Summary from Goodreads:
A strange darkness grows in Allward. Even Corayne an-Amarat can feel it, tucked away in her small town at the edge of the sea. She soon discovers the truth: She is the last of an ancient lineage—and the last hope to save the world from destruction. But she won’t be alone. Even as darkness falls, she is joined by a band of unlikely companions:
A squire, forced to choose between home and honor.
An immortal, avenging a broken promise.
An assassin, exiled and bloodthirsty.
An ancient sorceress, whose riddles hide an eerie foresight.
A forger with a secret past.
A bounty hunter with a score to settle.
Together they stand against a vicious opponent, invincible and determined to burn all kingdoms to ash, and an army unlike anything the realm has ever witnessed.
Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard is the first in a new epic fantasy series. In the style of Tolkien (and the author even mentions him in a thank-you in the acknowledgements), Realm Breaker introduces us to the motley band of characters who must figure out how to save the realm (and the world) from the clutches of Taristan, one of the last of the Old Cor, who, with his wizard companion, has figured out how to unlock the Spindles and unleash armies of the undead and creatures left better in a separate dimension from taking over the world as we know it.
The book opens with a battle scene between Taristan’s army of undead and some of the most powerful warriors of the age. There are few survivors, but a young squire and an ancient immortal live and escape, knowing that they must help find a way to close the Spindles and protect their world. They search for one of the other Old Cor descendants, and find her in a small sea-faring town, wishing she could escape, and along the way enlist the aid of a tiger-eyed assassin who has been cast out from her guild, a witch who knows more than she would appear to, a forger who brings with him a past history (but many good skills), and a bounty hunter who is out for herself and willing to sell her considerable skills to the highest bidder.
As with most epic fantasies, this one begins with the assembling of our band of realm protectors, all of whom are outsiders in one way or another, and a long journey to begin their quest to protect the world as they know it. Aveyard has created a set of seven unique characters with distinct personalities and skill sets, but brings them all to life as they travel across lands and seas unknown. (The hardcover copy I read also had a wonderfully illustrated map which was a nice addition, but not required as the author’s descriptions more than do justice to the landscapes the characters travel through.) The other half of the characters are the evil wizard and Taristan, from the Old Cor lineage, who, together, have the power and knowledge (and willingness) to crack open the Spindles (which are essentially portals into other worlds) and unleash all sorts of ugly, nasty things better left in the dark.
I agree with several reviews I read that the prologue is a bit of a tough go. Tons of action and characters and you are literally tossed into the middle of all of it, so it’s a little confusing trying to figure out which characters are important to the story (Andry) and which are just part of the list of warriors who will fall in battle. Once through that scene-setting section, however, the pace of the book picks up. Filled with action scenes, there is great dialogue between the characters as they get to know each other and their personalities emerge, and of course, the looming threat posed by Taristan and the Spindles. While the main character of Coryane (who is of the Old Cor bloodlines) advances the plot, the story is told from the point of view of the other characters, so we start to get backstory on each of them. The banter between Dom, the ancient immortal, and Sorasa, the assassin, is fun and cheeky, and very entertaining.
Normally I find cliff-hangers at the end of a book leading to another in the series an annoyance, but maybe because I knew going into this one that there are more to come it didn’t bother me as much? (So yes, this is the first in a series and yes, the book ends with only some of the ends tied up – there is definitely space left for more in the book(s?) to come.)
Extra points for my happiness level in the final scenes which feature horses prominently, especially Arabian-type horses, and the horse the bounty hunter rides because that kind of horse skill set was something my yellow pony excelled at. (Steps? Hell yes, I’ll go do those.)
I’m definitely in for the long run with this series and anxiously awaiting book two. 4 out of 5 stars overall rating. (Note: This is book #2 for the TBR Knockout Challenge in June, for a book with 4+ colors on the cover, and book 3/20 in the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge.)