Reviewed by: Margaret
Rating (out of 5): 4.5 stars
Ingrid Carmichael is a geomancer, able to channel energy from the Earth’s seismic activity. She might even be the most powerful geomancer in the world, except that the world believes only men can inherit the ability. So Ingrid works as a secretary for the Council of Wardens, learning their skills while hiding her power. Wardens harness the energy from earthquakes, absorbing it before it can damage the city, and store the energy in a stone called kermanite. Those stones are then used as batteries to power anything from flashlights to dirigibles.
An attack on Council Headquarters leaves Ingrid and her mentor as San Francisco’s only defense against a devastating earthquake. Surviving also makes them the prime suspects. Ingrid knows their enemies would only eliminate the Wardens if they were planning a larger attack. With her allies, a Chinese boy and a pair of mechanics, Ingrid must avoid the authorities long enough to uncover the plot.
Fans of Cato’s Clockwork Dagger series will find some familiar elements here: a unique magic system with elaborate mythology, international political machinations, and environmental terrorists. What makes Breath of Earth different is also what fascinated me most: the alternate history. The story takes place in the days leading up to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but Cato mentions details as far back as the fall of the Roman Empire.
In addition to its highly detailed history, the world also includes some fabulous creatures. From selkies and unicorns to the Hidden Ones, mythical creatures that live beneath the Earth, I loved the way the magical creatures were incorporated.
Ingrid is not only a woman in a man’s world, she’s also a mixed race woman in a racially charged world. As she learns to use her power, she also challenges notions of race and gender, both her own and society’s. She learns from her diverse supporting cast, which includes some great villains (and one I had pegged right from the start.)
If I have a complaint it’s with Ingrid’s love interest Cy. He’s Tony Stark’s backstory with Steve Rogers’ personality. He’s loyal and heroic—he jumps out of an airship to rescue Ingrid—and she certainly finds him attractive. He’s got all the action hero elements down, he just feels a little flat. I’m hoping he’ll start to show more emotion as their relationship develops.
And I’m just thrilled that it will get to develop. I had heard that Breath of Earth would be a standalone, but it’s actually the first in a series. That series started off with non-stop action and some really cool magic so I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
Sexual content: kissing