[Book Review] The Never-Tilting World – Rin Chupeco // steampunk fantasy about climate change (!!!)

It really is no secret that Rin Chupeco is one of my favourite authors of all time. Her books at some core always feature an angry girl discontented with the status quo, and her efforts to bring about change.

The Never-Tilting World is almost exactly the same. Why do I say almost? Because this magnificent gem of a book, the first of a duology, features not just one angry girl, but two. Not to mention the people that love them, and all the trials and tribulations they’re willing to undergo for their sakes.

Read on to find out just what I loved about The Never-Tilting World, and why this steampunk fantasy about climate change should be your next read!

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Title: The Never-Tilting World

Author: Rin Chupeco

Age Range: New Adult

Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure, Science Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5

Summary:

Generations of twin goddesses have long ruled Aeon. But seventeen years ago, one sister’s betrayal defied an ancient prophecy and split their world in two. The planet ceased to spin, and a Great Abyss now divides two realms: one cloaked in perpetual night, the other scorched by an unrelenting sun.

While one sister rules Aranth—a frozen city surrounded by a storm-wracked sea —her twin inhabits the sand-locked Golden City. Each goddess has raised a daughter, and each keeps her own secrets about her sister’s betrayal.

But when shadowy forces begin to call their daughters, Odessa and Haidee, back to the site of the Breaking, the two young goddesses —along with a powerful healer from Aranth, and a mouthy desert scavenger —set out on separate journeys across treacherous wastelands, desperate to heal their broken world. No matter the sacrifice it demands.

Content warnings: Violence, physical abuse, emotional abuse, mentions of cannibalism, animal death/gore (a whale explodes in the first few chapters LITERALLY)

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Quotes ☕

“A demoness is what they call a goddess that men cannot control.”

“We’re chasing a dying sea under an endless sun that kills us with a thousand little cuts every day. There’ll be nothing left soon. Nothing but sand and bone.”

“When the dead find words, the goddess and the Devoted son will meet atop a fish not a fish, on a sea not a sea. It is she who travels to the endless Abyss, and it is he who guides her.”

“I had literally battered down seas, dispelled storms. Surely coming clean about my feelings was an easier task.”

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☕ Plot ☕

Listen. Frozen meets Mad Max is the weirdest, most compelling comp list and tagline ever. You can’t change my mind.

This book takes place on a world called Aeon which has stopped spinning. This catastrophe, called the Breaking, led to the rise of two cities living in polar opposites. The city of Aranth is a frozen wasteland, surrounded by icy oceans and beset my constant storms. The Golden City on the other hand lies in the middle of an arid desert, where nothing grows and water is the scarcest of resources. Each city is ruled by a goddess who claims it was the other responsible for the Breaking, along with their daughters Odessa and Haidee.

Odessa, from Aranth, is my lesbian daughter who I must protect at all costs called back to the site of the Breaking by a mysterious force that gives her incredible powers – but at the cost of a quality that makes her who she is: mercy, compassion, temperance, etc. She’s followed into the breach by her faithful bodyguard, a powerful healer named Tianlan who suffers from PTSD, thanks to a previous mission to the Breach where the only survivor was her. It certainly doesn’t help that Tianlan and Odessa were once involved, and those feelings still exist.

Meanwhile, Haidee, from the Golden City, is determined to find a way to bring peace. The Golden City is forever at war with the nomads that roam the desert, and she knows she can end it all if she can just find a way to heal the Breach and return water and life to the desert. She enlists help from one such desert nomad, a young man named Arjun, who himself has connections to the goddesses and the Breach through his dead mother, who once served Odessa’s mother.

Told through four interchanging points of view, The Never-Tilting World is essentially a story about young people trying to change a world that their elders wrecked. It’s all about these four young folks – Tianlan (Lan), Odessa, Arjun, and Haidee – discovering what exactly was it that their predecessors did to turn the world the way it is now, and find a way to make it better. And in the end, isn’t that what we’re all trying to do now? Our generations, the generations of millennials and Gen Zs, are figuring out just how badly our predecessors have fucked up the environment and the economy, and are struggling not just to survive and thrive in these surroundings, but also make it better for ourselves and the generations to come.

Interspersed throughout this overarching narrative are romance subplots that are intensely well-done and make me feel things. Usually, when two pairings are present in a sci-fi or fantasy novel, I end up preferring one over the other. Initially, I thought I was going to prefer Lan and Odessa over Arjun and Haidee (mostly because I am a massive sucker for bodyguard romance!), but in the end, Arjun and Haidee wormed their way to the top right next to Lan and Odessa.

I know many people don’t like romance and SFF world-building being given equal importance, but even if you don’t, I urge you to give this book a try anyway. The romance is written excellently, but it doesn’t push world-building and/or character-building out of the way for this to happen. In fact, I fervently think that the romantic tension between Lan and Odessa, and the ensuing relationship between Arjun and Haidee, contribute a whole level of complexity to the story. The added layer of their feelings for each other provides the reader a whole new lens through which to view the story.

