Monday, June 26, 2017
Mini-Review: Breath of Earth by Beth Cato
By day I am a mild-mannered engineering geologist and by night I read fantasy and science fiction once the rest of the house has gone to bed. So…the word geomancer is the only part of the description of Breath of Earth by Beth Cato that matters. Once I read that word I knew that I had to read this book. I was not disappointed.
Blah Blah Blah. Yeah, I’m a geologist and this isn’t the first time I’ve written a review where that is the lens through which I (at least initially) view a book and focus my review. Magic derived from the energy of the earth, specifically in the form of the earthquakes – sign me up. Set in San Francisco at the time of the infamous 1906 earthquake – keep it coming. Throw is a provocative look at the society of the time, a view not from the ‘winners’ of society, but from those that the winners oppress – excellent.
I have read (and reviewed) The Clockwork Dagger by Cato and it can clearly be seen that Breath of Earth is its decedent. ‘Victorian-type/regency’ society with a young woman on the outside, a bit naïve to the world and thrown into a serious situation. Plus, a dashing young man who both saves the day (and is saved by her) complicating things. A woman who struggles to break the chains society has placed on her. A woman who awakens to her own power within. I enjoyed The Clockwork Dagger, and Breath of Earth takes that solid foundation and improves it, adds experience, and has geomancers (hey, I would never claim objectivity in a review).
How does the geology stand up? Frankly, it doesn’t matter. It’s not gotten into. The alternative world that Cato creates is one where most of the myths of origin of nature are true to some degree. There are magical creatures in the world – unicorns, selkies, etc. There are giant magical beasts that live in the earth where earthquakes happen. And a select few people have magical powers of various sorts. As a fan of fantasy, as a fan of myth, as someone who has a great curiosity of other cultures and how they came about, I found Cato’s approach to be wonderfully creative and simply a lot of fun. And there are geomancers.
Another fun aspect of Cato’s alternative world is her rewriting of political powers. It is a world of great superpowers, often at war with each other, in various states of conquest and rivalry. Wars are cold, hot, and just waiting to happen. Geomancers play their role, so do other magical people, dirigibles and other ‘steampunk’ engines of war. The US is aligned with Japan, currently bent on destroying China, the British have an empire focusing on the conquest of India, the Russians are out there and others. Being set in San Francisco, the main players are the Chinese, Japanese, and Americans in this (partial) exploration of some dirtier realities of actual history.
So, whether you are looking for a super-powered woman of color coming finding her power and kicking ass, a bit of a Victorian/regency Romance, an interesting alternative history of San Francisco, or the awesomeness of geomancer, I strongly recommend Breath of Earth. And I am very much looking forward to the sequel – Call of Fire. Bring on more geomancers!
Blood of Earth Trilogy
Breath of Earth: Amazon
Call of Fire: Amazon (Will be released in August)
Roar of Sky: Forthcoming