Title: Heart of the Empire: The Broken Lands Book 1
Author: Carrie Summers
Pub. Date: July 21, 2017
Rating: ♥♥♥♥ -4.5
The Empire is heartless, but fate is crueler still.
Tainted magic spills from a crack between worlds. Quakes rattle the Atal Empire, opening rifts that split towns in two. As the land shatters and betrayals cleave the Emperor’s court, ancient power awakens in a flame-haired young woman.
Savra, a miner on a remote coast, lives in relative innocence of her Emperor’s savage rule. When she turns seventeen, she expects to be assigned sluice mining as her official Function. Everyone from her home village is a sluicer–unless they turn renegade and fugitive like Savra’s father. But when she’s suddenly torn from her home, turned pawn in the plots of madmen, a chance meeting with a young man provides the first glimpse of her tangled destiny.
For nineteen years, Kostan has been groomed for one thing: ascension to the throne. One of thirteen imperial Scions, he bears a wound that won’t heal until his twenty-first birthday. On that date, only the shape of the Scions’ scars will determine the next Atal Emperor.
Savra secretly fears she carries her father’s rebel blood. Kostan despises everything the Empire stands for. Neither desires a fight, but as the Empire crumbles around them, they stand on opposite sides of a war. Each could be part of Empire’s salvation, if only they could bridge the chasm dividing them.
Like with the majority of my reviews, the first part of this review will be non-spoiler, followed by a spoiler section.
You know when you’re on Amazon, and you click a book that you’re interested in, and then it gives you all those other book options? You know the ones I’m talking about – “if you like this book, then people also bought all of these” – if you don’t know what I’m talking about, just go to Amazon, and search your favorite book, and scroll down. There are scrollable pages full of books to choose from.
Well, if you haven’t figured it out already, that’s exactly how I found Heart of the Empire. It was pretty much a One-Click purchase for me…hell, based on the cover alone I wanted it. When it arrived in the mail, I stood in my kitchen and read until chapter 6 before I put it down.
Initially I went into this book thinking it was a Young Adult Fantasy, but it really isn’t. Though, I also don’t want to label it solely an Adult Fantasy (not that there is anything wrong with either. Personally, this read more as Upper YA, kind of up there with Sarah J. Maas and Elise Kova (two high fantasy authors I can think of off the top of my head (read the Air Awakens Series if you haven’t yet)).
I’m all for Fantasy YA – hell, I read enough of it and it probably makes up 70% of my entire library in my room – but when it comes to high fantasy, I like my characters older than 16. You don’t know how excited I was to read An Ember in the Ashes by Sabba Tahir and have OLDER characters, actually young adults in their 18-21 range! But I digress, this is a review for Heart of the Empire and not my age preferences for fictional characters. (My MC’s are 17/18 in my SF manuscript, but by the time they get to where they are going they are 19/21, and I would consider it upper YA).
Now that I’m done talking about character ages, let’s get onto the non-spoiler part of this review. Heart of the Empire follows Savra and Kostan, two very different people living in the Atal Empire. Savra comes from a small province that is slowly being pull away from the main continent by the Maelstrom off the coast. She works the sluices collecting metals for the Empire. She’s virtually a nobody until a mage sent by her father comes to rescue her.
Kostan is a Scion – one of 13 who have been deemed worthy enough to potentially inherit the throne of Atal – but he hates everything the Empire stands for, and vows to make changes if he should become Emperor.
As the Empire crumbles around them, Savra and Kostan have to learn how to stand on their own two feet to navigate and save the Empire, before it collapses to its knees.
I really enjoyed this book, I read about half from my PB copy, and listened to the other have via Audible – highly recommend the audiobook versions – I got really excited when I found out that they existed! There are five points of view in this book, but Savra and Kostan are the main focus.
Let’s start with Savra. I really liked her as a character. Even when she’s dealt shitty hands over and over again, she rises up to the occasion, and rarely has anyone save her. She’s not invincible and not always able to save herself, but she’s not constantly relying on other characters to get her out of bad situations. She’s a quick thinker and often even in panic, is able to keep a relatively level head. She takes risks to protect the people she loves and has compassion for those she doesn’t. She’s a pretty strong character by the end of the book.
