Caleb Carr’s new doorstop of a novel has grand ambitions. It fails to accomplish any of them, but in the interest of due diligence, I’ve conducted rigorous tests to confirm that it can indeed stop doors. The sad thing is that The Legend of Broken has an intriguing conceit. While researching the personal papers of famed historian Edward Gibbon, Carr purportedly ”discovers” a manuscript describing the last days of Broken, a mythic kingdom in Dark Ages Germany. Broken is this manuscript, followed by endless endnotes by Gibbon and Carr. The literary gamesmanship feels, at first, like a savvy attempt to craft a backdoor fantasy novel. That must be why the characters come straight from fantasy-lit central casting: melancholic warriors, tiny forest people, cave-dwelling mystics, the occasional enchanted animal.
The story begins promisingly enough when some hunters make a terrifying discovery in the forest below the mountaintop city of Broken, where corrupt lords are plotting schemes of conquest. After that setup, everything…stops. Or rather, it fails to get moving. Characters explain things; the narrator explains things; the endnotes explain things — but action is nonexistent. Worse, the characters all declaim in the same faux-classical dialect, resulting in gems of bad dialogue on almost every page: ”Ever the pedant, even without your legs, eh, Caliphestros?”
In the acknowledgments, Carr says he worked on Broken for 30 years. Perhaps, having toiled on the book for so long, he couldn’t stand to cut anything, which explains the 80 pages of endnotes. (Imagine if Tolkien kept reminding you about the Finnish roots of an Elvish language in The Lord of the Rings.) Whatever Carr intended, the result of his labor is the most depressing piece of furniture you’ll ever try to read. D+