I received a signed, physical copy of this book in exchange for a honest review as this is A. J Rettger’s debut novel. I usually fall into the trap of reading the novel’s descriptions and when I see the words: Knights, elves, dwarves, and bandits I make the mistake of thinking this will be a story I have read many times before. DO NOT make the same mistake I did because Oathbreaker starts off as a classical fantasy and A. J. Rettger quickly turns the story into a grimdark with the flip of the page. This is a harsh and brutal world we find our characters in and its just keeps getting grimmer the more you read. Upon finishing Oathbreaker, I stared at my celling for ten minutes and thought to myself, “That was one of the darkest books I have read in a long time.” I have no idea where the author is going to take this story, but I am jumping on this bandwagon for the long haul.
Our main POV is Mario Deschamps, who is a new graduate of the Knights College looking to completed his first deed and become a full fledged Knight of King Dryden. Mario is the son of Sir Pablo Deschamps who is considered a war hero around the kingdom as he vanquished an Elf rebellion several years earlier and never returned home. Along Mario’s expedition, he comes across several different character of different races. First we see Deidre, an Elven archer whom despises humans ever since the rebellion was a failure. She is hard nosed, stubborn, but immensely loyal in her goals. Next we have the changeling Hamish, I won’t get too much into this character to avoid spoilers but he can take the form of any person he has come into contact with. Finally we have the mercenary Flint, a dark and mysterious person with a wealth of knowledge about the creatures of this world and deadly with his sword. It was a lot of fun learning about Flint and his background. We also get several interlude chapters from an imperial spy named Lukas and we get a little taste of the larger political climate and the war about to take place.
Now to the nitty gritty. I mentioned that this book gets very dark and that is putting it lightly. There is a torture scene, implications of sexual assault off screen, subjugation and bigotry on the part of humans towards elves as second class citizens, and political tensions where nothing is as it seems. The more Mario sees the world for what it truly is, the more he regrets his choice to become a knight and he often at times has to question is own morality. Mario and Deidre experience the most character development in Oathbreaker with plenty of hardships along the way. With every task Mario takes, he starts to change to a darker person and you will not recognize the person he has become in the final chapter.
I need to give props the A. J. Rettger for writing into his novel real world problems that affect people everyday. This can be a touchy subject to tackle but he does it with determination, care, and understanding that these things need to change one way or another. He also has no trepidation for being cruel to his characters. They are all put through a gauntlet and the emotions that came out of me, very few authors we able to achieve. My only grip with the novel is that it felt too short at under 300 pages and the ending was very harsh and abrupt leaving me with no indication of where things are going from here on out. Although, it will definitely hook you in and not let go. Oathbreaker is not on the grimdark level of a First Law or Broken Empire series, but it isn’t that far off and this author is a name to watch out for down the road.
Fans of classical Knight protagonist with lots of grit, heartbreak, and morally gray characters will enjoy Oathbreaker. Don’t expect good things to happen in this book because they usually will not. No one knows where the story will go from here and I hope readers will jump on the bandwagon as this talented author launches his career.