Broken Aro: Book One of the Broken Ones, Jen Wylie (Untold Press, 2012)

Fantasy, Fantasy Romance, High Fantasy, serial

Grade: Δ — (Delta) A good, solid read, but only buy it if you like the genre.

brokenaroIn brief:

Broken Aro is the first installment of the new Fantasy Romance series, The Broken Ones by the talented author Jen Wylie. With the second volume of the series due to come out on June 1st, it seemed an appropriate time to review this book.  As you know, I don’t often venture into the Fantasy Romance category, and certainly never dove this far to the Romance side of the subgenre, but this series has a very appealing central character, and at least one scene that was remarkably well delivered. Thus, I suspect this is a really good addition to anyone who enjoys the genre, and could well be worth examining for someone interested in the mechanics of writing.

Setting:

A High Fantasy world with numerous races, most notably, Fae (wild demi-humans with mild magic and berserker tendencies), Elves (very magical beings who… well they’re elves), Were (as in were-wolf: shape shifters, unknown in magical strength) and Dragons (extremely powerful creatures of deep magic capable of taking human form).

In Depth:

Broken Aro: Book One of The Broken Ones by Jen Wylie is a difficult piece for me to review.  The biggest reason for this is that, while I do review Fantasy Romance cross-genre novels, this is the first such book that I have reviewed that is really more Romance than Fantasy in its structure and feel. That lends it some very considerable strengths, and one or two weaknesses (for me anyway).  What is more, while there are one or two elements of the tale that bother the archaeologists in me,[1] there are also a lot of parts that I liked and some that I loved.  To that end, I have decided to break with my normal format and instead set my review out in terms of what I liked, disliked and loved.

Before I do that, however, I will note that the real reason I gave this a Delta rating is that the form of the story, that of a very personal tale driven by character relationships, may well not appeal to those who are not in the mood for a Fantasy Romance novel.  There are no epic battles, no explorations of magical mechanics, no trappings of the classic High Fantasy style.  It is a tale about people and their inter-relationships, albeit set against a background that hints at moving towards a more epic conclusion.  To that end, it is an enjoyable book with at least one totally brilliantly written scene.

Now, on to the details.

What I liked:

The narrative of this tale is well written, flows cleanly and draws the reader in very very nicely.  It is a perfect relaxing read that encourages you to consider what is happening, without forcing to analyze every sentence.[2]

JenWylieMore than that, however, I liked Aro, the central and POV character of the book. The adolescent daughter of a high ranking soldier (general) caught in the invasion of her home city and forced to dress as a boy to escape capture.  All does not go according to plan, however, and she is taken on board a slave ship, still mistaken for a boy and… well that is where the story get’s going.

As a character, she was immediately likable and Wylie did a wonderful job of pulling me into her head.  Since I’ve never been a teenaged girl, this is quite the trick. What is more, while Aro comes across as a strong, intelligent girl, she remains a girl in her mind set.  She makes mistakes, the kinds of mistakes that the teenaged tomboy daughter of a well placed middle class single father might make.  Totally believable in her scope and execution, Aro starts as sympathetic and becomes even more so as the story progresses.  It is her tale and her sympathetically awkward way of dealing with the relationships she is thrust into that drew me through the novel and makes me look forward to the next installment.[3]

What I didn’t Like:

This, in fact, leads me to the first element of what I didn’t like about the book: how the social structure within the world was portrayed.  Now, before I go off on this, this is HARDLY a problem unique to Ms. Wylie’s world.  Indeed, it is one reason I don’t tend to review most High Fantasy novels anymore; they tend to use Medievalesque settings for their worlds, and yet most have NO REFLECTION of what life in a Medieval Aristocracy was like.  This is particularly true of those High Fantasy worlds written by Americans.  Or indeed, historical fiction novels written by Americans.[4]

