Book Review: The Bright and Breaking Sea by Chloe Neill

Title: The Bright and Breaking Sea

Author: Chloe Neill

Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group

Publication date: November 17, 2020

Genre: Fantasy

One Sentence Summary: The overthrown King of Gallia is seeking to return to power and manipulating magic to do so, so it’s up to Captain Kit Brightling of the Queen’s Own and Colonel Rian Grant to stop him.

I never thought a fantasy focused on the seas could be as interesting as riding a horse across a continent until I read RJ Barker’s The Bone Ships last year. Since then, I haven’t seen too many, so I was quick to request it when I saw it on Netgalley. As someone who easily gets seasick, this is really the only way I can enjoy a sea adventure, so I was so excited to be approved. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but I thought it was a pleasant surprise.

A Fun Fantasy Full of Adventure

The Bright and Breaking Sea is a fantastical retelling of Napoleon’s escape from Elba. It pits England against France, with a Guild thrown in for good measure.

Captain Kit Brightling, a young woman in the Queen’s Own who is also Aligned to the sea, is more than a mere courier, but her role is closely guarded by the Crown. Because of her unique abilities and the true nature of her job for the Queen, she’s perfectly suited for extracting a captured spy, but she must do so alongside a member of the Beau Monde. Colonel Rian Grant was present when the King of Gallia was defeated, and it wasn’t a pretty battle. But he’ll do anything for the man who literally saved his life, even if it means sailing with a woman he doesn’t think much of right into pirate territory. It’s just the start of their partnership, and the Queen’s never ending missions to protect the world from the King of Gallia’s return.

A fluffy fantasy. A delightful fluffy fantasy. I expected The Bright and Breaking Sea to be more along the lines of the complex and complicated fantasies I’ve been reading lately with overladen story lines and almost too much going on, while also full of crusty old sailors. Instead, this novel presented a fairly straightforward and more simplistic story with some slight complexities thrown in for good measure. It turned out to be a lovely break, but by no means didn’t deliver on the story. It was fun and chock full of adventure. There was a good dose of intrigue and a streak of romance. It was a wonderful story of two very different people learning to work together and truly become partners.

The most fascinating thing was that this book reminded me of the sea adventure I enjoyed in RJ Barker’s The Bone Ships and also made me think of Jane Austen’s novels. Since I adore both, I found that this story completely worked for me. There was so much adventure, one thing after another, that I did sometimes wonder where it was going and how it was tied together, but the partnership between Kit and Grant was fascinating and I loved how it oscillated between the adventure and the elements more likely to be found in a Regency novel.

Perfectly Tailored to the Story

The Bright and Breaking Sea follows the adventures of Kit Brightling and Rian Grant. Initially unwelcoming to each other, they each brought something to every one of their adventures, and made the novel that much more fun.

I really liked Kit. She’s a tomboy with an appreciation for the finer things in life, who enjoys a good trashy novel while not hesitating to throw a knife at an enemy. I wanted her to be a fierce sea captain, someone with a sharp temper who strode around the deck barking orders, but she surprised me by being remarkably practical and feminine with a fierce loyalty to the sea, the crown, and her crew. I adored her and just how smart she was and how well it worked for the story being told.

Rian Grant felt like a storm cloud held at bay next to her. He’s appropriately dark and brooding, bristling under the idea of sharing command with a mere female courier. But he’s a good man with an unshakable loyalty to those he owes it to, which drives him in everything he does. While I wish he and Kit had been at each other’s throats a little more and a little longer, watching them try so hard to deal coldly with each other and asserting control over the situation, I did like that both of them are a bit softer around the edges, that they proved to be an insanely perfect pair.

On Sea and On Land

As an historical fantasy, The Bright and Breaking Sea is set during the time of Napoleon, a fictional one, mostly on the seas between Britain and France. Though, of course, they’re fictional versions of Britain and France. As a big fan of novels like War and Peace, Les Miserables, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Jane Austen’s novels, it felt both comforting and different. I loved how it was so familiar, but also had touches unique to fantasy and to the novel.

Like the pirates. I’ve read mentions of pirates during that time period, but the pirates in The Bright and Breaking Sea were so much more interesting, and I loved getting a look into their stronghold. Then there was the home for foundling girls that sounded like a lovely and fun place to grow up in. Run by a forward thinking woman with strong ties to the Crown, she let the girls she raised find their own feet and their own interests, making for a lively home.

And then there’s the sea and Kit’s ship. As some who easily gets seasick, this is the best way for me to enjoy a seafaring adventure. I have no real, clear idea of what ships actually look like, but I enjoyed imagining being on the deck and seeing only sea for miles and miles. I wish there had been more sea in this book, but it ended up being a lovely split between land and sea.

The whole world felt like it sprung from reality and then was given a twist of magic. It was familiar, so the author didn’t have to go into large digressions to world build. But it was also different with it’s own flavor in such a way that I can’t wait to return and get to know it better.

Surprisingly Fun

Initially, I was disappointed The Bright and Breaking Sea wasn’t more along the lines of the fantasy I’ve read all year. As I kept reading, though, I couldn’t help feeling delighted. It was very different from what I expected, but in a good way. It managed to blend two things I love to present an extraordinarily fun fantasy that somehow absolutely worked. It turned out to be an easy read, though I did wonder at first where the story was going. But the groundwork has been laid and now I find myself eager to find out what happens next.

Great if you’re looking for: lighter fantasy, historical fantasy, light romance, adventures on the sea, Napoleonic-era novels, Regency-style novels

Not great if you’re looking for: traditional fantasy, high fantasy, complex stories, lots of magic

How many cups of tea will you need?

5 cups of tea

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Thank you to Netgalley and Berkley Publishing Group for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

Head over to the Bookshelf to check out my reviews of books from the Big 5 and self-published, indie, and small press books.

  1. mphtheatregirl

    Well, I love fantasy. My fantasy tastes really do vary- from Harry Potter to Narnia to Shades of Magic to Uprooted to Spinning Silver to Land of Stories to Avalon to Sister’s Grimm- that is a combo of various types of fantasy

    Actually Shades of Magic has lots of magic. However- there are times out on the sea- in the 2nd and 3rd book. So, I saw adventures on sea happen to some of my favorite characters- did love those moments.

    • kat

      It’s amazing how many different things fantasy lets us experience. I love that it’s such a varied genre and has so much to offer. Sea adventures are not something I’ve read a lot of before, mostly small scenes in larger stories, so the ones I’ve been loving lately have been wonderful in how sea-focused they are.

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