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☕ Characters

To make things a little easier for y’all (and since this is a multi-POV book), here’s a quick guide to the characters featured in The Never-Tilting World:

Tianlan – Known as Lan, this powerful healer and soldier is taken from the front and assigned as bodyguard to Odessa, the daughter of the goddess who rules the city of Aranth. Lan is the only survivor of a regiment of Rangers tasked to explore the area around the site of the Breaking, and thus suffers from PTSD. She feels responsible for others to the point of lacking a sense of self-preservation, and is unwaveringly loyal to Odessa.

Odessa – Odessa is a sheltered, pampered princess who begins receiving visions from monsters called galla. In these visions, she receives extraordinary power from them, but in exchange for a sacrifice. She decides that these powers are worth receiving, and that it means she has to be the one to heal the Breaking. She disobeys her mother’s orders to stay in Aranth and goes on a journey to the site of the Breaking, but begins to lose herself in the process.

Arjun – An orphan who was rescued by a desert tribe after an accident ends up with him losing his hand. He has nothing but animosity for Haidee and her mother, who he believes were responsible for the Breaking. But the discovery that his mother, who perished in the Breaking, once served the goddesses, leads him to realize that he’s destined to help Haidee reach the site of the Breaking. Gruff, practical, and no-nonsense, he’s a perfect foil for Haidee’s earnestness and determination.

Haidee – Haidee is the daughter of the goddess that rules the Golden City, and was born into a life of privilege. However, she uses her privilege as much as she can to help her mother’s subjects. She’s smart and has access to wealth and technology, and spends most of her time studying to be a mechanic and coming up with gadgets and gizmos to help people. It’s no hardship for her to take on her destiny of helping to heal the Breaking by journeying to its site, and her good heart and eagerness to help do much to dispel the rumors surrounding her because of her mother’s cruelty and aloofness.

I will say that the reason why I brought the rating down to 4.5 instead of a full 5 (although I did rate it the full 5 on Goodreads) was because I didn’t manage to connect to any of the characters as much as I connected with Tea from The Bone Witch trilogy (read my reviews here, here, and here!). However, each character was still a delight to read about and had their own personality and growth arc that was distinct from the others.

I’ve always said that it takes a talented writer to manage multiple POVs and not lose any one of them in the din (although admittedly readers can and will develop favourites). Rin Chupeco definitely has that talent. Although I did find myself eager for Haidee’s chapters, I was just fine reading Lan’s, Odessa’s, and Arjun’s as well.

Speaking of character arcs, one of my most favorite in this book was Lan’s. As I mentioned, Lan suffers from PTSD. Not only is it magicked away through the power of love or positive thinking, but characters in the book actively propose and urge Lan to go to therapy to address it. And then Lan does! What other fantasy novel featuring a character with PTSD has done that? Your fave could never!

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☕ Writing ☕

Rin Chupeco’s world-building is not for everyone. If you don’t like having to stop and think about complex magic systems or if you don’t appreciate a steep learning curve, then definitely turn to something else. However, if these are things that sound right up your alley, then The Never-Tilting World is a book that’s sure to challenge and delight you.

I already knew Rin was a master of world-building from The Bone Witch trilogy and its wildly complicated rune-based magic system, but she really hits the nail on the head with this one. The Never-Tilting World features an elemental magic system which makes use of ‘gates’, which is how people can manipulate ice, water, fire, earth, air, light, etc. If a person has ‘open air gates’, then they can manipulate air. It’s similar to the concept of open chakras as used in Avatar: The Last Airbender, and it’s a highly Asian approach to elemental magic that I haven’t really seen before – which, naturally, I appreciated very much.

This book also features some of the most magnificent scenery that you could imagine in a book: frozen landscapes, airships sailing through roaring winds, deserts with glittering sand, domed cities. You could literally feel the Frozen/Mad Max energy just through the writing. It’s a rare writer that can make your mind go on overdrive imagining the scenery, and Rin Chupeco is an utter master at it.

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☕ Overall 

If you’re into fantasy where the real evil is climate change and climate change deniers, plucky young people setting out to reverse the wrongs their parents did, bodyguard romance, and “I thought you were annoying at first but that evolved into me thinking you’re adorable” romance, then I cannot recomend this book enough. Not only does it carry some great themes and an amazing magic system, the representation is pretty top-notch, with a disabled character, a character with PTSD who goes to therapy, and one of the sweetest f/f romances I’ve ever read. Rin Chupeco’s done it again, y’all!

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Let’s hear from you!

☕ Have you read this book? What did you think?
☕ Which character would you relate to the most?
☕  Do you enjoy books with multiple POVs?

Sound off in the comments! And don’t forget, if you like my content, consider buying me a coffee or donating to my PayPal!

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12 thoughts on “[Book Review] The Never-Tilting World – Rin Chupeco // steampunk fantasy about climate change (!!!)

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