Much later than planned thanks to being ill, but I am delighted to be part of the Escapist Book Tour for one of my favourite books – The World Breaker Requiem by Luke Tarzian. This is the second, standalone book in the Adjacent Monsters series, which was my series of the year for 2021. I absolutely adore this book, it has rapidly become of my most reread books and every time I read it, I’m finding new bits to love.
You can check out my original review of this book here and my review of the first book, The World Maker Parable here.
Prince of Woe…
Avaria Norrith is the adopted heir to the Ariathan throne. But that means little to a man who, for the better part of fifteen years, has sought and failed to earn his mother’s love. Fueled by pride and envy, Avaria seeks the means to prove himself and cast away his mental chains. When he’s tasked with the recreation of The Raven’s Rage he sees his chance, for with the infamous blade he can rewrite history and start anew.
Daughter of the Mountain…
Erath has not felt sunlight for a century. Not since Ariath condemned her people to a life of darkness with their misuse of The Raven’s Rage. But when an old friend comes seeking the remnants of the ancient sword, Erath cannot contain her curiosity and resolves to lend her aid. Is it true—can history be revised? Can her people be reclaimed?
Toll the Hounds…
They are hungry—and they are here.
As stated above, and in my first review of The World Breaker Requiem – I love this book. It is one of those books I can dive into again and again and be completely and utterly swept away. It’s become a comfort read because of that, despite the fact that this book and everything about it cannot be considered anything other than dark. But, there is beauty in the darkness – and madness, guilt, and regret – and it is never entirely without light, without hope, although what that hope is and what it represents is almost as shifting as the darkness itself.
I could have rehashed my previous review. I could have highlighted the new bits that I find to love every time I reread this one, and I did use this tour as a reason to read it again – and I’ve read most of it again in writing this post. So, while I am attempting to do something different here, there is that one aspect that I do want to highlight that I mentioned in the earlier review and that is the sheer re-readability of Tarzian’s works – there is such an emotional aspect to these books, that it hits differently each time you read because you are different each time you read, and that rawness of the emotions is coloured differently each time, and yet no less impactful for it. Then there are the layers – of emotions, of dreams, of connection between times, and realities and characters that give that lingering feeling that you are all but brushing the surface, and makes you want to pick it back up to discover more.
I will also say that this is a standalone, but you would be missing out if you didn’t read The World Maker Parable and the author’s other book Vultures. The stories stand alone but are built off one another, forming a complex and beautiful tapestry that deserves to be enjoyed in its full glory.
Now, as I said I didn’t want to just rehash my review and instead I wanted to do something a little different with this post, a sort of deep dive into a book that has more depth than I felt capable of capturing in my review. Even now, I don’t feel I can come close to truly capturing Requiem. I also want to stress this is just my interpretation because I know this was a deeply personal book for the author.
This will be more spoilerish than my review – so if you would rather please do read that, because I maintain very strongly that Requiem is a book that needs to be experienced for yourself.
Imagery and Prose:
One of my favourite elements of everything I have read by Tarzian is his prose. It’s beautiful, embracing that dream-like quality that he captures so well, yet at the same time being as visceral and emotive that it feels as though you’ve not so much been pulled into the world but engulfed by it.
‘A necropolis beneath a sky that threatened rain, the skeletons of spires rising as if the ruin were the maw of something monstrous.’
There is poetry to the writing, but also a rawness that stops it from becoming too overwhelming, and a large part of why the emotional impact of Requiem hits home as hard as it does is because of the prose. Tarzian knows how to wield language like a knife, creating imagery that strikes home with unprecedented impact, and bringing the emotional aspects to life in such a way that it feels as though they are as much a character as the world, and the characters themselves.
‘The rib-cage remnants of the church appeared, a sullen beacon in the wake of war.’
Another reason it feels so impactful is that the landscape itself is largely described in almost simple terms – stark and desolate – so that the key locations and moments of description and the washes of colour feel even more potent.
