Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The world of Lehbet is under siege. The threads that divide Lehbet from the mirror world of Heled are fraying, opening the way for an invasion by an alien enemy that feeds on human flesh.
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.
Thoughts: Normally, I say I’m not much for novellas. For years I overlooked them, arrogantly figuring that they were somehow less good than a novel because they contained fewer words. (By that logic, short stories must be entirely without redeeming quality…) But recently I’ve come to appreciate them for what they are; whole and complete self-contained stories crammed into a smaller space than a novel, and that takes no small degree of skill to pull off well.
And an excellent example of this would be Teresa Frohock’s The Broken Road.
The story centres around Travys, born mute in a society where the keepers and users of magic do so through song. Not being one to just sit back and accept that he’d never live up o the legacy of his mother or be the equal of his twin, Travys forged his own path to magic and learned to channel fragments of ambient sound around him into a voice he could use. The magic-users, known as the Chanteuse, are tasked with holding together the threads of the world, but now the threads are fraying and horrific destruction is upon Aquitania as twisted insectoid invaders from another reality, the Teraphim, seek to break through and seize the world as their own.
And if that concept doesn’t pique your interest, nothing will.
Twice now Frohock has written something involving multiple planes of existence and a twisted take on magic and religion, and I’ve loved both things. I’m a bit of a sucker for anything with a multiverse, so I was predisposed to liking it right from the get-go, but in saying that, I would be fawning over this story even if that wasn’t a particular interest of mine. The Broken Road is intelligent, thought-provoking, and doesn’t cling to convention for convention’s sake. Like Travys, this dark fantasy tale carves its own path and strikes a beautful balance between the grotesque and the enlightening, destructive darkness and hope. If you’re a fan of nightmare imagery that manages to be disturbing without being reliant on an abundance of blood and guts, then this is the novella you should be reading.
As is often the case, my main complaint with The Broken Road is that it isn’t a full-length novel. The worlds that Frohock has built are fascinating, realistic, and combining the best parts of dark fantasy and post-apocalyptic modernity. I would love to read something longer set here, or just a more in-depth version of Travys’s story as it’s presented here already. But I find myself thinking that about just about every novella I’ve read lately, and I don’t hold that against the story or the author. What’s already here is a tightly-woven tapestry where no word is wasted and no moment passes idle. It’s a beautiful story with characters both sympathetic and enigmatic.
And there are unanswered questions and speculation about certain events, which makes me wonder if frohock has plans to revisit the world later on and expand a little bit further. I certainly hope so. There’s something about the way that she writes a dark world with glimmers of light speckled throughout that really appeals to me, on an almost visceral level. It’s entirely a matter of personal taste, so your mileage may vary, but I really enjoy the atmosphere and tone of this novella. Not one of the fantasy worlds I’d like to live in (I can do without reality decaying around me, thanks), but one that’s definitely worth taking a literary vacation to.
Long story short, if you like dark fantasy and haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing Frohock’s writing yet, then start with this. It gives you a taste of the magic she can work with words, and will leave you craving more. The Broken Road leaves my hands highly recommended, and more certain than ever that Teresa Frohock is an author worth keeping an eye on.
(Received for review from the author.)