The Reach Between Worlds by C.M. Hayden

The Reach Between Worlds by C.M. Hayden is a 400-page ebook (and an audiobook that is 9 hours, 14 minutes long). I originally bought the ebook because I’d heard it described in terms similar to The Name of the Wind (NotW) by Patrick Rothfuss, which is a beautifully crafted fantasy novel. After taking a long break from reading at about 25%, Hayden  provided me with the audiobook version, which is what I’m going to review.

The worldbuilding of The Reach Between Worlds is, at first, alarmingly similar to NotW–similar monetary system, similar magic school including an Artificium, and similar age range of students. That’s what tripped me up when I read the ebook. Listening to the audio version (narrated by John Pirhalla) is when the characters grabbed my interest, partially because Pirhalla has such fantastic character voices–especially for the females! I could also start to see the workings of a very different world than NotW, with old gods, class tensions, void magic, and the mysterious(ly broken) Arclight that bolsters crops and growth and keeps away disease.

Though there are structural similarities to NotW, I was happy to find contrast in the characters and the style of narration. While the protagonist of the story is Taro, a young man, his friends and classmates Kyra and Suri had the most refreshing stories. Secondary (*female*!) characters who have strong personalities and lives outside of the main character’s narrative are the most interesting. (Kyra’s story is especially intriguing, for reasons I won’t spoil, though she is the main POV of the novella Why Dragons Hide.)

I believe the book says Taro is 16, though his innocence made him seem more like a 14-year-old. Taro is essentially a rogue with a heart of gold–he can barely stand to steal from others, even though he’s incredibly poor. His parents were struck by a mysterious disease, making them unfit for work and parenting in general. This helped shine a light on Taro and his sister Nima’s strong sibling bond—not only are they together in taking care of their younger siblings, they are also complicit in doing some shady work to earn money, including lying their way into the Magisterium. I personally loved the fact that the kids didn’t spend any time studying or training—they just cheated their way into a prestigious school and started winging it through classes. That was a fun and unexpected dynamic.

Although these protagonists, along with a few additional male characters, make up the main cast, my favorite character is Vexis. She’s really complex in that you root for or against her depending on the situation. She’s a fantastically ambiguous characters with hidden motivations. I’m really hoping to see more of her story (and her family’s story) in the sequel.

I’m not going to give away too much about the plot, because I don’t want to spoil all the fun. However, I will say that the Magisterium students’ trial to “rank up” in the school, so to speak, was a great adventure. It felt almost like the kids were exploring a puzzle room, and I hope Hayden builds on that sort of exploration of the world in the future novels.

Overall, this is a solid debut novel from Hayden, and anyone who likes their fantasy with magical schools, rogues, and massively evil plots will enjoy The Reach Between Worlds. I plan on continuing the series, in fact, I’m already reading the novella, Why Dragons Hide, which is written as letters from Kyra to her uncle.

TITLE: The Reach Between Worlds
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AUTHOR: C.M. Hayden
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PAGES: 400
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ALSO WROTE: The Stars That Form Us (Arclight Saga #2), Why Dragons Hide (Arclight Saga #0)
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FIRST LINE: The doctor tapped his fingers on the table separating him and his patient.

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