‘She led them through the Bastion, glorious in its whites and reds and various depictions of the raven god to whom they all implored. It was paradise where the Hall of Lightweavers was eternal hell.
Further and further, they went. The walls, ceiling, and floor fell to a deep red.’
What I also want to highlight is the variety of locations and worlds. There are commonalities, particularly when it is time rather than space that we are crossing, but each time and place has its own spirit. Sometimes, it is more dream-like, like the memory of a memory, fitting for places and times that lie in the far past, but there are other newer places that feel like fresh wounds in the moment, and others that feel otherworldly and strange in comparison and offer a true glimpse of the extent to which the temporal sea extends and the possibilities that have been realised at one time or another. The contradiction can be strange in places, and yet here it is a fragment of a greater puzzle, and it all eventually weaves together in a whole – and I just love how everything is intertwined in some way, even if the characters and reader can’t see it at the moment, and honestly, I am constantly in awe of how the author managed to bring all those pieces together so beautifully.
‘Fly. He strained to flap.
Fly. His great wings twitched.
Fly. With one massive buffet, he ascended.
And ascended further yet.’
This variety is reflected in, and emphasized by the fluidity of the writing style. I have always been a huge fan of using repetition of motifs, or phrases or even single words to highlight a specific moment or emotion, and Tarzian is a master at that. Using it to highlight key moments of emotion, wherein the prose boils down to a key feeling and pulls that thread taut until it consumes, or to emphasise important moments and details that reveal hints and truths.
I will say that there is something of a danger in the beauty of this book, and especially the writing. It is so easy to be swept away by the tale, by the imagery and the prose, and to lose yourself in the swells and dips of emotion – and sometimes that is just what you need, and is certainly something that is a joy to experience. The danger comes in that this is also a book that demands your attention, and trusts us as the reader to make sense of the unfolding events and truths, and sometimes it is easy to lose sight of that. But, again that is why this book is so re-readable, and there have been times when I’ve read it to lose myself and other times when I’ve been glued to every little detail, and both are as much a delight as the other. (Seriously folks, please go and read this book).
I could wax lyrical for ages about the prose and imagery, but as tempting as that is, I also wanted to look at some of the different aspects that I love so much about this book (which is also challenging, because I love everything, so this is more of a whistlestop tour of some of the ones that stand out the most).
I’m sure most of us had those dreams, where they reset midway and you find yourself taking familiar paths, doing the same actions, or ones with subtle differences. Sometimes they go unnoticed, you’re caught in the lie of the dream and go about your business, and it’s only when you wake that you realise that elements were being repeated. Other times, there’s that tickle at the back of your mind that notes the similarities, the wrongness, sometimes it’s just an awareness and you continue through the same motions, other times it can make you consciously try to take a different path or action, even if the dream then pulls you back to the same junction.
Tarzian has taken that quality, that lucid aspect and the more ethereal nature of dreams and sculpted it into a masterpiece that is as beautiful and alluring, as it is haunting and disturbing.
‘A herald to a symphony of broken dreams’
I’ve seen Requiem described in terms of a nightmare, because for all the beauty, there is horror here too, and a winding, twisting path through the darkest thoughts and emotions a person can experience and the world can throw at you. To me, it treads the boundary of nightmare and dream but never relinquishes its hold on reality – because how often are dreams a reflection of the world, of experiences good and bad, and our minds attempt to replay events, even those we don’t remember in our waking mind. To twist and turn, to reflect and linger, and often to try futilely to undo what was done, to take that different path.
“I’ve been having nightmares. Dreams that feel like something more. Like…” She shook her head. “Like what I see has happened once before, one way or another. I can feel it in my bones.”
