Review | We Break Immortals – Thomas Howard Riley

About the Book

A drug addict who hunts sorcerers down by tracking their magick, the most renowned swordsman no one has ever heard of, and a thieving magick-wielding woman hellbent on revenge collide during a last ditch effort to stop an insane superhuman serial killer from making himself a god.

The Render Tracers always say magick users deserve to burn. Aren couldn’t agree more, Keluwen would beg to differ, and Corrin couldn’t care less either way.

In a world where most people use swords for protection, Aren uses tools that let him see what no one else can see, and he takes advantage of loopholes that can undo magick in order to stop the deadliest people in the world. He is a Render Tracer, relentlessly pursuing rogue sorcerers who bend the laws of physics to steal, assault, and kill. But his next hunt will lead him to question his entire life, plunging him into a world where he can’t trust anyone, not even his own eyes.

When Keluwen finally escaped her fourthparents’ home and set out on her own to become a thief, she never thought she would one day be killing her own kind. She honed her magick on the streets, haunted by her past, hunted by Render Tracers, and feared by a society that hates what she is. Now she joins a crew of outcast magicians on a path of vengeance as they race to stop an insane sorcerer who has unlocked the source of all magick and is trying to use it to make himself a god.

Corrin is a sword fighter first, a drinker second, and a…well, there must be something else he is good at. He’ll think of it if you give him enough time. He is a rogue for hire, and he has no special powers of any kind. The most magick he has ever done is piss into the wind without getting any on himself. He is terrible at staying out of trouble, and someone always seems to be chasing him. When he gets caught up in a multi-kingdom manhunt, he finds himself having to care about other people for a change, and he’s not happy about it.

They are about to collide on the trail of a man who is impossible to catch, who is on the verge of plunging the world into ruin, and who can turn loyal people into traitors in a single conversation. They must struggle against their own obsessions, their fears, ancient prophecies, and each other. They will each have to balance the people they love against their missions, and struggle to avoid becoming the very thing they are trying to stop.

770 pages (Kindle)
Published on December 7, 2021
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This book was sent by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Thomas and I connected via Twitter. I believe we both discovered we listen to the same kind of music when we write. We started sharing songs with each other and it went from there. When I realized he was starting to prepare a book for publication, I became interested in him not just as a fellow music listener, but as an author as well. I was really excited to read this book. He offered me an ARC and I nabbed it. 

So, here we are. 

Riley throws readers into the deep end and trusts them to find their way through to the other side. I was a bit overwhelmed at first by all the names and characters thrown at me, but soon all the dust settled and I started knowing who was who. I could identify them and put them in place within the story he’s created. There was a certain “ah ha” moment regarding his characters. They all started to slot in place and knowing who they were in turn made the world and the story itself feel a bit more intimate somehow, probably because everyone had a name and everyone mattered and was given time. 

One of the things I admire most about We Break Immortals is the worldbuilding. I was constantly in awe of just how much thought Riley put into his world, with every detail put carefully in place. The author has a knack for explaining the strange and wonderful, and it left me with a sense of wonder and awe in a few places. I could feel Riley’s excitement for his world, for the story he’s set into it. The book itself is layered with darkness and depth, but the world balances that out with all its rich details, its color and vibrancy, and the enthusiasm that bled into each page. 

The care and attention Riley has put into his world also infuses his characters. Characters tend to be my big bugaboo. I really like a book that lets me sink deep into the psyches of the people I’m reading about, and this is one where I was pleasantly surprised. One of the biggest reasons I didn’t mind the (potentially) confusing amount of characters at the start of the book was because I was pretty enchanted by how quickly I learned that Riley’s attention for detail and enthusiasm for the story he’s telling infused his characters as well, even is side characters. Everyone is given time and space. They are not two-dimensional, but rather real and unique. They matter, and that, in turn, makes the story matter.

Aren, Keluwen, and Corrin are the three primary characters in this novel. On first glance, they are a misfit group. Aren is a drug addict with a host of mysterious skills. Keluwen is a mage hellbent on revenge. Corrin is a sword fighter who has a really powerful sense of loyalty and morality towards those he considers his own. He felt like the moral core of the group, keeping Keluwen and Aren fairly balanced (though that’s not always easy, nor is it always a given he’ll be successful in that particular venture.) Their differences ended up being both their strength and their weakness. Riley played them off each other quite well, using some moments to strengthen bonds, and others to show the tug-of-war that can often come with relationships in any form. I was quite impressed with how easy it was for me to tell each of them apart. They all had truly unique voices and temperaments, and very different ways of seeing and interacting with the world. 

Ultimately, that sort of nuance is found throughout the book, and it was an extremely effective way for the author to use his unique characters, his attention to detail, to make not only his world shine, but his plot as well. I felt very invested in this book, and I cared deeply for the characters I was reading about. I will admit, Aren was probably my favorite, but I have always loved those characters that are at war with themselves just as much as they are at war with the world around them. He’s a flawed, emotional power punch that hit me right where it counts. That being said, Riley was smart with the characters he chose as the vehicle through which the story is told. They all balance each other out so well, and while its not always smooth sailing, nor is it easy, they kept the book from ever feeling slow, or like there were any huge lulls in the forward momentum. Their steady stream of banter also lifted the book, keeping it from ever feeling too overwhelmingly serious. 

The magic (magick) system is really interesting, though it took me a little while to really understand what was happening. Like the names and characters at the start of the book, this might take some time to really grasp and sink into, but once you do, the payoff is huge. Magick essentially leaves behind tracers, which can be seen by certain people, using certain tools. Each trace holds certain elements of its users, kind of like a signature, which allows rogue magick users to be tracked. Aren fits that role in this book. I think there were some infodumps surrounding the magic system, but I also think the payoff for this unique system was large enough to overlook most of that. 

The plot itself really moves along at a quick pace. There’s an insane serial killer hellbent on making himself a god, and these people have to stop that from happening. That’s pretty interesting, right? Riley has a knack for pacing, for knowing when to lean into moments, up the tension, powerplay emotions, and layer in clues like breadcrumbs all while keeping the book moving forward, ever forward. It’s a good-sized book, too, and I breezed through it really quickly. It didn’t feel long, and that says a lot right there. There are a lot of moments where Riley doesn’t have to use physical battles to make the reader feel like there’s a battle going on. Some of the quietest moments in the book, were the most tension filled. 

So, where does this leave us? 

You may or may not struggle a bit with the beginning, but the payoff is well worth it. We Break Immortals was a stunning debut. Riley manages to strike the balance between darkness and light perfectly. Stunning worldbuilding, wry humor, characters that play off each other well, and an unapologetic plot that refuses to quit, this book was an absolute delight from cover to cover. 

4/5 stars