Breath of Earth Rocked!
I am not always as fond of Steampunk as a genre. The authors tend to focus on “cool alternate toys I can imagine” and forget about story. Imaginary technology bores me without an amazing plot and characters I can identify with and cheer for.
Breath of Earth has complex characters and plot in abundance. I don’t know which I liked better – the wonderfully diverse and rich characters or the non-stop excitement of the story.
The setting is alternate history San Francisco on the eave of the 1906 great earthquake. But this is an America which is ruled by Japanese and Americans and where the magic of geomancers keeps stability in the world. The instability of world affairs, including brutal wars in India and China, sets the stage for the complicated interweaving of the plot.
Ingrid Carmichael, our delightful main character, is a strong woman of magic in a patriarchal society that doesn’t believe women can be geomancers. Her mentor and second father Mr. Sakaguchi helps her hide her powers. But her world literally explodes around her when someone targets the of Earth Warden’s Auxiliary. She saves Mr. Sakaguchi, but he is wounded as they are targeted by assassins. With the help of handsome airship pilot Cypress Jennings (romance – yeah!) and his mechanic Fenris, Ingrid must save her mentor, find out who is targeting geomancers and try to prevent the world from literally shaking apart at the seams. The story’s non-stop action turns even more frantic when Ingrid realizes that instead of the solution, she may just be the problem.
And that is a very quick and dirty summary which leaves out most of the plot-lines and twists. Between the lively characters, the unabashed use of magic and interwoven plot this was a stay-up-past-your-bedtime read. An instant favorite on my bookshelf, I will happily reread Breath of Earth many times.
Buy Breath of Earth:
BARNES & NOBLE
Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger series from Harper Voyager. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.
Breath of Earth Excerpt:
Whimpers and moans welcomed Ingrid to the junior classroom. Nearest to the door, a dozen boys half sprawled over their desks. A blue mist overlay their skin, and beneath that mist were the sure signs of power sickness—skin flushed by high fever, thick sweat, dull eyes. The rest of the class stared, their expressions ranging from curiosity to horror. Some of them still showed signs of very recent recovery in their bloodshot eyes. None of these boys was older than ten; the youngest was a pudgy-faced eight.
"There you are!" The teacher scowled, as if it were Ingrid’s
fault he’d been so inept with his accounting. Biting her lip, she held out the bag. He snatched it from her fingertips.
The chalkboard laid out the terminology of the lesson, one
Ingrid had seen taught dozens of times: hyperthermia, hypothermia, and the quick timeline to a geomancer’s death. These young boys experienced the hard lesson of hyperthermia. The last earthquake noticeable by the wardens had taken place
three days before. These students had been directly exposed to the current and hadn’t been allowed access to any kermanite. As a result, they spent the past few days bed-bound in misery as though gripped by influenza.
Thank God none of them were as sensitive as Ingrid. Another direct tremor would cause their temperatures to spike even more, and could even lead to death.
The teacher adept pressed a piece of kermanite to a boy’s skin. He gasped at the contact. Blue mist eddied over his body, the color evaporating as it was pulled inside the rock.
If she could see the kermanite in the adept’s hand, the clear crystal would be filling with a permanent smoky swirl. It took a trained mechanic to rig an electrical current to tap the trapped magic as a battery. When the energy within was exhausted, a crystal turned dull and dark. Once that happened, kermanite became a useless rock.
The young boy sat up straighter. "Thank you, sir," he whispered,
voice still ragged. It would take him hours to fully recover.
Ingrid looked away, that familiar anger heavy in her chest.
Wardens and boys in training carried kermanite openly from
watch fobs and cuff links, or most any other accessory where
stones could be easily switched out once they were full.
She had to be far more subtle. Her kermanite chunks clinked together in her dress pocket. She had to take care not to touch them today, or the energy she held would be siphoned away.
Ingrid loved this slight flush of power, because that’s what it was — power. It sizzled just beneath her skin, intoxicated her
with how it prickled at her nerves. Certainly, if she absorbed
any more energy, she’d use the kermanite. She didn’t want to feel sick, though she could hold much more power than these boys, or even the wardens. Mr. Sakaguchi said she took after
Papa — that she stored power like a bank vault, while most
everyone else had the capacity of a private safe.
When it came to her natural skill, Ingrid often regarded herself as a rare fantastic or yokai — not like garden ornamentals like the kappas or naiads sold to the stuffed shirts on Market Street — but like the geomantic Hidden Ones Mr. Sakaguchi so loved to research. She was a creature relegated to idle fancy and obscure mythology, and aggravating shoes.