Breath of Earth (Blood of Earth)
by Beth Cato
Cover Artist: Gene Mollica
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Harper Voyager Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780062422064
Date: 23 August 2016 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
In a world with geomancers who draw power from the earth, the constant tremors in California are reduced. San Francisco in 1906 is different from that of this timeline. Using kermanite, geomancers are able to harness the fault energy of the earth to help power technology. The United States has allied with Japan to exchange technology and gain power.
Ingrid Carmichael is a hidden geomancer. Women are not known to be able to harness the powers of the earth. She plays the role of a secretary and assists an old friend of the family, Mr. Sakaguchi. He is a senior Warden of the San Francisco Auxiliary. When the auxiliary is destroyed, the city is put in peril as the power of the earth builds towards a major quake.
The destruction of the auxiliary is the beginning of Ingrid's real journey. She learns new ways to use her power as well as more information about her family and her past. Along the way, she makes new friends and learns the truth is very different from what she believed.
Breath of Earth is a magical alternate history. The presence of geomancers and kermanite goes back to the Roman Empire. History was altered by this harnessing of power as technology takes a different path. Technology is still important but it follows more of an electromagnetic mechanical path rather than the combustion based technology of our timeline.
There are several major historical figures who play a role. I expect them to have larger roles in the coming volumes. I also look forward to the little tidbits of history which work their way into the story to make the world come to life.
Like many alternate histories, there is an exploration of events which are unavoidable. Rome must fall to get the world to its present. Geomancers have controlled the quakes in California, but without their sapping of the energy, can disaster be avoided.
This opening novel has a lot of teases related to the magic and history of this world. The future volumes are likely to show a shifting of the world power structure. The internal struggles for power within the Alliance should lead to some very interesting action. There should also be more description of the powerful beings who hide beneath the earth as Ingrid comes into her full power. There is also a powerful group of magic users who control the activities of the Alliance.
This is different from her earlier Clockwork series. This novel explores the casual and not so casual racism and sexism which are a part of the world. Ingrid faces both but comes to realize that she has her own blind spots. During the course of this series, that world may finally come to recognize that the biases are easing the way to genocide. The actions of the Alliance should challenge some American's beliefs in exceptionalism. Taking on the realism of the ugly parts of society and history make this novel a winner.