In a similar way, the world of The Broken Ones fails properly reflection of the nature of the kind of social hierarchy that its characters seem to live in.  Even in a made up hierarchical social system, lines such as ‘soldiers don’t tend to get along well with Princes’ breaks my suspension of disbelief to pieces. If the aristocracy does not have the support of the military, how does it maintain any control what so ever?  Certainly not out of respect, considering the way Aro’s fellow slaves treated the Prince hidden in their midst. Without a believable social structure, the tale suffers. Even so, this modernized portrayal of social class systems is hardly unique to this series, and I’m sure it won’t bother most fans of the genre.[5]

The second element that pulled me slightly out of the narrative was in the way that Aro’s hidden gender was revealed to some characters in the early-to-middle part of the book.  Without going into spoilers, it seemed to me that there were a series of consecutive or near consecutive chapters in which one person, then another, then another discovers Aro’s secret (that she is a girl) and promises to look after her.  This could have been handled a bit more deftly, even perhaps in a single reveal.

Finally, there was a slightly odd moment late in the book where the nature of the narrative and most specifically the nature of the setting suddenly changed and seemed to skip forward quite abruptly.  I cannot really discuss this in detail without spoiling, but I found the sudden alteration and its impact on the nature of the tale pulled me out of the story.  I did return to the tale, and enjoyed the rest of it a great deal, but I never did get as fully back to the world as I had been.

What I loved:

Having said that, what I loved about the tale puts my complaints into the minor category. As I was about two thirds of the way through the book I began to think that there were no consequences for Aro, then suddenly there were, and they were there in spades.

I had come to like Aro a good deal, a great deal actually, and was happily following her story when suddenly the ramifications of being a girl hiding her gender in amongst a group of men came to bare.  I won’t go into detail,[6] because that would be a spoiler, but what we see occur is the most graphically realistic and totally unpleasant representation of violence I have read.  The act, the ramifications, everything; it made me ill and it should have.  It doesn’t spoil the romance element of the book, indeed, it actually adds to it by giving realism and complexity to the situation.

brokenPrinceIndeed, I was tempted to give this a Gamma or even Beta rating due to that scene, but I do suspect that many non-fantasy romance readers would not like the tale’s focus on personal character arcs rather than high adventure.

In Closing

If do you like Romance in a High Fantasy setting, I’d highly recommend picking up this novel, and doing so now as that the Kindle version is on sale for $0.99 .  That will give you plenty of time to read this before the second volume comes out on June 1st.


[1] (mind you, these are now almost universal to all High Fantasy novels, so hardly fair to harp on Ms. Wylie for them

[2] Of course, those who follow this blog know that I love a book that allows you to contemplate the meaning and revelations in every sentence, and even some that force you to think about the sentences themselves (i.e. Foucoult’s Pendulum and Feersum Endjinn). That, however, is not always what you want, and there is also an art and skill to delivering a story that “Does Exactly What it Says on the Tin.”

[3] And yes, I fully look forward to reading Broken Prince, which is due out in stores on June 1st.

[4] The WORST example of this that comes to mind was in the Kevin Costner movie Robin Hood – Prince Of Theives, where Will Scarlet (played by Christian Slater) refers to the titular Robin of Loxley (Kevin Costner) as a “Rich Boy” when taunting him at one of their early meetings.  Now, to boil down the social strata of a class system based around hereditary nobility as in someway being tied solely to monetary wealth is terrible for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is that nobles might well not be as rich as some merchant commoners were and how important other elements of social prestige were…. But I digress.

[5] But it should… here and elsewhere.

[6] MILD SPOILER ALERT – DO NOT READ IF YOU WANT TO AVOID ANY SPOILERS:

In the middle of a scene, in the middle of the night, we are witness to the single most realistic scene of sexual violence I have ever read.  I won’t go into what happens, since that is a spoiler (and indeed even discussing it is a bit of one), but what we see is a horrifying sequence that is treated with wonderful skill by the author.  The events and their impact alter the story and indeed, almost made me give it a Beta rating, as that I think the way this scene reads is worth even opponents of the Fantasy Romance Genre’s perusal.  It captures the horror of such events without in any way being titillating.  Well done Ms. Wylie… you may quote this if you want.

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About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
This entry was posted in Fantasy, Fantasy Romance, High Fantasy, Romance, Serial, Series, Trilogy, Uncategorized, World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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