Those who control the waters control all. They are the god-kings.
The Roots That Clutch by A.E. Bross is the beginning of a series centered around found family, the struggle for survival and independence, and what it ultimately means to love someone knowing that doing so can lead to loss and heartbreak.
In a world without rain, steady access to water is a privilege enjoyed by few. What little can be found in wells and trickling from dying springs is heavily sought after. To thirst is to know suffering in the shadow of the god-kings that control the water source, tyrants that dominate bustling city-states under false divinity.
Under it all is magic, the thauma. To be a wielder of the thauma, a thaumaturge, is to be hunted and enslaved by the god-kings.
In a disgraced city on the edge of civilization, we meet a young child, Tirzah, who in her desperation reveals her secret powers and begins a journey for freedom that may change the world of Theia forever.
This is the first book in the Sands of Theia series, and so much of the book is centered around the growth of Tirzah from a five-year-old ‘curse’ tortured by her older sister into a woman running from her past and the ones that would enslave her.
We’re introduced to several characters throughout that become her found family, happiness a fleeting thing that she clings to as harshly as it’s torn from her grasp. Her elder sister Naomi, the steadfast Bariah Iram, and others along the way. Throughout it all ties the question in the back of Tirzah’s mind—is she the curse that her sister Sathar claimed her to be, or is the world simply a cruel place where happiness is found in inches?
When we talk fantasy novels and series, the worldbuilding will often be modeled at least partially after the Tolkien genre of Medieval and mythologically influenced fiction. This model is a quick shorthand to get readers into the story more quickly by allowing them to focus on what is different from other fantasy books, rather than focusing too much on what is the same.
Bross took a different approach in The Roots that Clutch. The world is inspired by Arabic climate and culture, something that isn’t unheard of in fantasy but not as common. It was refreshing to get a different take, and the worldbuilding was so seamless it never once got in the way of the story—a sign of a steady hand backed by research.
There was also a lot of diversity, without any of it seeming forced or unnatural. Bariah Iram, one of Tirzah’s adopted family, is non-binary, or neutral as it’s called in Theia. There are same-sex relationships represented in the story. None of this is seen as odd or unusual, but as another natural aspect of the culture.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that about halfway through the story, I came upon a section that had a pretty significant emotional effect on me, to the point where I had to stop reading for a while to process. Without spoiling anything, suffice to say that the section was extremely well written, and the suffering Bross brought out on the page affected me so deeply that it brought up a lot of pain from my own life that I haven’t fully processed. This wasn’t a detriment of the book, rather a testament to how well Bross managed to evoke emotion through these characters that it brought me to tears.
Should You Read It?
As always, please see the triggers before you consider picking up this book. I would like to add that there are areas that can get pretty heavy so practice self-compassion and awareness if you’re reading this (or any book really) and need to step away for a while to process like I did. You can always come back when you’re in a better place.
That said, this book is a great beginning to what feels to be a pretty epic fantasy series in a world that is both unique and treacherous. There are no guarantees for safety in any corner, but even in a world where every shadow can mean danger, there’s time for happiness and joy. That’s what makes this book great. It doesn’t promise a happily ever after but it does promise there will be happiness along the way.
If you like fantasy with a twist; epic reads with treachery, assassins, magic, and fighting; tales of broken families filled with betrayal and revenge; or just want a book you can’t put down, I highly recommend The Roots that Clutch. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.
I rated The Roots that Clutch as spark level Torch. I’ll carry the lessons I’ve learned along with Tirzah with me throughout my day, remembering that found family is stronger than blood and that the happiness of now, together, is worth a million tomorrows.
Trigger Warnings: Contains depictions of abuse, violence, and death/dying.