I really loved her growth and development through this book, because who Savra is at the beginning, is not who she is at the end, but her change only makes her stronger and smarter.
When I first met Kostan I knew he’d play the love interest, because duh. I really liked that he had compassion for others when the majority of the people surrounding him only cared about themselves, saw themselves above everyone else. Kostan has this habit of looking out for the little people.
For someone with no “real world” skills, he catches on kind of quickly, but he also kind of flounders quite a bit. It’s takes Kostan quite a bit of time to figure out his next moves, but when he does, it’s often 0-100 real quick.
Next, we have Havialo. More about him in the spoiler section, because my feelings are strong about him.
PARVELD. I loved him. Having lived for a very long time, he has insider knowledge about everything going on with the Empire, and he’s made it his duty to help in whatever ways he can. It will be interesting to see where his story ends up.
Finally, Evrain, Savra’s father. Unofficial leader of a rebel group. Willing to do anything to protect his daughter and bring justice to the Empire.
If you want a fantasy book that has drama, betrayal, action, love, friendship and magic, you definitely want to check this out! I don’t think you’ll be able to put it down.
Now onto the SPOILER section.
I hated Havialo from the beginning. Something was off about him, AND IT DIDN’T TAKE HIM LONG TO SHOW HIS TRUE COLORS. For a grown-ass adult, he acted like a hurt teenager. So, F*ck him. He can be a casualty of war for all I care.
Yeah, that rebel group, Stormshard, I definitely don’t like them either, because their form of a solution isn’t really a solution at all and seems pretty short sighted. Also having no definitive leader of the rebel group to make decisions just seems wrong – like it shouldn’t be a majority rules vote…basically it felt kind of half-assede. BUT I think that’s why I liked it. The author didn’t mess up in creating it, but her characters did. They created this rebel group as a retaliation, like the only reason they exist is to be nuisance rather than an actual problem, so who cares if they are kind of a mess. Whatever the reason, it worked for the story.
So much of this book, the politics and the feel felt real. Despite taking place in a fictional world, it felt grounded in real life. It was captivating and made me want to keep listening. I was on the edge of my seat for a lot of sections in this book. Carrie Summer’s wrote a fantastic novel, in a terrifyingly real world, and book 2 was just as good, and I cannot wait to sit down and devour book 3.
If you go into this book expecting your typical YA fantasy romance between Prince/Princess and Rogue/Rebel/Nobody, you won’t find it. That may be spoiler-y, but I thought I’d warn. There is attraction, and the potential for romance, but Heart of the Empire isn’t about that. Though I am excited to see the relationships created in this first novel grow and expand in different ways.
The last thing I was to talk about in this review is the romance, or I guess the lack of romance. Now, I went into this book thinking that it was going to be like all the other Fantasy YA I had been inhaling and I would get a romance, so I was a little disappointed when I didn’t.
BUT with that being said, Savra and Kostan are attracted to each other, which leads me to believe that further down the road, I will get the romance I wanted!
I did see a few reviews that claimed their connection to be “insta-love” or “insta-attraction” and I’d be more inclined to agree with the latter. For one, Kostan has been secluded away from everyone except other Scions and other people living with him, so of course he’s going to think Savra, who is described as being pretty, is attractive, there was no way he wouldn’t. As for Savra, I’m going to assume that there weren’t many prospects from where she was from, at least none she was interested in, so why wouldn’t she think Kostan’s attractive?
I feel like “insta-love/lust/attraction” gets a lot of negative commentary because it often feels cheap or lazy. I’m not a huge fan of “insta-love” and I’m more of a “insta-lust” believer, but there are probably some people out there who would argue the opposite. I also think you can get away with these sort of cosmic/fate/insta-love connections because there are often other forces at play.
Clearly Savra and Kostan have a connection that goes deeper than just attraction, but major shit is going on in the Empire, magic is a part of the lands past, present and future, and to think that there isn’t some higher power, or cosmic something happening between the two of them is a little short sighted. They need each other.
Overall, I really enjoyed this Heart of the Empire and book 2 – Rise of the Storm (review to come), and I cannot wait to dive in to Fate of the Drowned. I have no idea what to expect, and I’m terrified and excited to find out!