Bartholomew is a Breedling- an immortal spirit that guides the souls of the mortal dead to their eternal homes. He is tasked by his masters, the Fates, to find the Creators of the world, who have gone missing. Bartholomew finds the ones he’s seeking, but then refuses to reveal their location and as punishment, he is sealed in a prison until he changes his mind or the end of time, whichever comes first. But, magically, Bartholomew escapes and finds himself in 19th century Chicago in the company of two boys who are named Charlie and Jimmy. Bartholomew must find a certain mortal to bind his spirit to this world or he will end up back in his timeless prison. He also must complete his original quest- to find the Eden Wanderer. But, he must accomplish all of this without the mortals knowing who he really is or what he is really seeking. Will he succeed?
I have some serious reservations about this book. First of all, the plot isn’t nearly as straight forward as my description. The mythology of Bastian’s world is very complex and I felt like I wasn’t given enough background before I was thrown into the thick of it. Multiple characters are mentioned, but never make an appearance and, there was so much implied but not stated, that at times I felt as if I was reading the second book in the series instead of the first. Fantasy is a tricky genre because there’s a fine line between mysteriousness and utter confusion and, unfortunately, I spent much of my time in The Breedling and the City in the Garden trying to understand how everyone was connected.
On the other hand, there is much to enjoy in this debut novel beyond the complex/confusing world building. The young man, Charlie, has a big heart and spends much of his time trying to keep his cousin, Jimmy, safe from the gangs that rove the streets. He was my favorite character: “Are you prepared for the meeting tomorrow?”he asked, referring to the gang dispute Charlie had been asked to mediate, which was a nicer way of saying he was forced. “As ready as I can be, I suppose,” said Charlie. “It’s not as though they gave me a say in the matter.” loc 159, ebook.
Bastian paints a pretty picture of Chicago: “For miles, rooftops stretched in every direction. Smokestacks stood proudly as a testament to the modern age of industry. The calls of trains answered each other from east to west. To the north, the distant shrills of tugboats and barges floating along the river thundered through the air. The dark sky above blanketed every inch as far as the eye could see, the city lights hiding the stars.” loc 476, ebook
There is certainly a feeling of danger throughout the story- both for the success of the Breedling’s quest but also for the souls of the mortals who travel with him:“If Charlie were to uncover his secret, it would lift the veil of ignorance that blinded him to the truth about the supernatural elements in Eden (Earth). And for enlightened mortals, it never ended well. Their souls earmarked in the afterlife by the Mistress of Heaven or the Master of Hell.” loc 1321, ebook. “The Mistress of Heaven” is a tantalizing name for a character but Bastian never really gives the backstory for her- I wish she had.
I also liked the personal responsibility theme that cropped up again and again in this story: “…a man who runs has no life at all. He merely survives on the fringes and finds only regret. You leave here, now, like this, I swear to you there will be nowhere far enough for you to run. You will become miserable and reckless and in the end you’ll die alone, a world away, wishing you could take this moment back.” loc 3069. I’m a big believer in taking responsibility for one’s life rather than blaming it on fate or destiny. It seems like Bastian is too.
Recommended for readers who can tolerate a lot of unknown elements in the story and for people who enjoy urban fantasy. I think that Bastian shows a lot of promise and this series is only going to improve as she reveals more of the complex world she has created. Other fantasy debut recommendations: The Interminables, Funeral Games, or Chasing Embers.
Thank you to NetGalley and Wise Ink Creative Publishing for a free digital copy of this book. And, thank you for reading!