“I might not be as fast or as strong, but I am willing to do anything to save my children.”
Berne is back and better than ever with Partial Function, his first foray outside of the Hybrid Helix series. It’s got a kick-ass and snarky mom out on a revenge quest, thrilling martial arts fights, dinosaurs, a loyal dog named Dog, heartwarming found family vibes, and, most importantly of all, SO much humour and heart. Honestly, this is the entertaining wuxia-inspired epic fantasy you didn’t know you needed.
Once, Akina Azure, better known as the Spiral Witch, roamed the Wilds as one of the legendary Five. Yet, despite inheriting the most powerful weapon in the martial world, she has left her monster hunting days behind and now lives a peaceful life raising her twin girls. That is, until her daughters are kidnapped by The Reaver, who intends to use them as a bargaining chip in exchange for that powerful weapon. Akina will do anything to get her girls back, and she intends to show everyone just how fearsome an angry momma bear can be.
Now, I normally tend to prefer my fantasy to be quite slow-burn, but leave it to Berne to make me absolutely adore a fast-paced story full of non-stop thrilling action. The kidnapping of the girls has already happened before this story starts, so we just hit the ground running and it’s a wild ride from start to finish. Not once did I get tempted to skim through an action scene, because all of these martial arts fights just came to life before my eyes and had me on the edge of my seat the entire way through.
That said, it ultimately was still the brilliant character work that fully hooked me, and I think it took me approximately one page to fall head over heels in love with Akina Azure. She easily shot straight to the top of the ‘best moms in fantasy’ list, rivalling characters like Misaki from The Sword of Kaigen or Orka from The Bloodsworn Saga. I think it can be hard to write a revenge-driven protagonist that doesn’t feel one-dimensional, single-minded, and utterly frustrating, but Berne absolutely nailed Akina’s character arc to a T.
Her joints might be aching and her best days might be behind her, but I loved how she continually proved that she still is someone just absolutely not to be fucked with. Akina’s snarky personality made her a very endearing character and her dry humour had me cackling out loud multiple times. And not only was her no-nonsense attitude entirely too entertaining, but it also helped ground the story when the plot went a bit off the walls at times.
The supporting characters also jump off the page, especially for a story that is so fast-paced, and I loved that they all really get their own time to shine. Some of the ‘bad guys’ might feel a tiny bit over the top, but it feels deliberate and somehow just absolutely works.
And if you’ve read the Hybrid Helix series, it should come as no surprise that the found family vibes are off the charts. The complex interpersonal relationships are so well-written and the sharp banter is just top-notch. Also, Akina’s loyal dog companion, with the creative name of Dog, is objectively the best character in this story and he just absolutely stole the show.
The world building was also surprisingly rich and immersive, with extensive backstories, history and lore to explore. The only other cultivation fantasy I have read is the hugely popular Cradle series, but I honestly prefer Berne’s take on this genre. There’s something so unique and fun about this story that just gives it that edge and makes it stand out from the crowd. I mean, there’s dinosaurs… come on!
I love how this story is quite self-aware and doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet somehow manages to never even come slightly close to feeling like shlock. It’s clear that the author has a huge love for the genre, as common tropes are lovingly mocked and turned on their heads in the most entertaining ways. And just a moment of appreciation for the funny (or, more accurately, punny) chapter titles, which are without a doubt some of the most hilarious and inventive ones I’ve come across yet.
Safe to say, this is another home run for J.C.M. Berne, and proves that the Hybrid Helix series isn’t a one-hit wonder. This was easily one of the most fun reading experiences I have had this year and I am now desperate for more adventures with Akina and co.
And while this story wraps up in a satisfying way and stands completely on its own, there were some subtle tie-ins to the Hybrid Helix series that have me incredibly excited to see how this universe is going to expand in the future.
If the amazing cover hadn’t already sold you, then I certainly hope this review did, because Partial Function is a book you seriously don’t want to miss out on. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants an entertaining, fast-paced, and action-packed cultivation fantasy with a whole lot of humour and heart.
Thank you to the author for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.