Paragonical: Dark Breakers by C.S.E. Cooney

Posted 11th February 2022 by Sia in Crescent Classics, Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 0 Comments

Dark Breakers by C.S.E. Cooney, Sharon Shinn, Brett Massé
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Sapphic MC, pansexual MC, major nonbinary character, significant trans character, F/F/NB polyamory, bi/pansexual secondary character
Published on: 15th February 2022
ISBN: 1732644063


A young human painter and an ageless gentry queen fall in love over spilled wine—at the risk of his life and her immortality. Pulled into the Veil Between Worlds, two feuding neighbors (and a living statue) get swept up in a brutal war of succession. An investigative reporter infiltrates the Seafall City Laundries to write the exposé of a lifetime, and uncovers secrets she never believed possible. Returning to an oak grove to scatter her husband’s ashes, an elderly widow meets an otherworldly friend, who offers her a momentous choice. Two gentry queens of the Valwode plot to hijack a human rocketship and steal the moon out of the sky.

DARK BREAKERS gathers three new and two previously uncollected tales from World Fantasy Award-winning writer C. S. E. Cooney that expand on the thrice-enfolded worlds first introduced in her Locus and World Fantasy award-nominated novella DESDEMONA AND THE DEEP. In her introduction to DARK BREAKERS, Crawford Award-winning author Sharon Shinn advises those who pick up this book to “settle in for a fantastical read” full of “vivid world-building, with layer upon layer of detail; prose so dense and gorgeous you can scoop up the words like handfuls of jewels; a mischievous sense of humor; and a warm and hopeful heart.”

I received this book for free from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


~prose like fairy fruit
~human art = Faerie warcraft
~even queens know a gift of a book = Best Friends Forever
~joyful decadence
~who wants roses when you can give your wife the MOON
~sometimes you have to save the git who keeps stealing all the toilet-paper
~there were no words !!! enough to describe this book SO I INVENTED MY OWN enjoy

This is a book for the dreamers. For the ones who never stopped peeking at the back of wardrobes, just in case; the ones who could never quite bring themselves to stop watching for a door where a door shouldn’t be. This is a book for everyone who ever ran a finger over the illustrations in their favourite storybook and ached; for everyone who stopped talking about magic because Grown Ups Don’t, but who never stopped wishing, never stopped wanting, never stopped hoping.

This book is jewel-tones and gilt and bells of bone. This book is secrets and yearning, terror and triumph, wonder and wildness. This book is a whisper and a song and a howl.

(Do you know why wolves howl? It’s to let other wolves know where they are.

Here we are. The dreamers, the wishers, the would-be world-walkers: here we are.)


When you sit down to write about the work of the one and only C.S.E. Cooney, you find all the words you know running through your fingers like sand, turned to dust from trying to touch perfection. You need to go on quests to find worthy words; east of sun and west of moon, to the waters of life at the end of the world. Maybe drinking from that well will give you the divine inspiration you need, give you a chance of describing the sheer gorgeous glory of the book you just read.

Maybe. If you’re lucky.

Nyx was probably old enough to survive it. To sip of a mortal’s fumbling grasp at immortality–their words, their images, their art–and not die of it.

More likely, you’ll find yourself in the same predicament as all those who return from Faerie; unable to make yourself understood to those who’ve never been. Because reading Dark Breakers is just like that, just like being whisked off your feet into another realm entire: you fall into Cooney’s world and are swept away by it, consumed by it, forever changed. It’s not a crucible but it is a prism, not distilling you down but magnifying you into the more-ness of a firework, making you grow and glitter and gleam, turning you into a thousand shades of rainbow colour. Dark Breakers is beautiful beyond the power of words to describe, but even more incredible is what it does to you. Lighting you up inside, snatching your breath away, holding you hypnotised because it’s a reminder, a promise, a proof you can hold in your hands that the world is so, so far from grey. That it’s worth getting up in the mornings, darlings; it’s worth it to keep carrying on, because we have art and magic and wonder and books like this!

It might take her a thousand years, Nyx thought, just to make it past the first page. But if she did–once she did–and if she survived the rest, then reading such a book–finishing it–would confer upon her powers beyond even her belief. She would be able to hold millions of bellicose gentry spellbound with a single quotation, end a war with a whispered fragment chosen for its meticulous craftsmanship, its hope, its ambition, even a kind of ecstasy…

Who can put that into words, describe it in any meaningful way? Not me. If you want to know Faerie – Dark Breakers – you have to experience it for yourself.

So I can tell you that Dark Breakers is set in the same universe as Desdemona and the Deep, that you don’t need one to enjoy the other but that the two of them click softly and perfectly into place when you bring them together, whole and complete. I can tell you that Dark Breakers is made up of three novellas and two short stories, that there are painters and sculptors and writers entwined with Fae Queens and living statues and changeling children. I can tell you that this book is about art and truth and stories and the power of all three; it’s about a half-dozen different kinds of love; it’s about the fate of worlds, and what happens when those worlds come together.

But what does that tell you, really? Do you really understand it all yet?

If her enemies opened up her chest, they might find a ruby-throated hummingbird at the center, or a whirlpool inhabited by leviathans, or the moon in all its phases, or all of this, all at once.

