THIS BROKEN WORLD Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace spends time in a broken world.
Fantasy as a genre has gotten a well-deserved reputation for producing doorstoppers with great regularity. Being a type of literature inclined to world-building and immense amounts of lore, no doubt following the template set by J. R. R. Tolkien, this was perhaps inevitable. In my experience, the only rival I’ve seen is epic historical fiction of the likes of Edward Rutherfurd or James Michener, or perhaps some similarly epic historical fiction like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy. Here, we shall discuss a more recent fantasy epic, Charles E. Gannon’s novel This Broken World, published in 2021 by Baen books.

Your protagonist, Druadaen, is at first your typical epic fantasy hero born on a farm to see adventure far beyond his home. He is brought into the imperial capital for cryptic reasons, and then his parents die mysteriously. He aspires for the military, but instead finds his way into service with the imperial archives, a far more dangerous job than it sounds.

This Broken World is a proper epic fantasy, clocking in at a whopping 756 pages; it took me several days to read (and I read quickly!). It is likewise epic in scope; Gannon does a very good job of fleshing out this world. You wander through deep caves (somewhat reminiscent of Damon Knight’s The World and Thorinn, a book that I suspect may have an influence on the coming series) and through sprawling cities, all of which feel very alive. It is to Gannon’s credit that he manages to do all this while maintaining the aura of mystery that makes the plot so compelling.

And it is quite the plot. This is, as I said, the launch of a series, and Gannon never lets you forget that there is far more than meets the eye in any given scene. The massive bureaucracy to which Druadaen is beholden is labyrinthine and byzantine, one that clearly has many secrets. This is enhanced by the drip-feed of information about the world that Gannon tricks you into believing is a flood.

Gannon plays with a number of fantasy tropes in a manner that raises some intriguing questions about the narrative. You meet dragons and ork-like raiders, neither of which are as simple as the fantasy genre has made such creatures; the portrayal of the former had a rigor to it that reminded me of Mike Resnick’s novel Dragon America. Likewise, there are things about Druadaen that break the mold of this sort of fantasy which I appreciated. All of this underlies a theme of preconceptions being wrong that I enjoyed immensely.

This Broken World is an epic about knowledge and discovery, and how such things can shake up ossified systems. It’s all subtle, placed underneath a gripping fantasy adventure yarn that I wholeheartedly recommend to the fantasy fan.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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