In an alternate 1906, the United States and Japan have forged a powerful confederation—the Unified Pacific—in an attempt to dominate the world. Their first target is a vulnerable China. In San Francisco, headstrong Ingrid Carmichael is assisting a group of powerful geomancer Wardens who have no idea of the depth of her power—or that she is the only woman to possess such skills.
When assassins kill the Wardens, Ingrid and her mentor are protected by her incredible magic. But the pair is far from safe. Without its full force of guardian geomancers, the city is on the brink of a cataclysmic earthquake that will expose Earth’s powers to masterminds determined to control the energy for their own dark ends. The danger escalates when Chinese refugees, preparing to fight the encroaching American and Japanese, fracture the uneasy alliance between the Pacific allies, transforming the city into a veritable powder keg. And the slightest tremor will set it off. . . .
Forced on the run, Ingrid makes some shocking discoveries about herself. Her powerful magic has grown even more fearsome . . . and she may be the fulcrum on which the balance of world power rests.
This book was so much fun, and nowhere near enough people have read it! It is set in an alternate 1906 San Francisco. The US and Japan are working together to try and rule the world, firstly by taking over China. This alternate world is steampunk ish, and has magic. For one there are some magical creatures (selkies, unicorns, kitsune) and the Hidden Ones. And there is geomancy. All geomancers are man… apart from our main character Ingrid, a mixed-race young woman who is an apprentice to one of the wardens. It is the wardens job to soak up the magic that is released in the form of earthquakes. This makes them sick however, so they siphon this magic into special stones, which can then be used as energy sources by the wider population. Until all the wardens are killed and there is no one to cancel out the earthquakes…
The book is fairly well written. The magic is intriguing and has a good system with clear rules. The world building has been well thought out. Beth Cato has clearly done her research regarding Japanese and Chinese mythology and the history of this setting. She doesn’t shy away from showing the racism the Chinese citizens had to face. She also makes use of real earthquakes that happened in San Francisco during this time and the consequences of these to make her story even more realistic.
Some historical and cultural changes in Breath of Earth are deliberate. Others are the result of ignorance; I humbly beg your apology for any inaccuracies and omissions.
That sentence somehow made me like this author a whole lot (she continues with a quite extensive reference list with what looks to me some great sources).
So what are some of these inaccuracies. Well, both Ingrid and her love interest Cy are a bit too open minded for the time. It does make them very likable characters though. Ingrid is strong and independent, with a great sense of humour (without pushing it). And she really isn’t a saint. Some of her actions weren’t the Right thing to do, and although she will mourn them, she never regrets choosing for herself. Cy is a clever young man who will carry those he cares about, but will also never question their strength and ability to protect him. I was Not a fan of their insta love, and found it a bit lazy writing… because they do end up being great together by the end of the book. And the side characters are wonderful as well. They all are more than they seem and have some fascinating secrets that are such a joy for the reader to uncover.
Cato has created such a rich world, saturated with culture, politics and magic, and filled to the brim with great characters who all go through some grim and gritty moments. And yet it is a really light and fun read. I highly recommend this, it is just Wow. Also, have you seen that cover?