Jathan Algevin and his older sister Lyra are the main protagonists in this character driven ‘not-a-novella’ (a phrase coined by the author as he came to realise he was incapable of writing anything as short as a novella while working on this book). Jathan is the only point of view character, which enables us to get to know him fairly well via his inner monologue and to forgive some of his character flaws as a result.
Jathan and Lyra’s parents were killed when he was just ten. He has always believed they were murdered by sorcerers and has been on a kind of crusade against magick wielders ever since he was told the story of their death by his ‘second parents’, who he went to live with after the death of his parents. Jathan has been collecting information about magick users and passing it on to the magistrates for money as a form of vengeance for his parents' death. He has an obsessive personality and this is his longest standing obsession, consuming his entire being to the detriment of all else - his job, his budding relationship with Lyra’s friend Nessifer and even his relationship with his beloved sister.
The first line of the book sets the tone for the entire story. The tone is fairly dark and there is certainly plenty of fighting and violence therein:
“Everyone’s life changes the first time they find a dead body.”
When he finds a “Jecker Monocle” on the aforementioned dead body, this device which is used by “Render Tracers” - those who hunt down evil sorcerers - enables Jathan to see traces of magic and track the person they originated from. Finding the evil, murdering sorcerer whose magick traces he views through the monocle then becomes his newest obsession. It takes him repeatedly into the dangerous labyrinth of filthy tenement buildings where violent gangs roam the streets until he ultimately finds his quarry. The life and daily habits of this murderous sorcerer become his new obsession.
He has to run for his life from multiple gang members on more than one occasion, witness horrific violence and tragic death in order to come to terms with a reality which he is too stubborn to notice at first, before he can figure out his priorities and grow as a character. These high stakes chases are excellently paced and the fights are well-choreographed by the author, so that the reader finds themselves on the edge of their seat hoping he will somehow get away. Sooner or later his luck has to run out and unfortunately innocent people bear the brunt of his unhealthy obsessions.
Meanwhile Lyra has been keeping some rather large secrets from her brother and longing to be able to tell them to him, but unable to find the right words or opportunity. Unlike her brother, she is a very likeable, playful and positive character who deserves better treatment from Jathan, for whom she made many sacrifices, working extremely hard to get him away from his second parents and back to a life with her. Despite all of this he constantly disparages her love life to their friends and accuses her of keeping a secret lover:
“Our secrets and lies are the monsters we feed. You should know that. Every time you tell a lie you are giving it a little piece of your soul to eat. The older the lie the bigger the piece. Then one day you have nothing left. Then the lies eat you.”
He is so unaware of anything other than himself and his obsessions that he fails to see how desperately she wants to move away from the house in which their parents were murdered.
Jathan’s friend and sometime lover, Nessifer, has been longing to become his latest obsession - if only she can break through his stubbornness and persuade him of her worth. I was inclined to tell her to keep well away from him unless he managed to change significantly. Jathan’s inability to focus on his work and his relationship with Nessifer, his fanciful obsessions and dangerous narrow mindedness where magick users are concerned, make him a fairly pitiable character. I kept finding myself rooting for him to change - to go and talk to his sister about her supposed lover who he was getting all tied up in knots about, instead of constantly finding himself at the bottom of a bottle or roaming the labyrinth of tenement buildings.
There are some exceedingly quirky elements in this story which I loved and which I imagine the author had a lot of fun with:
“He loved the idea of dogs, but hated actual dogs, so he dressed up an armada of cats in dog costumes he had designed. They pranced about in very undoglike ways, but Trabius demanded they be referred to as hounds.”
There are also some easter eggs which throw light on some of the characters from We Break Immortals, Book 1 in the Advent Lumina Cycle. The magic system, the terms Render Tracer and Jecker Monocle and the names Sarker and Aren will be familiar to those who have read WBI.
This was a compelling story and I found it difficult to put down. I haven’t read too many books with unlikeable protagonists and I find them intriguing as long as they appear to have the ability to change and become more likeable in their future, which luckily Jathan does. Lyra’s future is hinted at via one of the easter eggs, but I would be interested to see another story starring these two siblings and the next phase of their journey at some point.
I was sent a complimentary digital arc of this book, (thank you Thomas!) but my opinions are my own and this is an honest review.