The Book That Broke the World by Mark Lawrence epic fantasy book reviewsThe Book That Broke the World by Mark Lawrence epic fantasy book reviewsThe Book That Broke the World by Mark Lawrence

It’s funny that as I was reading Mark Lawrence’s The Book That Broke the World (2024), I kept thinking how it was much more action/plot oriented than its predecessor, The Book That Wouldn’t Burn, which in my head I recalled as far more character and theme-driven. Then, in preparation for writing this review, I went back and read my review of book one and saw that I’d noted how the action “quickens at a relentlessly breathless rate.” So maybe it’s a balance thing? With the first book being more split between character, theme, and action while its sequel focuses more on the last of those? I can’t say for sure, but while I enjoyed The Book That Broke the World throughout its length, I did have the feeling that I wasn’t swimming in the same depth that had me not just enjoying but loving book one. Which, to be clear, is not a complaint, merely an observation. After all, creating a book one can enjoy throughout its entire length is absolutely a win for the reader and an accomplishment for an author.

The novel opens by introducing a new species via a brother-sister pairing: Celcha and Hellet, two Ganar, an enslaved race whose origins are fascinating, though I won’t spoil them here. Celcha and Hellet toil in excavating buried parts of the library, and when Hellet’s two invisible-to-everyone-else “angels” (better known to reads as “ghosts” in the terminology of the series) lead him to a treasure trove of books, he and Hellet are taken to the city and put to work in the library. The book moves back and forth for a while between Celcha and Hellet and the characters from book one, who were separated in time and space by the events of that book: Livira and Malar; Evar, Evar’s sister Clovis, and Evar’s brother Kerrol; and the librarian Arpix and a few fellow survivors.

It’s a welcome return to Livira, Malar, and Evar, who remain wonderfully engaging characters in their individual natures and their inter-relationships. While we met Arpix and Clovis in the first novel, here they both blossom into their own selves and it’s a pleasure to see their characters unfold. As for the two new characters, Hellet fell a bit flat for me, but his sister more than made up for it, and I found myself wishing by the end we’d spent more time with her.

The plots run separately for quite some time and then, as one would expect, eventually converge, though if the convergence is predictable the method/details come as a surprise. I noted above this is a book filled with action and most of that comes from the threads involving the three Canith and Arpix’s group. Though they’ve finally managed to escape the library chamber they’d been trapped in for so long, Evar, Clovis, and Kerrol have to contend with being chased both by the Skeer (a hostile insectoid, hive-mind species) and a giant automaton. A different group of Skeer threatens Arpix’s group, where they have been trapped for some time in a mountainous region of the Dust. The area has some sort of force that keeps the Skeer back, offering a refuge from attack but little else in a place where food is scarce and the environment barely habitable. Meanwhile, the Skeer continue to try and figure out a way around the force. Between these two plotlines (Evar’s and Arpix’s), readers get a whole lot of running, chasing, and fighting, and if there isn’t that sort of fast-paced violent action there’s a lot of simmering tension over potential violence.

The Library Trilogy The Book That Broke the World by Mark Lawrence epic fantasy book reviewsThe other two threads — Livira’s and Celcha’s — are different in tone and style. A good chunk of Livira and Malar’s story involve a sort of quest plot as she is tasked with retrieving the book she wrote, “A wound in the world … a book that has swallowed its own tale . . . burning through the years, spreading cracks through time, fissures that reach into past and future … weaken [ing] many things.” Beyond the incentive to mend what she has broken, she’s also told finding the book and bringing it back will restore her to her body and also allow her and Evar to find each other once again. Her story, therefore, becomes somewhat of a puzzle-solving tale, though it eventually becomes a heartbreakingly emotional one as well. Celcha and Hellet’s story, meanwhile,  reads like Greek tragedy in that you know where it is going, but all you can do is watch as it marches toward its inevitable end. That their cause is righteous and that Celcha is such an endearing character makes it all the more compellingly awful and moving.

Thematically, Lawrence continues to explore the themes from book one: the power of stories and word; the cycle of cruelty, violence, and self-destruction; the question of whether preserving knowledge helps maintain the light of civilization or sparks the conflagration that burns it all down; the difference between justice and vengeance, the difficulty in choosing empathy over righteous and justified anger; the ways we dehumanize the Other.

While the questions remain intriguing, I’m not sure the thematic element was quite as successful. One, because we’ve already seen these questions explored in the first book so there’s a little sense of repetition; two, because they’re addressed in heavily overt fashion towards the end; and three, because the characters are all told (or feel) they must “choose a side” amongst the various options, but I was never clear just why that is or why we’re supposed to (apparently) feel a sense of urgency about choosing a side in a war that has been going on for a thousand or more years (well, outside the obvious necessities of plotting). And just because we’re in the “I had a few issues” segment of this review, I’ll just add here that the near-ending also felt a bit rushed and at times disjointed, though obviously I won’t go into details.

That said, if the near-ending was a bit problematic, the actual ending was highly, movingly effective. Put that together with what I began with — that I enjoyed my entire time reading the book — and it’s easy to see that the complaints are relatively minor and greatly overshadowed by the novel’s strengths. Leaving me incredibly eager to return to these characters and this world. Strongly recommended.

Published in April 2024. the Library spans worlds and times. It touches and joins distant places. It is memory and future. And amid its vastness Evar Eventari both found, and lost, Livira Page. Evar has been forced to flee the library, driven before an implacable foe. Livira, trapped in a ghost world, has to recover the book she wrote—one which is the only true threat to the library’s existence—if she’s to return to her life. While Evar’s journey leads him outside into a world he’s never seen, Livira’s path will take her deep inside her own writing, where she must wrestle with her stories in order to reclaim the volume in which they were written. The secret war that defines the library has chosen its champions and set them on the board. The time has come when they must fight for what they believe or lose everything.


  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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