REVIEW: Riven Earth by Zammar Ahmer

Nature and humanity clash in Zammar Ahmer’s Riven Earth, a breathtakingly epic yet intimately character-driven grimdark fantasy that will sink its roots into the hearts of everyone who loves a good dose of heavy emotional destruction with their fantastical adventures.

Riven EarthTwelve years ago, the unconquerable dryad empire was brought to ash to make place for the Kingdom of Heartsong. But a kingdom forged in blood will have to pay the price of its brutal creation, and now nature is demanding its due. The earth is trembling, famine razes through the lands, and a mysterious blood sickness is threatening all of humanity. But as treason thrives and war looms ever closer, the most dangerous tempests might just be the ones ravaging everyone’s minds from within.

Now, I challenge you to read the prologue to Riven Earth and try to put the book down after that. Spoiler alert, you won’t be able to. This story is honestly straight-up fire from the very first page (pun intended, iykyk), and Ahmer’s wild imagination and mesmerising prose just continues to amaze and spark wonder all the way through.

We are transported into a world not dissimilar to the one in Mark Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor, where only one strip of land is still somewhat habitable, though not without risk. In a way, the world almost feels like a character in its own, which I personally really loved. The entire flora and fauna of this world was just so incredibly imaginative and fascinating, brimming with malicious earthly forces, diverse races and fantastical creatures, dryad and sun-based magic, and a plethora of immersive settings that are brought to life through the most breathtaking descriptions.

Though while Riven Earth shines in many aspects, it was Ahmer’s terrifyingly realistic and intimate character work that captivated me the most. We follow a diverse and dynamic cast of characters who are scattered all across the spectrum of gray morality, and they each just leap off the page with personality, for better or worse. A young king crippled by depression and his desperate yet supportive wife, an advisor struggling with her burdens and fed up with everyone’s bullshit, a ruthless politician who is way too conniving and ambitious for his own good, and a grieving, terminally ill soldier who stumbles into becoming a reluctant hero in his final days; each of these characters is established with an Abercromie-like skill of characterisation, bringing them to life through their uniquely distinct inner voices and dangerously sharp dialogue.

And not only does this epic and sprawling story remain rooted through the intimate narration of these characters, but the themes and conflicts are also presented with so much nuance and ambiguity through their opposing perspectives. Riven Earth can definitely be a mentally and emotionally challenging read at times, especially when being in the heads of the more prejudiced and depraved characters, but I personally think Ahmer handled the darker and more disturbing content with exceptional skill.

Broader themes of racism, genocide, religious zealotry, corruption, and rewriting of history are beautifully balanced with the more intimately vulnerable themes of mental health (in men), depression, suicidal ideation, grief, and the dangerously thin line between hate and love, which is exactly what makes this story so rich and emotionally impactful. Moreover, I was pleasantly surprised to see some powerful women and casually queer people represented here, especially in a world where prejudice runs rampant in other regards.

Every aspect of Riven Earth is just beautifully in harmony with each other, and each new revelation helps build tension as it recontextualizes everything you thought you knew about this world and its characters in the most satisfying way imaginable. I do have to say that the unpredictable inclusion of sudden flashbacks made for a slightly rocky pacing and somewhat unclear chronology of events, but at the same time I loved how those insights into the history of the world and backstory of these characters only made everything feel more fleshed out and complex.

Safe to say, Riven Earth kicks off The Book of Astea duology with an absolute bang, and the brutal yet enticing ending practically demands the reader to come back for the sequel. Which, fortunately for all of us, is already written and is scheduled to be released within a month (July 2024); that’s indie winning the game for you, just saying.

With a debut that is this astonishingly strong, Ahmer immediately proves that he is absolutely an author to be watched. Fans of Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, and Thiago Abdalla will find much to love in this gritty yet emotional grimdark fantasy, though it also offers an altogether more unique reading experience that will surprise and thrill with each new imaginative concept and shocking twist and turn. I simply can’t recommend Riven Earth highly enough, not only because it is a truly exceptional story, but also because I selfishly need more people in my fanclub/emotional support group, thank you very much!

Thank you to the author for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. Riven Earth is scheduled for release on June 11th, 2024. 

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Esmay Rosalyne

Esmay Rosalyne

Esmay Rosalyne is a self-proclaimed professional book devourer from The Netherlands. While (dark) fantasy will always have her heart, she is also a big indie/self-pub enthusiast and will probably read anything if the premise sounds intriguing enough. Or, you know, if it promises complete emotional destruction. When not reading books, she is probably reviewing books, talking about books, or watching videos of fellow bookworms talking about books.

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