Impossibly, Dazzlingly, Incisively Flawless: Transgressions of Power by Juliette Wade

Posted 11th December 2021 by Siavahda in Queer Lit, Reviews, Sci-Fi Reviews / 0 Comments

Transgressions of Power (The Broken Trust, #2) by Juliette Wade
Genres: Secondary World No Magic, Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Representation: Bi/pansexual MC, polyamory, secondary F/F/M, secondary F/F, secondary bi/pansexual character, secondary gay character with OCD, queernorm castes
ISBN: 0756415764
Goodreads
five-stars

The second book of The Broken Trust continues a deadly battle for succession, in this sociological sci-fi novel where brother is pitted against brother in a singular chance to win power.

To marry into the most powerful family in Varin is to step into a trap. Della has spent thirteen years under the scrutiny of Pelismara's political elites, supporting Tagaret in a dangerous pretense as his brother Nekantor's closest ally. In secret, however, they've planned to escape, and to break down the restrictions of Varin's caste society. When Nekantor offers to send them to Selimna, the city where their caste experiments can be carried out, how can they not accept the opportunity?

But ever since Nekantor seized power as the Eminence Herin's Heir, he's wanted to keep power in the family, and that means his eye is on the children--especially their thirteen-year-old brother Adon. In their absence, Nekantor begins to execute his own long-schemed plan, and soon Della realizes they've unwittingly become a part of it.

How far does Nekantor's influence spread? How much will he seek to control? And how can she save Adon from falling into his snare?

Highlights

~never underestimate the importance of paper
~weaponise your privilege
~DON’T SHOOT THE PRETTY FLOATY GLOWY THING
~Melín can step on me any time she likes
~you know what, just straight-up inject Wade’s writing directly into my veins

This review contains spoilers for book one of the series! To read my review of the first book, go here.

I’m not sure I even have the words to explain how much I love this book!

Although I admit: I was very surprised when I opened it up and discovered there was a time-skip of thirteen years between the epilogue of Mazes of Power and the start of Transgressions. But it’s almost instantly clear that the jump was necessary, and that we haven’t really missed much: Nekantor has been Heir now for almost fourteen years, baby Adon is now thirteen, and Tagaret is publicly Nekantor’s right-hand man – but privately, he and Della have been working hard to get the ball rolling on serious societal reform. With extremely limited success, unfortunately. And behind closed doors, the First Family as a whole have been suffering the sudden rages and violent outbursts of Nekantor, which have, to put it mildly, made life extremely stressful.

Our cast has expanded from book one: Della is a PoV character now, which made me so happy, and so is Adon. We’ve lost Aloran’s perspective, but gained Melín, our first Arissen PoV character, and Pyaras, a distant cousin of Tagaret and Nekantor who is often mocked and sneered at for his familiarity with Arissen. And of course, there are plenty more secondary characters it’s hard not to adore!

After Mazes, I was expecting a twisty intricate plot, and that’s exactly what Wade gives us – except this time, things are even more intricate and intertwined, in large part because in this book, we see a good bit more of Varin and learn much more about the various non-Grobal castes. If Mazes was focussed in on Pelismara, and specifically the Grobal there, then Transgressions is the zoom-out that lets us in on a much bigger picture – and then brings us in for beautifully intimate close-ups on all the amazing people who are not Grobal!

I cannot tell you how relieved I was to have confirmation that the other castes are not as messed-up as the Grobal. I also cannot express how FREAKING DELIGHTED I was to discover the enormous diversity in queerness, political decision-making, and family structures that Wade has created. The castes really are like entirely separate countries, with hugely different beliefs, customs, honour codes, and ideas about love, family, and sex – it’s kind of amazing to think that all these people live alongside each other, all of them effectively living in completely different worlds from people they pass on the street.

Let me put it this way: the worldbuilding in Mazes excited the hell out of me. The worldbuilding in Transgressions left me in awe.

Very, very happy awe! I actually don’t want to go into much detail, because I think a big part of the delight was the surprise of it all, and I don’t want to take that away from other readers! But, just – forget 10/10, this book’s worldbuilding is 100/10.

There are dozens of subplots weaving their way through the story, but the main strands follow Della and Tagaret in their desire to escape Pelismara (thus getting out from under Nekantor’s watchful eye) and push their social reforms into reality in another city; the attempted assassination of Adon, and both the fall-out of that and how it alters his relationship with the Imbati of Pelismara; and what happens when Pyaras and Melín cross paths under very unusual circumstances. There are so many layers and undercurrents to every aspect of this book, which I guess is only appropriate, because Transgressions really felt like we were finally getting to see all the layers and undercurrents that move underneath the Grobal caste – the Grobal are so insular and dismissive of everyone else, and that was a kind of blindness in Mazes, but Transgressions makes it clear just how much is going on where the Grobal can’t (or simply don’t bother to) see. The Grobal think they’re at the top of the pyramid – and I guess they are – but what’s the capstone of a pyramid without the rest of the pyramid holding it up?

NOT MUCH, GROBAL. NOT VERY MUCH AT ALL.

