Book Review: We Break Immortals (The Advent Lumina Cycle #1) – Thomas Howard Riley


For my second post today I have a release day review for We Break Immortals, the first book in The Advent Lumina Cycle series and the debut from Thomas Howard Riley which it out TODAY. It has been a delight watching the run up to this release and all the snippets that Riley has shared online, and you should check out the amazing Map Reveal and Q&A that was hosted on Fanfiaddict. This was one of my most anticipated books for the latter part of this year, and I leapt at the chance to read an ARC and I was not disappointed – what a brilliant start to what promises to be a great series.

Also I love this note from the start of the book:

A book is never just a story.

It is a collaboration between the author and your imagination.

So every book is a different book depending on who reads it.

A book changes every time it changes hands.

That is truly extraordinary.

Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.

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.

The Review:

You know that you’re in for a great book and one hell of a ride when the prologue guts you. Riley manages to make you care about these characters in the space of a few pages, especially Seb – and then he goes for the heart without mercy, and I loved it. I also loved the play on the chosen one trope, this is precisely what I love about fantasy and Riley shows right from the start that you can’t be certain of anything in this story that he is creating.

    Now, I can’t go farther without talking about that cover – which is as epic as this series promises to be, and of course, I have to mention the maps. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t talk about them, especially as we get not one, not two, but three stunning maps – so extra bonus points right from the off. But, I would also say that the maps as well as being beautiful, are very much needed because Riley has held nothing back with this world that he has created, and it is clear that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in this book, and the scope of what he is building here is breathtaking and I honestly can’t wait to see what else he has in store for us. And I was immediately in love with the fact that there were not only maps for us the reader to enjoy, but they were also part of the story.

‘The map room was square, lit by dim golden light-bowls in the corners, shelves lining the walls. They were packed well with aged manuscripts and wide scrolls. A rectangular table of solid basalt stood alone at the center, covered with maps of Laman and Palantar—detailed sketchings of landscapes, interconnected roads, and wildernesses.’  

I feel that I need to continue with the worldbuilding because Riley has crafted this world of his so that it is a character within its own right. There are layers within layers right from the very beginning, and I love how it was continually unfolding and expanding as the book progressed. The sheer level of detail that has gone into this world with its magick (and the counters to it) which I will talk about in a bit, and the history and mythology, as well as everyday life, and conflicts and relationships, is absolutely fantastic and Riley guides it all with a deft hand, never allowing it to become an unmoving backdrop, but also not allowing it to overwhelm everything else and draw too much attention away from the plot and characters. It’s a delicate balancing act, especially with how much love and care he has clearly put into it, and the fact that it is a living, breathing world that demands to be experienced.

The magic or rather magick system is just as detailed s the rest of the worldbuilding. I’d seen Riley talking about it in various places, and I was excited to see it in action, and oh boy I have to say it was probably one of my favourite aspects of the book. Now, it must be said that the magick system in We Break Immortals is beautifully developed, but it is also incredibly complex, and it did take a little while for me to get my head around it. However, yet again this is a brilliant example of the care Riley has taken with his crafting of this world and story because he is able to explain this complicated system in a way that not only makes sense but which avoids the trap of info-dumping. It helps that quite a lot of the explanation is tied in with one of the main characters Aren, a Render Tracer whose job is to track down rogue magick users and who can track the use of magick, so we get practical, on the ground explanations that demonstrate it more clearly than many approaches could – and also for someone who watches far too many crime shows, you can draw parallels with forensic techniques in how it is tracked (including the use of some truly ingenious devices), which further helped anchor it. There is also a wonderful appendix at the back of the book if you need further explanation.

“That’s only a part of it,” he said. “When you first step into a fresh scene, that is only what you look for at the start, to confirm the presence of recent magick. Visible cues—steam, light-bending, tunnel vision, vapor trails, and sometimes even aural afterglow that can be seen by the naked eye.”

