colonies on other planets. I loved this element - it's unusual in steampunk, and I thought it worked really well. This quite literal expansion in scope of traditional steampunk allowed the story to engage with cultures beyond the Victorian-flavoured one we know and love in this genre - and to do so with ease. This ability to travel widely was a good fit for a story that encompasses all of main character Wendy's teenage/young adult years. I liked that there was a sense of movement in space as well as in time.

The story begins with the emotional death of Wendy's mother, sweeps through her years at an Asylum, then through the many years of her training to become a Guild Assassin. The pacing was pretty solid - there's lots of action to flavour the passage of time - we get more than simple snapshots of Wendy's life *and* I felt that Kerr did a good job of balancing longer periods of 'the same old' (often crossed over in a few pages or paragraphs) with the important game-changing moments of Wendy's life.

I enjoyed all the action and spy scenes. There's some great undercover stuff here, so if you like that type of story, I think you'll find lots to appeal to you in Curse Breaker.

I did think that this was solid groundwork for a series. The curse breaker concept that sets Wendy apart from other 'Validus' wasn't really utilized in this book. In fact, other than a small demonstration of the potential, I think it was more a concept than a practical element in the story. I expect that future books will run with the idea.

All of my frustration with this book had to do with Wendy and what I thought should be a more defining part of her life. She experiences some pretty serious abuse during a section of the story and I didn't feel like she really experienced any lingering effects from it. While it's true that everyone reacts differently in these kinds of situations, I felt like there really needed to be at least a scene discussing how she was coping with it. Every time she engaged in any kind of sexual encounter (mostly off screen, I'd rate the heat in this as mild-plus), or even just when she happily lusted after anyone, I had a moment of... "Huh. Really?  She's okay with this?  Okay then...." Ultimately I felt that Wendy's focus was so heavily on her mother's murder and the mystery around it that she neglected to really address the how, who, what and whys of anything that happened to her in the years immediately following the murder.

Bottom line:

I really enjoyed reading Curse Breaker: Guild Assassin, and I think it provides a great foundation for future books. I'm on board for more adventures with Wendy!

4 stars
For fans of steampunk, spy/assassin stories

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