Book Review: Breach by W.L. Goodwater
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Alternate History, Fantasy
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Ace (November 6, 2018)
Length: 368 pages
I was surprised how much I liked Breach. Mostly, I wasn’t sure how I would take to the novel, given my last venture into a Cold War alternate history was met with mixed results, but I’m pleased to say W.L. Goodwater has delivered a fine thriller here, laced with just the right amount and balance of history, action and magic.
The novel opens on a world very different from our own. World War II happened, yes. But a generation later, even following the devastation, the world’s powers continued to clash—with war, ideology…and magic. Though thaumaturgy is widely seen as a weapon of the Germans because of how brutally the Nazi troops used magic to do horrible things during WWII, American researcher Karen O’Neil is trying to change that perception. To counter magic, she reasons, one must be able to understand it, and it need not be a tool for destruction either if its power and energy can be harnessed to do good.
As a woman and a magician, however, Karen’s quest is an uphill battle, given how wary the public is regarding anything to do with magic. Even her own father, a veteran who has experienced its destructive power in the war, despises the magical work she does for the State Department. Then one day, an urgent request for a magical expert arrives from Germany, warning of a breach in the Berlin Wall, which in this world is a massive construct made entirely of magical energy. Karen is tapped for the assignment, amidst backlash from her male co-workers who feel she would not be up to the rigors of the job. Determined to prove herself, Karen throws herself into finding an explanation and solution for the growing breach, despite increasing signs that the problem may be linked to greater dangers involving deadly conspiracies and powerful secrets.
For a debut, Breach was pretty solid. I was impressed by the flow of the writing, despite some over-embellishment and the occasional moment where I questioned word choice. I also enjoyed the voice of the main protagonist. The narrative follows a couple points-of-view besides Karen, but she was the character I latched onto the moment she stepped onto the page. A twenty-something-year-old woman and a magician, she faces pushback from many corners because of her sex and her ability to do magic. While the negativity she receives is great motivational factor, it also has a tendency to drive her to do impulsive things in her effort to prove she is up to the task, usually resulting in her doing something she regrets. However, her complexities—which include her flaws and personal weaknesses—serve to make her feel like a genuine and well-rounded character. On the whole, I found her to more memorable and developed than any of the other POVs, though I hope some—namely Jim, the CIA agent—will get more attention if there are future sequels.
To my relief, you also don’t have to be much of a history buff to get into this book. Cold War knowledge certainly isn’t my forte, but I made out fine anyway, mostly because Goodwater has devised a world that holds up reasonably well as its own creation. The presence of magic is a gamechanger, causing sweeping changes in history and the way people conduct their lives. The magic system described in the book itself isn’t anything too special (comprising of the usual hand gestures and incantations, special objects to act as a focal point for the magician’s power, etc.) but I felt the social implications of it were. Magicians are both admired and feared for what they can do, as represented by an early scene of Karen at a family gathering, showing off her magic to the delight of her young niece while Karen’s own father stands to the side, seething with disapproval. It is a time of great change in this world, and attitudes towards magic play a role in determining the impact of certain events and people in the story.
The plot reads like a mystery, with emphasis on investigations and spycraft early on, though there is a lot more action and suspense in the second half of the novel. There is also a surprise twist later on in the story that throws even more possibilities into the mix, making me re-evaluate what I thought I knew about this world. It seemed a bit over-the-top, for a novel already filled to the brim with a multitude of concepts, but as it was a genuinely fascinating plot development and the author didn’t let it get too out of hand, I was willing to disregard some of the more overreaching elements of the story. As well, the final page makes me think there will be more to follow, and as I alluded to earlier, if we’re fortunate enough to get a sequel, I will definitely be on board for more.