by Jamie Schultz
If you've been searching for truly grimdark urban fantasy, then I've found the perfect book for you. In terms of gritty, graphic violence and unrelenting darkness, Splintered is out to give Abercrombie and Lawrence a run for their money.
Anna Ruiz keeps promising herself that this will be her last job for Enoch Sobell, but they've been promising themselves that for a long time. Once the sorcerous criminal overlord gets his claws into you, it's not so easy to escape. And so at Sobell's order, Anna and her team find themselves escalating from thievery to kidnapping, and it isn't long before they find themselves trapped in a magical battle that leaves kidnapping the least of their problems.
As I said, if you're into grimdark, then this book will be a perfect fit. My problem? While I take my urban fantasy with plenty of grit and grime, grimdark is too depressing for me. At least from what I've seen, one theme that unites true grimdark is the lack of agency. The characters, are, of course, stuck in a bad situation within an already hostile world, but in grimdark, the characters can't divert from a course that will lead to their destruction. In Splintered, the characters have been drawn into a situation that they don't understand and will never comprehend completely. They know they're being played, yet they can do nothing except fall right into the trap. At each turn, the consequences of their previous actions transform any new decision into a forced choice. As one character puts it:
"I don't even know what we're in the middle of now, and I don't know how we get out of it."
I wanted the characters to break free, to escape the vicious cycles of self-destruction. And yet even as I wanted to pull away, I was sucked into the plot. The compulsion was as strong as it was unwelcome. It was like watching a car ahead skid on ice and veer off the road, knowing that the crash is inevitable and unable to tear your eyes away. The weight of suffering is suffocating, yet I couldn't put down the book.
Part of the allure was the worldbuilding. Anna's world has a fascinating magic system. In the end, all magic comes from demons and is thus inherently destructive. Using magic is like "burning one's soul up with a candle," and each spell leaves the caster just a little less human. Part of it was the characters. No matter how stifling and frustrating they were, my heart broke for Anna, who is trying to save her friend, and Nate, the self-proclaimed "king of enablers," who can't seem to stop himself from bailing out his worthless brother again and again. While I jumped into the series at the second book, Schultz did a great job in pulling new readers into the world. The writing, too, reeled me in. The violence is impressively graphic. I don't consider myself particularly squeamish, but parts of the book had me hyperventilating. I found so much of the story agonizing, yet I simply couldn't disengage. If you're a fan of Abercrombie or Richard K Morgan and looking to branch out, or you're looking for a truly dark, intense read, then this series is definitely worth a look.
~~I received this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Penguin Group, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes are taken from an uncorrected advanced reader copy and may not reflect the final version; however, I think they speak to the spirit of the book as a whole.~~