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Nathan’s review of The Ruptured Sky by Jessica McMinn

The tl;dr: A dark fantasy seeped in prophecy and monsters, The Ruptured Sky is an exciting, gritty, and fast-paced series starter that all epic fantasy fans should have on their radar. McMinn introduces readers to four complicated and morally grey POV characters without ever feeling like “edge-lords” and is able to find time for quiet characters moments, queer representation, and more in a 350ish page books that covers a lot of ground. If you enjoy VE Schwab, HC Newell, or Ed McDonald, give The Ruptured Sky a look.

Cover of The Ruptured Sky

My full review:

VE Schwab’s “Shades of Magic Series” meets the dark, epic stylings of HC Newell, LL Macrae, and Ed MacDonald in this fast-paced, magic-filled, and gritty fantasy debut. Fans of big, multi-POV fantasies without the bloated page counts will absolutely devour this book and be left wanting more.

Across the 350ish pages of The Ruptured Sky we are introduced to four POV characters – a runaway princess turned monster hunter, her princeling brother who now deals with the fallout of her actions, her childhood best friend turned mercenary, and a mysterious magic user. Together these four characters find themselves enmeshed in a dark and potent prophecy with world-shattering implications.

While I used to find myself reading fantasy for the worldbuilding, more and more my enjoyment of a book lives and dies by its characters – and luckily McMinn has given us a multitude of thoughtful, complicated, and diverse people to discover, love, loathe, and get frustrated by! McMinn has a real knack for identifying the core of a person and illustrating that to the reader. We get to feel like we “know” these characters quite quickly, even if we still realize that there are layers and layers to their personalities, identities, and histories left to be uncovered.

McMinn also doesn’t shy away from pushing her character’s backs up against moral corners, forcing them to decide between their personal motivations and the greater good. Our runaway princess-turned-monster hunter was reclaiming her agency in a patriarchal world, but in doing so put her nation in grave international danger. A man wants to rescue his great love, but in doing so could disrupt a magical prophecy. An old man has grand machinations to save the world, but is willing to sacrifice anyone to make it happen. McMinn doesn’t glorify wading around the muck, but she never gives her characters the easy choices. And don’t worry – the pacing is so fast and breezy that the morally grey darkness of McMinn’s storytelling never feels relentlessly bleak.

I’ll talk about some of my concerns about McMinn’s fast pacing in a moment, but one thing I did love is how McMinn found some for the characters to sit and ruminate with their actions. These young people (they are mostly in their twenties, so this is not a teenage “coming of age” story) go through hell and back in just this first book (and I’ve heard the second book is darker – HOW??), and McMinn allows them to reflect on the horrifying things they witness and experience. These people are changed by these experiences as individuals, not just in a plot-based “the world is saved*” kind of way.

*Not a spoiler. The world is not saved by the end of this book since there are three more books and a couple of novellas to go!

While talking about the characters, I also must celebrate McMinn’s depiction of her gay male characters in this book. Queer characters in fantasy have been on the rise over the past few years (yay!!), but gay men specifically are still vastly underrepresented – especially outside of the romantasy/fantasy romance subgenres. Of course there is nothing wrong with fantasy romance, but there is something so effortless and inclusive about the way McMinn treats the gay romance(s) in this book as just another element of the story. Non-heterosexual romances have been excluded for so long in fantasy that I understand the desire to make queer romances the focal point of their narratives, but I loved how McMinn treated these gay men like any other relationship in the story. I made the comparison to VE Schwab earlier, and both authors are brilliant at delicately navigating gay relationships.

The pacing of The Ruptured Sky is almost relentless in how this book just moves through the plot. McMinn keeps readers engaged, locked, and loaded as she careens from place to place, POV character to POV character. This leaves the reader breathless and enthralled in how wrapped up in the story you are because McMinn doesn’t take any second to just stare at a tree. Like with HC Newell’s books, I binged through this one in less than two days because McMinn never let me go to come up for air as I was immersed in the journeys of these four broken characters trying their best to navigate a morally grey world. Readers looking for that old school epic fantasy feeling without the page commitment should look no further!

The fast pace and short page count does have some drawbacks, particularly for readers who are used to the more methodical pacing of fantasy’ more lengthy tomes. This does lead to some slightly underdeveloped worldbuilding, as McMinn only has the time to focus on elements that are of immediate concern to her characters and plot. If you are a plot reader, you won’t core, but worldbuilding readers may notice that places all kind of feel the same and not quite as “lived in” as in other books. McMinn’s world feels like many other dark fantasy worlds as she sacrifices place-making for character and plot. I see all fantasy books as a trade-off between the myriad elements that go into producing one, so again this will really come down to what kind of reader you are!

For me, the fast pacing only became a detriment to the story in the way that McMinn deployed her twists and turns. A mystery would be presented on one page, and we would find out the answer to that mystery just a few pages later. At times it kind of felt like McMinn didn’t even need to set up the mystery in the first place because we readers didn’t get to sit, ruminate, and wonder about the answers before they were revealed to us. In these very few instances the fast pace of the story hindered some of the mystery of the book.

Having said all of that, whether you are into gritty, dark fantasies, monster hunters, queer representation, prophecies, fast-paced epics, or (like me) a combination of all of those things, than The Ruptured Sky belongs on your list. The sequel and two(!!) companion novellas have already been released, so now is the ideal time to jump into this series!

Nathan

Nathan is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology where he specializes in death rituals of the Ice Age in Europe and queer theory. Originally from Ohio, he currently lives in Kansas where he teaches college anthropology, watches too much TV, and attempts to make the perfect macarons in a humid climate. He is also the co-host of The Dragonfire podcast with James Lloyd Dulin. He reads widely in fantasy and sci-fi and is always looking for new favorites!

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