Riana is twenty-two, raising her disabled sister, Jannie, and a Reader. She lives in a world where the Union is the government and when it is rare to have the ability to read. Since Riana was taught at her grandfather's knee, not only to read but also in the old language, she has value. She works in the Reader's office, reading old papers, looking for anomalies.
The Front would rather be Free and not take orders from the Union. They are led by the Librarian, a man who sends his orders and other important information, through old letters, cards and whatnot. He's watched Riana closely for three years now, but doesn't want her involved with the Front. However, that decision is about to be irrevocably changed.
Mikel is a Breather. He has the capability of sensing emotions and taking memories through touch. The person he is touching must be a willing partner for it to work, or they could go insane. He's the best of the best and he's been hired by the Union to locate Riana, make her trust him and get the information his boss desires.
When Riana's sister is kidnapped, things begin to heat up. Her inquiries though soon put her own life at risk, as well as others trying to help her. Mikel can help her, if she can learn to trust him. Also, the Librarian's main priority is the Front, but he can't help but want to protect Riana too. But he and Mikel struggle for control whenever she is around. Between the Front, the Union, the two men in her life, and a new sense of purpose, Riana isn't sure what to do. She just knows she will do anything to get her sister back.
Word and Breath is a fantastic dystopian fantasy that captured me from page one. The world-building is unique and complex. The characters are well-developed and heavily layered. While some characters I liked and disliked, my opinion changed of others as their character developed in the story. I am definitely looking forward to another installment in this ingenious and beguiling dystopian fantasy!