Science Fiction Book Review: Breakers of the Dawn

Breakers of the Dawn is a sci-fi thriller by Zachariah Wahrer. It’s the first book in his Breakers series.

It’s an incredibly ambitious blend of the hard sci-fi, thriller, and space opera genres, and for all the big ideas Wahrer presented and the intriguing characters I saw the story through, I really wanted to love it. But let me back up a bit.

The story opens from the POV of our first protagonist, Felar, a hardcore military woman who rose to the ranks on her own merits in the Ashamine military, as she presents information about what Initiates (read: recruits) in the lower ranks can look forward to if they work hard enough. She’s immediately accosted by a former classmate who failed out of the Founder’s Commando (think of them as like Special Ops) training regiment and believes that Felar slept her way to the top. He ignites a fight between her and his top student, then she blacks out as she’s accosted again by a group of men she can’t fight off. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

Next, we meet Wake, an engineer working in the Ashamine mines who is falsely accused of sabotaging (or neglecting, the charges aren’t quite clear) lifts running up and down the mountain he works on. The accident happens off screen and in the past, though he does have a dream sequence that sort of explains it. Someone neglected safety procedures and ten miners died. He’d submitted a bunch of requests for better parts, was instructed to use the faulty parts, and the accident stopped waiting to happen.

Next on the list is Maxar, a convict (don’t recall learning his crime) forced to fight in brutal cage matches on the Bloodsport asteroid for the amusement of the upper class in Ashamine society. He plans and executes his escape later on, but here we simply learn a bit about him and his attitudes toward the empire.

Then, we meet Tremmilly, a foolish and rather naive woman from a backwater planet who grew up underneath the thumb of one of the many Ashamine cults not officially recognized by the government. Her caretaker tells her a prophecy involving 5 people (you can see where this is going) and that she happens to be one of them and must bring them together to stop the mysterious Breakers. We don’t yet know what or who the Breakers are, but the beginning of the prophecy sounds menacing enough to Tremmilly to spur her on her later adventures.

POV number 5 is Lothis, a young boy who has lived his entire life in a single room, with a single routine, and knows nothing but that room, that routine, and the AI training him. He becomes far more important later, but this chapter simply introduces him.

POV 6 is the Founder, the dictatorial leader of the Ashamine empire. We find out right away that all is not as it seems with both the war against the psychic insect race the Entho-la-ah-mines, nor with government as it’s supposed to be run in this world. He orders an underling to put down a rebellion, but we don’t find out much about the plan until later, when the underling leads a chapter of his own.

POV 7 is Cazz-ak-tak, an Entho who has been sent back to the human-overtaken Entho homeworld on a special mission. In his introductory chapter we’re introduced to the concept of the Great Thought, a psychic pool where all the Entho minds in the universe can meet, and where collective joy and sorrow is shared across the peaceful species. We also find out that the Ashamine empire has acted as an effective terrorist cell against the Entho species, and that this has turned out terribly for all involved.

The aforementioned Founder’s underling is also a POV character far later, but for spoiler reasons I can’t speak much about his role in the plot. His chapters along with Cazz’s, Lothis’s, and Maxar’s were among the more vivid and interesting in the book. That’s about all I can say about him.

As I mentioned earlier, I love a lot of the cool ideas and tropes Wahrer played with in this book, but the whole thing ended up bogged down by passive language and telly storytelling. As soon as I started getting invested in a character or scenario, I ended up dealing with a barrage of over-explaining about how they felt or thought about something, or passive recounting of what the “had done” prior to the chapter. Overuse of gerunds (“ing” verbs) abounded and all in all, the clumsy writing style made it hard to read. It’s nothing a good writing group or competent line editor couldn’t fix, but since I had to read it as written, it did drag down the whole experience.

Also, Felar is raped in that first chapter, but apart from being a reason for her transfer to another planet, the trauma is never really addressed later in the book. She just kinda… forgets it. And that upset me being a rape survivor myself. I’ve known women in the military who were raped. No amount of training makes you just “shake it off.”

All of that said, the world Wahrer built is what pushed me through to the end. I won’t spoil much, but I will say he did leave a bunch of dangling plot threads for the sequel.

3/5 stars. If you can get through the clumsy writing style and some of the problematic themes, I think it has potential.