And at the same time, we see how the careless decisions of Grobal have ripple effects through the other castes. Melín in particular has to deal with the enraging whims of Grobal, which turn her life upside-down; whereas Pyaras starts to realise he can create positive ripple effects for the other castes – by working with them and listening instead of handing down commandments like a god. But it’s Della who goes a biiiig step further in getting to know an Akrabitti woman. The Akrabitti are the Undercaste, and honestly, the term ‘undercaste’ is such a big deal here, because every other caste gets a descriptor, a title: the Arissen are the Officer Caste, the Imbati are the Servant Caste, the Kartunnen are the Artisan Caste, and so on. The Akrabitti aren’t the anything-caste, good for nothing, born with no predisposed skills or codes or purpose (or so Varin society believes, anyway). So it is kind of an enormous deal that Della, a Grobal, seeks out and does her best to learn about (and from) the Akrabitti.

We already had an idea, from what we saw of her in Mazes, that Della is both strong-willed and smart, but she really gets a chance to shine in Transgressions. Although she and Tagaret are partners in their desires for social change, it’s really Della who gets out there and walks the walk. One of the things I most loved about her character arc in this book was her struggle to understand and accept how differently other castes live – she has the best of intentions, but she’s honestly shocked and confused by the way Akrabitti society is structured, for example. And that really hit home for me, because yes – it’s not enough to just have good intentions! And even if you have good intentions, that doesn’t make you magically able to understand and accept the ways people different from you live and think and act. Wanting to help, wanting to create positive changes, takes work; not just physically out in the world, but within yourself as well. Della made me think of rich, privileged white women who walk into immigrant communities or, hells, take themselves off to foreign countries in order to Better The Lives of The Less-Fortunate – except that Della shuts up and listens to the people she wants to help. She is confused by how the Akrabitti live, acknowledges to herself that she doesn’t get it at all – but she doesn’t judge, and does her best to accept that her way is not their way. The things that need changing are not their family structures or how they organise their politics – those things belong to the Akrabitti, they’re part of the Akrabitti culture. The things that need changing are how the Akrabitti are viewed and treated by other castes; the terrible conditions they’re forced to live and work in; and so on. Della isn’t there to turn the Akrabitti into Grobal; she’s there to find out what help they want and need, and to try and find a way to make that help happen.

It’s just like: YES, THANK YOU, THIS IS HOW IT’S SUPPOSED TO WORK.

I also really, really want to emphasise that Melín is utterly amazing and probably my new favourite character. I don’t feel like I can talk much about her story, because it would mean talking about so many spoilers, but just trust me on this: Melín. is. amazing.

That is all.

A big part of the character arcs for the Grobal characters in this story is discovering and understanding their privilege, and the ways in which they can use that privilege to help. Far more so than Mazes, this book is about the need for drastic change in Varin’s society – and about the people who try to make those changes; the people who are affected by those changes; and, of course, the people who either want to continue with the status quo, or manipulate it for selfish reasons. Transgressions is enormously about privilege, and freedoms, and rights, and all the ways in which those things interlock – for example, Della is a Grobal, wealthy beyond measure, with unthinking access to the best of everything her planet has to offer. And yet, she has less bodily freedoms than Melín, especially with regards things like sex and pregnancy; Grobal women don’t have much say at all in who they marry, and it is beyond nauseating to see how Della’s autonomy is forcefully negated when her pregnancy is discovered. The Imbati characters serve, almost to the point of being the possessions of the Grobal they serve – and yet they have access to the Mazes, a kind of behind-the-scenes network that runs throughout every part of every Varin city, and which it is completely unthinkable for a Grobal to enter. And so on. Everyone – except, perhaps, the Akrabitti – have unique constraints, but also unique privilege, and it’s the interlocking of all those different constraints and privileges that make up Varin society.

Which is not to say everything is fine and fair the way it is: it blatantly isn’t. Things need to change. It’s just really interesting to see how every caste – every character – has that two-faced coin of freedom and forbidden, and how inextricable the two are from each other. How each privilege shapes the constraint, and vice-versa.

And this is all without going into the POLITICS, because of course there are politics, and I think it’s fair to say that they’re even more complex this time around. The body-count ends up far higher than it was in Mazes, and this time we get to see the awful brilliance of it all from multiple levels. In Mazes, we really only saw how the politics affected the Grobal – which makes sense, because that was all about Selection, which is entirely a Grobal matter; whoever becomes Heir and Eminence will of course affect everyone, since everyone is affected by the laws and decisions the Heir and Eminence make, but the actual process of Selection is Grobal-only. It’s only Grobal who are at risk of assassination, during Selection.

In Transgressions? Not so much. The other castes aren’t safe as Nekantor spins his web, and it’s a disturbing, edge-of-your-seat race to figure out what he’s doing and whether it can be stopped. And this time, Nekantor’s web catches up – is even anchored by – too many people who aren’t Grobal; people who will gain nothing by being part of Nekantor’s game, and stand to lose absolutely everything.

Look, I massively enjoyed Mazes of Power, okay? But Transgressions? Is literally perfect. There is not one thing I’d change, not one word out of place, not one single detail that is not absolutely flawless. I kiss my fingers to this book. I swoon for this book. I want to write this book freaking love poetry.

TL;DR: perfect book is perfect, and I may waste away pining for the next in the series!

five-stars

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