However, Tarzian has harnessed that dream-like feeling to build into the fact that much of this book is told from narrators that are unreliable at best, whether because they are running from their own pasts and the truths they want to bury deep whether out of grief or guilt or myriad other emotions or because they have forgotten. It makes for a fascinating, twisting story that keeps you on your toes – just like being in a lucid dream, only this is a nightmare that belongs to someone else.
“Listen to your dreams, for things are never as they seem. We in this moment depart, replacing all that we are…”
Truth (and lies):
Building from that aspect of dreams and unreliable narrators, there is a running thread of truth and lies throughout Requiem and Tarzian’s previous works. In fact, one of my favourite things about all his works is those familiar motifs and phrases that occur throughout, and one of the ones that has lingered with me across all of them is ‘the truth is never far behind and the ‘guilt will always call you back.’ Perhaps, because it is a very human thing to try and hide from painful truths, even though we know that they will always surface at some point, it resonates.
“You are not a nameless thing. You are a thing that fears its name and all that comes attached. The horror and the pain. There is no freedom in ignorance – that is a lie, your lie. Run all you wish but remember this: the truth is never far behind; the guilt will always call you back.”
Requiem is built on a complicated weave of truth and lies. We see characters lie to one another, to themselves, and we journey with them to find the truth, or many truths. Oftentimes, it feels like walking through not so much a dream, but a world of illusion, looking for the little glimpses of reality that show that something is not as it should be and pulling aside the curtain – only often times here the illusion is as multi-layered and faceted as the truth itself is. Even more so, with the way this tale journeys through time and space, so that what is a lie or a truth in one place, may be the opposite in the past or future.
“What makes a god?” she asked. “Or a goddess? Truly, do such things exist or are they merely mortals placed atop pedestals for doing wondrous things?”
“In my experience gods are falsities,” Rowe muttered. “Little people adorned in large lies. The most monstrous of things. Gods bring only death.”
However, there is another kind of truth to be found in Requiem, and it is one of the elements that made this book all the more fascinating and thought-provoking and in some way felt like an anchor part in the myriad moving parts. It is moments of what I suppose you could call lucidity when the curtains were pulled back – and words cut through to questions and a reality that cut to the core because they were true.
“I think you focus too much on the glory of war,” said Geph. “Look around, Avaria. War destroys physically and mentally.”
Changing the past.
We’ve all had those moments where we’ve wished we could take something back, or undo something that has happened. We sit and reflect on choices we made, paths we missed, and wonder what if we could go back? Would we change? And at what cost? When it comes to terrible events, to ones that leave deep bleeding wounds, and unfading scars, the question comes louder, the cost more questionable, and in Requiem, that question is at the centre of so many of the main characters (and characters in general) paths – whether seeking to undo their own actions, or the actions of others, or the general entropy of the world.
“Temporal alteration,” said Norema. “The chance to rewrite history and prevent the vultures’ wrath.” She leaned across the table so their noses nearly touched. “To bring back those we’ve lost.”
It’s a question you see asked over and over, in thought experiments and in media, what would happen if the past was changed? Would it truly fix things, or make it worse, or send the timeline splintering off – leaving the original catastrophe still to occur? Or would it just repeat?
‘Still, history screamed.’
Possibility. That is another key feature of Requiem – we see it manifested as Radich, but it’s there as well in that question about whether the characters can or should attempt temporal alteration, and in the varying scales of their desires – whether to rewrite an individual sin or loss, to save a people, or to rewrite the world or even all the worlds.
‘If he wrought The Raven’s Rage, he could slaughter misery and mend mistakes. Find freedom in a world renewed. Genesis in restoration.’
But, we also see the flip side – the cost – both the actual and the possible. History and memory, lies and truth, each hold aspects of that cost, from the memories of those who have lived that past, to those who have endured the consequences. It’s all explored, across timelines and places and characters.
“Very much so—but dangerous. Destructive. The price is often far too high, so it took the Burn for me to learn. To save what has been lost, one first must destroy what is yet to be lost, do you understand?”