What if I told you that when you close your eyes and reach for what Fantasy is – not a picture, not an aesthetic, not even a genre, but pure, genuine magic – that’s Dark Breakers. This book embodies magic in ways I simply don’t have the skill to express. The ineffable, unnameable thing that drew you to myths and legends and fairytales, to the SFF section of the bookshop or library, that filled your dreams and made your imagination shine and your heart ache with equal parts yearning and wonder – that thing – Cooney has gathered it up and spun it into words on a page like spinning silk out of starlight.

Midnight, and the thirteenth bell sounded. When he looked around the Great Hall again, the walls were running like limestone ice cream cones, and the company had swelled to three times its former size. But these guests, Gideon knew, were different. Those birds’ heads perched atop their petal-clad bodies were not masks, the petals neither satin nor silk nor tulle. Rainbow-spangled wings, gem-encrusted tails, silver hooves, plush paws, scales of bronze and gold: these monstrous beauties were undeniably gentry, come to join the costumed mortals dancing at Desdemona Mannering’s invitation.

And what words! What incredible, luxurious, decadent words! Cooney’s prose is fairy food; one bite, one taste, and it has you forever. Not a page goes by without a turn of phrase or a perfectly-expressed thought that pyrographs itself onto your bones; paragraphs become fixed constellations of your mindscape; concepts and emotions you’ve never had the words for scribe across your skin in woad. Dark Breakers isn’t a book to quote, it’s a book to declaim, to blazon, to memorise entire so that you can whisper it to sunsets and shriek it at the stars. This is a book you swing around your shoulders like a cloak and wrap around yourself at night, that you print on your heart, that you tattoo on your tongue so you can always taste it.

Not for the gentry to pursue, but to lure. To entice. To seduce a bright-burning mortal thing deep into the Valwode’s dream. Theirs, to wear a cunning shape. Theirs, to become the bait, the prize worth hunting: a song from the waves, a flash in the fog, the golden hind or silver hare, the jet-black mare with maiden’s face, her hooves and mane and tail of milky jade. Impossible for a human, whether hunter or no, to witness such wonders and not follow. This, the glamour of the gentry. This, how they caught their prey.

Have I made it sound pretentious and over-complicated? Because it isn’t. Cooney’s writing is joyful, revelling in its own beauty; playful and elegant, powerful and delicate, dancing and inviting you in to dance too. It gleams. It sings.

It’s incandescent.


There’s a house that is three houses; there are three houses that are all in the same place in three very different worlds. At midnight, when the bone bells ring, the walls between worlds thin enough that you can walk right through the walls of one house and into one of the others.

Athe is like the world you and I know, minus a century or so. The Valwode is not like our world at all. It is terribly beautiful and beautifully terrible, and so are the beings that live there, and most of all their queen, Nyx, who dreams them all into existence. Who comes through the walls of the house, just for a night, and meets a painter, and a writer, and goes to war clad in phoenix-armour.

In Athe there is a sculptor who can’t stop sculpting but can – must – smash his creations to bits when he’s finished them. Until a writer (the writer) saves one, and runs through the walls of the house to oversee a coronation, and save a friend – even if that friend keeps stealing all the toilet paper.

The Laundries are in Athe too, and you could call them a kind of asylum, if you like – if an asylum’s patients were all bespelled and bewitched and/or bearing children that aren’t wholly human. Except clearly that’s nonsense, and too many people who’ve gone in have never come out, so of course an investigative journalist must sneak in undercover, and find out what’s really going on, with the pins and the blood and far too many laundry machines.

There’s one story about grief and love and healing after the walls have all come down in a gilded un-apocalypse, with an ending that isn’t.

There’s another story about a queen who decides ‘I’ll give you the moon’ as a declaration of adoration is meant literally, and won’t take no for an answer. There are spider legs and lectures on astrophysics and many, many giggles.

Susurra had been to that station only once, for nefarious purposes that she will not admit to even in the third person.

Yes, I said giggles. Did you think Dark Breakers is lofty and full of itself? I said it isn’t pretentious! It’s as much about being human as it is about otherworldly beings and magic – maybe quite a bit moreso, actually. There are balls and snide remarks and typewriters and literary agents! Terrible dinner parties and #Rude and flounces of many kinds! There are picture-books and cherished pens and delightfully delirious coats! Pining and snark and elegant insults – even a maid’s uniform!

He had done her an extraordinary service–stained his perfect sleeve for her sake!–and while she wore her mortal guise besides.

He deserved citadels!

Just. This book, folx. This book. This AUTHOR. I have never been immersed in so much C.S.E. Cooney before, and I am drunk on it like goblin peaches. There aren’t words enough in the world to do her writing, her myth-making, justice, and I know because I looked; I scoured all my dictionaries and thesauruses, I travelled west of sun and east of moon, but I couldn’t find any descriptor that conveyed everything I needed it to. In the end I had to invent a new word to be able to talk about the sheer wondrous word-magic going on in all these pages – that’s the level of !!! I’m trying to get across to you here, people!

Because yes, I can call it perfectly pulchritudinous, obviously opulent, most sincerely splendiferous! And I would be neither incorrect nor exaggerating if I did!

But none of that quite covers it.

So here it is: C.S.E. Cooney’s prose is paragonical, and so is every other aspect of her writing, and that has never been clearer than it is in Dark Breakers.

And I guess, after all that…that’s all that needs to be said.

Dark Breakers cascades into the world on Feb 15th, and I really must insist you preorder it immediately! (Especially since the publisher is having a massive pre-release sale for it!!!)

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