 However, as much as I adored the worldbuilding and the magick, it was the characters that stole the show for me and kept me reading far too late into the night. Firstly, I love the contrast between the overarching battle against a sorcerer trying to become a god, and the smaller scale conflicts both between characters, and the personal, internal conflicts that many of the characters face. Riley has created a rich cast of characters, and there are a lot of them to keep track of, but as with everything about this book they are clearly and vividly realised so that once you get them fixed in your mind, they all stand out strongly and again add so many layers to the words.

We have our three main characters – Aren who I’ve already mentioned, Keluwen and Corrin – and honestly, I have to say Riley has outdone himself with these characters, and I have to say that I am hard-pressed to choose a favourite between them because they are all fantastic in their own ways. I think maybe…maybe… if I was forced to choose, Corrin would just inch into the lead, just because I have a soft spot for a roguish character who has a moral compass. In these three, Riley shows his mastery of characterisation, because they are real, flawed and oh so human, and compelling for it. These are the characters that really show us the depths of those internal, personal conflicts, and the struggle to overcome them while dealing with the challenges and dangers of the world and unfolding situations.

‘I feel like you should have said more than that, Orrinas, Keluwen thought.’

Keluwen is a fascinating character, both because she is a magick user which is a complication when crossing paths with Aren, but also because of her dynamic with her crew and especially the leader – I loved how she handled her position with them, especially with her snark and wit. She was also the one that felt the most likely to set something catastrophic in motion, as though she was a walking timebomb, perhaps because she is set on revenge and with an attitude of not pulling any punches. And as much as I love Corrin, there was something so very compelling about Keluwen.

He was painfully aware of one thing. He had never performed a capture on his own. Sarker had always been there with him.

Aren was perhaps the most complex of the three. His role as a Render Tracer is fascinating, but it barely begins to scratch the surface of his character, and what I loved is that Riley really creates a dichotomy with his character. On the one hand, he is very skilled at what he does – he’s our main gateway to understanding magick in this world, and he’s knowledgeable about the history of the world, and incredibly key to what is happening particularly later in the book. He’s also struggling with the loss of his mentor at the start of the book, unable to grieve because of pressing events and needing to prove himself and keep moving, and he’s a drug addict – and you can see his cleverness here too in his attempts to hide his use of the drug, but also his guilt over it. It made for compelling reading, and again demonstrates Riley’s ability to write complex, nuanced characters that aren’t all that they seem, and so very human in their flaws.

When you were as popular with killers as Corrin was, those standing near were still within the rings of a bullseye.

Last, but certainly not least, because I honestly did love him is Corrin. In this world of magick users and Render Tracers, he could almost be overshadowed, but he isn’t. Some of it is certainly down to his roguish nature – I want to say charm, but honestly, with his knack for attracting both trouble and luck, I’m not sure charm is quite the right word for it. As mentioned before, he also has a moral compass – which in a world like this which is full of darkness and chaos and violence, is something to be celebrated, and he is very much a character who is trying to do the best he can in a world that likes to point knives at you. I also love that he is far from pure and innocent, and honestly half the trouble he gets himself into feels like it is his fault – and I just love him.

Riley is a fantastic writer, not just with the worldbuilding and characterisation, but with the emotion and the action that had me on the edge of my seat from the beginning. He manages to build tension and a sense of threat throughout, and capture the adrenaline and chaos of battle on various scales and with the added complexity of magic in the mix. Everything about We Break Immortals was so easy to visualise, and even though this is a chonk of a book it is so compelling and fast-paced it was a challenge to put down, and I consumed it in the space of a couple of days because I simply had to know what was happening and spend more time with these characters and I want more.

We Break Immortals is the beginning of a series that promises to become a favourite. It’s epic dark fantasy at its finest, there’s violence and chaos and a healthy dose of adult thoughts and behaviour, so it might not be for everyone, but Riley has created a gem here and if this sounds like it is up your street then strap in because you’re in for one hell of a read. Absolutely fantastic, and well worth the anticipation and certainly a top read of 2021 for me.

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US


If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.


3 thoughts on “Book Review: We Break Immortals (The Advent Lumina Cycle #1) – Thomas Howard Riley

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