Requiem deals with a lot of circularity – ‘the guilt will call you back’ and history repeating itself, and it is fitting in so many ways that this question starts and ends with possibility – that to achieve one possibility, you have to destroy so much other possibility and potential.
The characters in Requiem all have their own reasons and justifications for asking this question, and for seeking the key to being able to use temporal alteration, and what makes this thread stand out so much for me is that we are made to care about each of these characters. It doesn’t matter what they have done, the shadows that haunt that, or what they plan to do – because Tarzian has made them all so vivid and real, that their lives and emotions draw you in, investing you in their choices and the cost, and the pain and the hope.
‘Goodbye. Such a horribly finite word.’
There is a multitude of emotions woven throughout Requiem, some are whispered, some are screamed out into the void in search of answers, some fall under both as we are shown different aspects of the emotion from different characters. However, one of the most prevalent is grief, it is also perhaps the emotion that is both most universal and most individual at once, not just in terms of the source or object of grief, but in how it is felt. Grief is something understood, yet rarely experienced in the same way by different people or even by the same person at different times. It is multi-faceted in so many ways, and Requiem not only understands that but embraces it, and gives it voice, and again this lends to that aspect of truth and lies – for when are we more inclined to run from one, or hide in the other than we are hurting? It is also one of the humanising aspects of this book because whether human or a God-being is feeling it, the emotion is one that resonates on that human level.
“You need,” said a measured voice inside his head, “to take a breath and grieve. Acting on emotion, on the numbness and the shock, will you anywhere but straight.”
There are worlds of grief in Requiem – from a son mourning the relationship with his mother, to her death, to the loss of many more souls; to a people mourning the loss of their world as it had been before the Burn, or the loss of a wife, a friend, a child.
‘Wept a thousand tears of rage and woe, a thousand more for spirits lost, dead and gone. Dead and gone, just like his mother.’
Grief is powerful because for all the lies and half-truths and truths to be uncovered, it is also the most honest. Even when the characters are furthest from the truth of themselves, or the answer to their search for truth and a way to change the world and the past, their grief was honest and potent. Maybe not their roles in it, or the full truth of how each loss had come to be – but the loss itself.
‘A million Threads adrift, like corpses in the sea. Dead and bloated with the history of Gil’an Mor. Ghosts of longhounds past. Geph whimpered at their touch, for every kiss invoked its master’s doom, put voice to something old. Words like wind-churned ash and gutted crows.’
Also, returning to the imagery and prose of Requiem and how the world itself was very much a character, that is true even for the grief. The world(s) themselves were cloaked in myriad forms of grief. Ghosts. Ruins. Echoes of what had been, and what had been lost, are woven throughout the world.
This book really couldn’t have had any other title than Requiem on so many levels, and while grief in its many forms is dominant, here in particular we see those threads of hope shine brightest. Grief is terrible and dark, and this book captures that essence perfectly, but as with the process of grieving, we see the moments where it lightens, where the possibility of life beyond feels within reach. The ending of the book in particular captures that, but also the acknowledgement that grief is not that simple – that moving on and seizing that possibility of the future, does not necessarily mean the past is gone and forgotten – another truth.
“Is it possible for joy and misery to be so heavily entwined? We are all of us free from Mirkvahíl, from her pestilence and sway, and yet her spirit seeks to harrow me with thoughts of better days…”
Hope in Hopelessness:
“One day everything is all and well and the next it’s just…not. And the ills of the world begin to bleed into one another and soon enough it’s hard to remember the moments of peace because the darkness is so overwhelmingly profound.”
Requiem is unquestionably dark. This is a book that plunges into the darkest spaces of grief and guilt, sin and death, and does so in such a way that it feels that it weaves a spell around you as the reader, and pulls you into the depths.
‘In her experience the most beautiful of things were often fated for horrible ends.”
