Cover image for The Awakening
book review,  Books

The Awakening by Nora Roberts – A Book Review

I have my list of tried and true authors whose books I always look for because they never disappoint. I know they will let me escape from the world for a while, and their writing style is so familiar, it’s almost a comfort. Nora Roberts (including her writing as J.D. Robb) is one such author, and her upcoming release The Awakening did not disappoint. The most disappointing thing about any series she writes is that I know I’ll have to wait for the next book to be released. Read on to see what tickled me with this book.

I received an advanced copy of the book from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley; all opinions are my own. This post contains some affiliate links that may earn me a commission if you purchase through them.

Synopsis and Details

The Awakening by Nora Roberts – A Book ReviewThe Awakening by Nora Roberts
Published by St. Martin's Press on November 24, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Women, Fantasy & Magic, Romance
Pages: 448
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Mists, shimmering silver fingers, rose over the pale green water of the lake. They twined and twisted toward a sky quietly gray, while in the east, over the hills, a pink blush waited, like a held breath, to waken.

Breen Kelly had always been a rule follower. So, when her father left when she was twelve years old, promising to return, she waited. Now, more than a decade later, she's working at a job she hates and is tired of the life that playing by the rules has dealt her. It's time to make a change.

Breen makes a leap into the unknown with a summer trip to Ireland - her father's homeland. Little does she know how much of a leap until a walk in the woods leads her through a portal into another world - Talamh - where Breen will find magic, family and a destiny she could never have dreamed of

From Sunday Times bestseller Nora Roberts - a tale of adventure, magic and finding your home


My Thoughts on The Awakening

I’ve been a fan of Nora Roberts for, well, forever, and my favorite of her trilogies are the ones set in Ireland.

If you’re a fan, you know she has a certain formula, generally speaking. It usually starts with a strong female protagonist with two equally strong female sidekicks (or a trio of strong female protagonists). One is usually tough, one is creative, and one is likely an amazing cook. There’s some powerful magick, and a bad guy they have to defeat. In each book of the trilogy, each woman ends up with her soulmate, but the bad guy isn’t defeated until the final book.

The Awakening doesn’t quite follow her usual format.

The Characters

Breen, our protagonist, is not powerful. She’s working in a job she hates and struggling to get by. She’s unhappy, lacks confidence, and does what she can to blend in. Her clothes are drab, and she tones down her red hair to a mousey brown, and she’s anxious. And this is all because her mother is a gaslighter and terribly critical of our poor Breen.

Her best friend Mario is her roommate and like a brother. He’s colorful, outgoing, supportive, and hallelujah, gay! Finally, Nora brings a fully gay character to one of her romances, and he’s a POC as well! Actually, there are three gay characters in the story. However, she takes the easy way out by putting Mario to work in a drag bar. Despite the stereotype, I do love Sally (Salvador), Mario’s boss, who has been like a mother to Breen and Mario. (Dare I mention that Mario is an amazing cook?)

Three strong female characters introduced, but one is already married, leaving me guessing which way she’ll take this. Early on, I did hope against hope that Mario would be one of the three and HE might meet his hero (or even be a hero) in a later book. Could it be? This book also doesn’t reflect the same romantic development normally seen with the female protagonist – and I like it.

The Story

Breen’s story starts in Philadelphia. However, the meat of the story plays out in Ireland and Talamh, the mystical, magickal world where her father was from. This world has all the elements needed for a fantasy – elves, pixies, witches, weres, trolls, flying dragons, and more.

What I love about THIS story is that Breen did not grow up in this world so her response feels relatable. We get to see her work through the full range of disbelief, acceptance, and learning to use her magic. Through all of it, her character feels real. She’s not perfect; in fact, she’s terrible at fighting. She still struggles with self-confidence, and she’s not sure if she’s the one for the task.

Roberts’ voice in whatever she writes is very strong and very much her own. Her writing is very visual and immersive, and she just tells a good story. You want to settle into the worlds she creates, real or imagined, in part because of the goodness of her characters who always believe in good over evil.

One criticism I’ve heard of her trilogies IS their predictability. I’ve always been okay with that because I’m really there for the story she’s about to tell. Nora Roberts is a great storyteller, and there’s a degree of comfort sitting down with one of her books that’s akin to waking up on Christmas morning. I can usually guess which heroine will end up with which hero. However, in The Awakening, I’m stumped.

Book One of The Awakening feels like an extended prologue, because it really lays the groundwork for Breen in both worlds, and we get to see her grow into herself through the course of the book. As in the title, her abilities are finally awakening. But she’s not fully there, she doesn’t really have the guy, and the battle hasn’t started. Still, I love the progression as Breen slowly shakes off the criticism and implications of being “not enough” or “just enough” and coming more into her own, and owning courage.

Seriously, girl, do you have ANY criticism?

Really, the only criticism I have may be grounded in jealousy: Breen’s first few blog posts garner over 400 views a day. Does that happen anymore for a random blog? (Or for a 12-year-old, semi-established blog?) Add in some head-shaking for anything relating to book writing, to be honest. Reminder to self: this is fiction.

Summing It Up

It has all the great aspects of her earlier fantasy trilogies. This includes great characters, snappy dialogue, descriptive imagery, well-developed settings, mythologies, and magick. But in addition, I feel like she is digging a little deeper into Breen’s development of her magicks. Her bad guy IS bad and darker than I feel like we usually see from her.

The Awakening ends on a cliffhanger, and that has me excited to see where she will take these characters. A big, fun four stars on this book for twisting her usual formula (not that I don’t love them too) into something fresh.

Want More Recommendations Like This?

If you like stories set in Ireland, stories that involve magic, Jodi McIssac is another author you should check out. I loved her series The Thin Veil as well as her series The Revolutionary, which starts with Bury the Living. Check out my review to learn more!

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