Travys, the youngest of the queen’s twin sons, was born mute. He is a prince of the Chanteuse, nobles who channel their magic through their voices. Their purpose is to monitor the threads and close the paths between the worlds, but the Chanteuse have given themselves over to decadence. They disregard their responsibilities to the people they protect—all but Travys, who fears he’ll fail to wake the Chanteuse to Heled’s threat in time to prevent the destruction of Lehbet.
Within the palace, intrigue creates illusions of love where there is none, and when Travys’ own brother turns against him, he is forced to flee all that he has known and enter the mirror world of Heled where the enemy has already won. In Heled, he must find his true voice and close the threads, or lose everyone that he loves.
Teresa Frohock is one of the authors whose work I’ve been aware of for years, who I chat with on Twitter regularly, whose debut novel Miserere is on my TBR pile even, but whose work I’ve never gotten around to reading. However, she’s often referred to as one of the criminally under-read authors of the past few years and many people whose opinion I rate highly love her work. Thus, when offered her novella The Broken Road for review, I said yes without hesitation. And Frohock’s writing is everything it was reported to be. It’s deft, it’s dark, it’s complex, and most importantly it’s highly entertaining. I found Travys’ tale fascinating and my biggest issue with the story was its length; it was just too short, I wanted to spend more time with the characters and their story.
The story is set in a well-built universe. I liked the concept of two connected worlds separated by a sort of magical force field kept in repair by the Chanteuse magicians. Such magical fields aren’t unheard of in fantasy of course, but if done well I always find them a great plot device. The Chanteuse are an interesting caste of magic users, especially as they’ve developed into the caste in power, a combination of noble and priestly caste who instead of serving the people in their care, lord it over them in a feudal system. There is a true sense of separation between the lowborn and highborn, something accentuated by the luscious and decadent nature of the court presided over by Travys’ mother. Of necessity, the plot is fast-paced and Frohock accomplishes much in this limited number of pages. Her writing is concise, yet there is a lot of implied background; it feels as if, had she allowed herself the word count, she could have expounded on many elements of her world in great detail. The novella contains several haunting passages, such as the opening scenes at the crossroads, where Travys and his companion Marc discover evidence of a disturbing ritual, and the time Travys spends with the Saalka, ghoulish mermaid-like creatures. They’re deeply atmospheric and rather creepy. Also the wasps? Not fun, not fun at all.
Despite the interesting world building, The Broken Road is very much a character-driven narrative. Its protagonist is the second-born brother of a set of twins and one who has a disability too. In a land ruled by those in a voice-driven magic system, the fact that Travys is mute makes his position in court and society precarious. Yet despite his muteness, Travys has found a way to command his magic and has gained the respect of the court. His relationship with his brother Josué seems to be good, yet it is here that Travys’ naiveté is exposed: Travys believes in the good of people, often in the face of disputing evidence. Travys’ lover Gabriel is one of the people warning him about Josué and it is seemingly the one thing that really puts pressure on their relationship from within. I really enjoyed this pairing and I would have loved to have seen more of these two together, because they were fab and it also felt as if the relationship was given short shrift. Gabriel deserved more screen time and consideration in my opinion and his story felt cut short. A character who did have a great narrative arc was Marc, Travys’ best friend and companion. I loved how Frohock positioned him in society and how she developed his story, which was both unexpected and very fitting.
The Broken Road is a wonderful novella, which went by far too fast. Travys is a compelling protagonist and I look forward to discovering how he will settle into his new position and what will happen next in the conflict between Lehbet and Heled. If you like your fantasy dark and character-driven, The Broken Road is a story you really ought to check out.
This book was provided for review by the author.