The world bleeds misery and gloom, the characters’ emotions are as real as your own, and possibility and hope sometimes feel as far away as the stars – and yet it is not overwhelming darkness. Even the characters who are most cloaked in shadow, or caught in the direst circumstances have something to cling to, something to fight for or a possibility that it is worth risking everything for, and that is key to why Requiem is so compelling. The darkness is haunting and consuming, but alone it would risk being too much, and Tarzian has achieved that wonderful balance where you are swept into that dark, but the stars remain visible.
“I found myself by losing hope.”
As with so much of Requiem, there is a duality. Hope and Despair are as intrinsically linked as truth and lies, dreams and reality, time and space. Hope was a necessary part of this tale, and the characters, but so was despair – and for the characters, despair was the whetstone against which fate and the tale sharpened itself, with hope that delicate thread held against the blade’s edge. Would the characters have been as driven to search out that hope – that way to change things, fix things – if they hadn’t experienced the depths of despair? Maybe, but not in the same way or with the same impact.
Requiem is a journey or a multitude of journeys. A search for truth, for hope and possibility. It is also an emotional journey on so many levels both for the characters and the reader, and the emotional intensity of this book is one of the reasons it lingers long after the reading. And while grief and hope are some of the main emotions that drive this book, it would be wrong to turn a blind eye to the others, and indeed it is impossible to do so for they have been given a manifest form in this world and given form to characters in their own image.
Vultures and Hounds.
Not only powerful imagery and motifs, but a physical form and threat in this world. In the theme of truth and lies, emotions – particularly the negative ones, the ‘sins’ are a danger to be held at bay, to be hidden away, and kept under wraps for fear of what they could do or what they could drive people to do.
What they can do when unleashed.
“Holding onto all that rage, all that pent up frustration and jealousy—you’re only making them stronger, Avaria, and that’s the part that frightens me the most. One day you’ll lose control, and the hounds will sow slaughter unlike anything you’ve seen before.”
However, as with many things with Requiem that is not the whole truth, although it isn’t entirely a lie either – but shades of both. Sin. Emotion as sin, and Sin as emotion. Are as much a part of life, as law and chaos, entropy and creation. As with anything, temperance is the key. Balance. In fact, in many ways – if you strip away the idea of undoing the past, the chaos of emotions, the conflict of lies and truths, that is what the world and characters are looking for – balance.
“True sin, Gephorax, is not, contrary to belief, evil—and it is vital you remember that. Existence is not black and white, but shades of gray, and only the ignorant believe otherwise. The key is temperance. Be free but understand that everything has limits.”
A lot of Requiem is also about acceptance. The characters accepting the truth – about themselves, about the past and the present, about what they would really do when confronted with possibility. The world accepting the truth of where it is now, and how it came to be. The God-beings accepting responsibility. The same is very true for the emotional aspect. There are journeys to discover which emotions are their own, which are true to them in the here and now, but also accepting their emotions and what they have done with them – and what they can do with them.
‘True sin. Wrath to strike the monstress down. Wrath to save the world.’
As I said this is a whistlestop tour of some of the elements that I enjoyed most in this book, and there is still so much I would love to talk about. All I can hope is that I have managed to whet your appetite for The World Breaker Requiem. I cannot stress enough, just how utterly amazing this book and series is, or how much you are missing out if you don’t give it ago. Tarzian is very much a must buy/read author for me, and this book is the one that absolutely cemented that for me!
Luke Tarzian was born in Bucharest, Romania. His parents made the extremely poor choice of adopting him less than six months into his life. As such, he’s resided primarily in the United States and currently lives in California with his wife and their twin daughters. Somehow, they tolerate him.
Unfortunately, he can also be found online and, to the dismay of his clients, also functions as a cover artist for independent authors.
Prize: An eBook Copy of The World Breaker Requiem
Starts: February 17, 2022 at 12:00am EST
Ends: February 23, 2022 at 11:59pm EST
You can enter HERE
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.