Transgressions of Power by Juliette Wade
With the second book of THE BROKEN TRUST series, Juliette Wade widens her world for the readers, and manages to place her characters in even greater danger than they were at the end of Mazes of Power, the first one. This review of Transgressions of Power (2021) may contain mild spoilers for book one. In any event, you must read Mazes of Power first if you really want to understand what’s happening here.
Transgressions of Power starts about thirteen years after the end of book one. Adon is the last child of First Family heads Garr and Tamalera (although Garr died shortly before Adon was born.) Adon, at thirteen, is legally of age, and that’s a precarious place for a ruling-caste Grobal male to be, especially in the capital city of Pelismara. In the opening chapter, Adon barely survives an attack on his life, and his cousin Pyaras is also wounded in a separate attack.
Meanwhile, Adon’s older brother Tagaret and his wife Della struggle to keep the work they are doing secret from the Varin ruler, The Eminience Herin, and more importantly, Herin’s designated Heir, Tagaret’s brother Nekantor. Nekantor’s interest in Adon is disturbing, especially because there’s something about Adon that Nekantor must never find out. They’re taking risks themselves; in addition to work on a public vaccination program, they are secretly trying to find ways to soften up the rigid caste structure that is one reason for the low birth rate and high rate of incapacity among the ruling caste, which they call The Decline.
Those vaccinations, for instance: A disease called Feller’s Fever can kill or incapacitate a member of the Grobal. The other castes get vaccinated against it; but many Grobal have serious allergic reactions to vaccines. The Grobal, despite their concern, are counter-intuitive about their own survival, and every transition of power is a blood-bath where young men, the potential Heirs, are slaughtered as the various families jockey for position. In book one, we learned that the Grobal will do anything to maintain their consolidated power — in Transgressions of Power, we, along with the characters, realize how well Nekantor has learned that lesson and how far he’s willing to go to manipulate the pattern to his benefit.
Tagaret and Della are given a chance to visit another city, Selimna, which is their hearts’ desire, but almost immediately they see that this opportunity gives Nekantor complete access to Adon. Still, they can’t refuse the assignment, and Wade uses this journey to show us more of the planet, particularly the surface (all the cities are subterranean). I loved this part of the book, not only because of the descriptions, but because the trip gave Wade some time to delve into Della’s personal issues, and the fears she holds close. This will be important later in the story.
We also meet Melin, of the Arrissen or soldier/police caste, who protects the farmers on the surface from the attacks of a native species called wysps. Melin is a crack shot. Unfortunately for her, during a standard rotation below the surface, she comes to the attention of Nekantor. Soon Melin is also a pawn in Nekantor’s long game. Complicating the matter is her attraction to a mysterious Arrissen she met during a Descent party. She doesn’t know he’s really a Grobal — Pyaras. Pyaras also struggles, since the only legal way to be with Melin (if he could even find her again) is to leave the higher caste — Fall — and become an Arrissen, giving up wealth and power. And he would have to tell Melin the truth about who he is.
Melin is a badass, which I’d expect — but so is Della. This shouldn’t have been a surprise, because these books have several Grobal women who are confronting and subverting the regime, but Della acts physically as well as verbally and intellectually. That was a surprise, and a pleasant one, and it was nice to see Adon acknowledge it later in the book.
Transgressions of Power focuses very much on the stratified social structure and the bureaucracy; it also brims over with assassins, double-crosses and secret plots. Sometimes, the worst enemy is the intimate one, as we discover late in the book, when Tagaret, who has seemed pretty enlightened, reverts to the behavior of his father and completely betrays Della. I was furious with Tagaret on her behalf — even more so because I understood his fear and concern for her health. This felt like a pivotal moment in the book; Tagaret is working for reform, and trying to learn new ways of thinking, but in a crisis he reverts to the male-dominance model without a blink. I wondered if their relationship would survive this moment of betrayal (and to avoid spoilers, that’s all I’m going to say).
Wade uses language, clothing and different cultural activities to differentiate between the various castes. With this book, I understood a little better the overall series name of “Broken Trust.” The Grobal have not kept faith with their community, and face no consequences for it — yet. The book has plenty of intrigue and adventure, but it’s asking hard questions about social change, about giving up privilege… and with Tagaret, we see that even as you’re working to improve things for others, you need to work on yourself, too.
Transgressions of Power is rich, complex and twisty. Although the ending is optimistic for our characters, Adon is at greater risk than ever. I have no idea what’s coming next!
I liked your review, so went ahead and ordered the first two books! I look forward to reading them. Thanks!
Thanks, Jean.I think you’ll like them!