The Broken Road: Dark and gritty

The Broken Road by T. Frohock Horrible Monday SFF Book Reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Broken Road by T. Frohock

T. Frohock” is Teresa Frohock, the author of the well-regarded fantasy debut Miserere: An Autumn Tale. The Broken Road is a novella that belongs to the “grimdark” genre: it is dark and gritty and there is no happily ever after. Frohock herself calls it “gothic horror,” and that description works, too. It’s good.

Travys du Valois is the younger of Queen Heloise’s twin sons. He is mute, and therefore unable to work the magic inherent in the nobles of his land except by using the voice of another or the sounds surrounding him. His world is in trouble: demons stalk the woods, famine and drought plague the crops, and the common people are desperate — so desperate that they have begun praying to dead gods. Travys is one of only a few among the nobility who care at all what happens to the lowborn, and he knows that a revolution will come soon if they are not delivered from their plight. Travys’s mother used to care, but no longer, and Travys has few allies.

The trouble takes on a specific shape as Travys travels through the land. His visions show him a noble-born man who drools vicious white wasps, creatures of magic with no apparent use. Perhaps, he reasons, they come from another dimension, separated from the world when “they crashed the god Boson” and “a Black Swan event” occurred. With those references, we’re no longer entirely sure we’re exclusively in the realm of fantasy or of science fiction, but one thing is clear: this cross-genre mash-up works.

As the plot develops, we see the intrigue at the palace, the rivalry between Travys and his brother, Josué, and the problem of politics. Mia, the woman Josué loves, is betrothed to Travys by his mother, against the wishes of all three of them. In fact, his mother wants Travys to be the next king, not Josué. Travys is convinced that it is possible to persuade his mother to reverse her decision, to give Mia and the throne to Josué, but his lover, Gabriel, does not think his queen can be swayed. And he is right: she thinks Josué is emotionally unstable and unfit for the throne.

But Josué is worse trouble than the queen knows, as Travys soon finds. The novella takes flight as Josué attempts to kill his brother, making him a sacrifice to open the way to other dimensions as the boundaries between the worlds fray. Travys is stunned to see a white wasp crawl from his brother’s mouth as they talk, and then grapple, and soon he is falling into the sea.

And all this happens in the first chapter.

The Broken Road proceeds apace from there. Frohock’s invention never flags; each new page gives us a new creature, a new environment, a new idea. Travys’s journeys following his brother’s attempted fratricide involve dealing with the dead, negotiating with the transformed, traveling to other dimensions. There are fights, loyal friends, math and magic. You won’t want to stop reading once you start.

My only complaint about The Broken Road is that Frohock deploys too much imagination for so short a book. It is dense reading. The characters are not given room to grow and develop as they should, and the story ultimately feels rushed. This novella should have been a novel. I hope Frohock’s next work will be the epic fantasy she clearly has in her.

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TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.

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  1. Paul (@princejvstin) /

    It kind of reminds me of the Ace Doubles or some of the smaller, intense novels of an earlier age that way. It could have been unpacked more, certainly. But I think its fine as it is.

  2. Maybe I’m just greedy, Paul; I wanted more! And I hope I made it clear that this is well worth reading.

  3. I love the description of the book. A man who drips vicious white wasps. Gives a lovely sense of the richness of the book.

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