Five Broken Blades: This Delightfully Twisty Fantasy Adventure Strikes True

Books Reviews Mai Corland
Five Broken Blades: This Delightfully Twisty Fantasy Adventure Strikes True

At the moment, much of the fantasy genre is dominated by romance. The subgenre cheekily referred to as “romantasy” is everywhere, and with good reason, too; these books are great! But it does mean that if you’re not interested in forbidden love, captive princesses, or sexy times at dragon college, you might be wondering what’s out there on the new release shelves for you. This is where Mai Corland’s fantasy debut, Five Broken Blades, comes in. 

A genre-mixing,  wildly addictive blend of high-fantasy adventure, political espionage, and romance, Five Broken Blades is delicious fun from its very first pages. Told across six separate POVs and featuring a host of complicated, morally gray characters on a quest to commit some murder and light treason, this is a book that blends familiar themes and tropes into a surprisingly compelling whole, and its propulsive, fast-paced storytelling means there’s certainly no time for anyone to get bored. It’s perfect summer fantasy escapism, and if I don’t see everyone I know reading this book at the pool or on public transport over the next few months I’ll be shocked

Set in a world inspired by Korean history and legend, the story follows a group of people with very particular skills who are brought together as part of a high-stakes plot to kill the immortal King Joon. There’s Sora, a seductive assassin trained as a poison maiden to target rich and highly placed men, who longs to rescue her sister from a life of pain and servitude. Count’s son Tiyung has been ordered to ensure Sora completes her mission, a charge complicated by his own feelings for her, a girl who ostensibly hates him. Muscle-for-hire Royo is desperate to earn enough money to free a man imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, while charming, uber-talented thief Aeri wants to impress the father who’s never acknowledged her. And Euyn is an exiled prince with a dark past, who’s been convinced to return home and claim his brother’s crown by Mikhail, his longtime lover, and the royal spymaster who ostensibly orchestrated this whole conspiracy. 

Their mission? To get close enough to the king to steal the crown that gifts him with eternal life and strike while he’s vulnerable. But to do so, they’ll have to make their way to the other side of the country learn to work together, and get close enough to the king to kill him without anyone guessing what they’re up to. It’s an impossible mission, but each member of this rag-tag group has their own reasons for grasping at this desperate opportunity to change both their own lives and the future of their country. And as the danger around them grows, they’ll each have to figure out how much they’re willing to trust each other—with both their lives and their secrets.

Corland carefully builds compelling relationships between and among her half-dozen protagonists, who slowly learn that they have more in common with one another than they think. As the group grows closer—and encounters dangers they never expected—their individual histories and motivations are slowly revealed, complicating things between them even further. Yes, this is perhaps the vaguest and most bland way to describe these events, but w Five Broken Blades is a story with many unexpected twists and it really is more enjoyable if you go into them without knowing they’re coming. 

Though the worldbuilding is rich and the character work satisfying, there’s not a lot in this book that won’t feel at least somewhat familiar to fans of stories like Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows or Roshani Chokshi’s The Gilded Wolves. The found family But, Corland still somehow manages to make the assembly of some very familiar pieces feel fresh and exciting, taking the time to flesh out each of her leads in ways that make their individual stories as important and compelling as the larger group’s mission. And, of course, the found family element is particularly satisfying, as a group of trained killers and liars each develop unexpected bonds with and loyalty to one another. 

The story doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the violence—both in terms of the acts our leads are asked to commit in the name of survival and the dark and dangerous underbelly they’re forced to live in. Unlike Bardugo’s or Chokshi’s story, there’s a fair amount of blood and violence among these pages—these are, after all, dangerous people, and none of them have clean hands. But the various romances are compelling without overwhelming or otherwise taking over the book’s primary story. While there are some spicy interludes and yearning looks, the relationships are as much about character development and dynamics as they are about sex. And the ending—essentially one gut punch after another for something like 30 pages—promises a thrilling sequel to come. In short, there’s very little not to enjoy here, and Five Broken Blades should easily establish Corland as a voice to watch in the fantasy space. 

Five Broken Blades is available now wherever books are sold. 

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB

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