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Wednesday, January 5, 2022

SPFBO Finalist review: Legacy of the Brightwash by Krystle Matar


Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

AUTHOR INFO: Krystle Matar has been writing for a long time, but things got serious when Tashué Blackwood walked into her life, an amber-eyed whirlwind. When she isn’t arguing with him or any of his friends, she parents, and farms. She has a lot of children and even more animals and one very excellent husband. She is currently working on lots of stories set in the Dominion. She expects to exist in this universe for a while.

Publication Date: February 18, 2021 Publisher: Imburleigh Book Company Page Count: 662 Covet art: Brad Bergman


JENNIFER

This book has been on my radar since its release- it was impossible to miss the buzz around it last spring. At 650 pages, it’s a daunting read and probably the only thing that kept me from jumping on it before now. The story has several plotlines weaving through that keep your attention so the pages, for the most part, go by fairly quickly.

World Building


Brightwash is a Gaslamp fantasy. The surrounding Dominion and especially the city of Yaelsmuir is full of life. The characters interact with each other in and around the city, moving between work and after-hours activities, everything from fight clubs to high-end parties making the world alive and active.

 I personally liked the quiet scenes the best; sitting on the steps in front of the building Tashue and Stella lived in, with people pushing by them, for making me feel a part of the story.

 

The Magic

Is utilized to power various things from lights to the tram-ways. Not all are created equally when it comes to magic and its use, as some people never quicken and can never access their skills to do much more than recognize when it is present, while other users are very strong.
There are ways to block or subdue a person’s talent, which is how they are able to keep the non-compliant users in prison.

I am looking forward to seeing how this part of the story plays out in the next book. There were a few developments that promise for some fun roads ahead.

The Mystery

Tashue’s investigation into the origins of the body found by the banks, was a part of the story I enjoyed. I liked how it became a bigger part of the issues that are being dealt with by our characters kind of tying it all together. But I did wish that it was not pushed so much into the background for so much of the book. That said, by the end, it did feel a little like the tip of the iceberg got uncovered and that in the grand scheme of things, it was not meant to be more than a jumping off place for the characters and the story.


I felt the pacing could have been a better, especially of the mystery parts of the story and of the Red Army. The lead-in trail/foreshadowing of them, though it was enough to keep us from being blindsided by them later, also didn’t seem like quite enough either.

The Characters- are richly detailed and the attention that is paid to them is what helps this story to stand out.

 

Tashue is a man who is coming to see that everything he has stood up for over the years isn’t what he believed it to be.


As a regulation officer whose son resides in prison for the crime of refusing to register as a tainted- something that Tashue himself, firmly believes in- he comes across as very rigid at first. After we meet his son, Jason, I thought to myself- what kind of man is ok with this? Am I going to be able to root for this guy? But we are meeting him when he is finally starting to unfold from that rigidity and we do see a man who deeply cares for his son, while also learning about why and how things got to this point for him in his life. 


A lot of that part of him we see through his friendships (I loved Ismael) and the beginnings of his relationship with Stella. She is the one that helped let me learn to love him. And their slow burn build of friendship to romance is a huge part of the story. I enjoyed them together. Stella is a great character who holds her own through this story and I would love to talk more about them and the rest of the great characters but this review is going to be long enough.


My favourite scene was with Tashue and Jason- I am adlibbing here but it was when Jason is angrily asking his dad, why now? why not a week ago? or a month ago? My heart hurt so much for Jason.

Best scene in the book imo and I felt every emotion that was intended from it.

 

A lot of the characters have history together, and there is this easy feel to their relationships and the discussion- which help fill in the details of their pasts. They never felt like, ‘Hey, remember when we did this…insert needed information?’.

That smoothness to them and their conversations is something that I liked a lot. And also, how little things were tied together and help build the world and their lives through those conversations.
The off-hand comment about a scar on Tashue’s arm, that later confirms injury damage when he has difficulties taking off his buttons at the tailor, or the conversation about grass vodka that later fills in a picture of where Stella or someone had lived etc.

Some of the other characters, I did start to lose track of after they weren’t on screen for awhile. The book was very full all around, and I am terrible with huge casts- some of which I wasn’t sure just how needed they were, but just the fact that I can remember so many of their names without notes says a lot about how impactful most of these people were to me.

There are very few books that tip the scales in the page count like this one does, that I can say needed all those words to tell the story it was telling, and Legacy Of The Brightwash is no different in that respect.

I think it could have lost hundred-plus pages to tighten it up, which is a pretty common complaint for me in a debut novel of any book of this size really.  (I think its a debut I might be wrong)

 

The short version


I enjoyed this story. The world, the characters, the friendships, and the slow build romance- I am invested enough in them all, to want to come back and see how things proceed. 


JONATHAN

What happens when someone learns that everything they ever believed is a lie? Worse, what happens when they knew it all along and chose to close their eyes to it?

Legacy centers on Tashue Blackwood, a middle-aged scarred veteran now working for the Authority, the government agency working to keep the “tainted”—those with magical talent—in check. When the body of a tattooed, mutilated child washes up on the banks of the Brightwash river, Tashue’s investigation slowly unravels both the dirty secrets of his society and his own carefully-constructed rationalizations.

The main characters are relatable and interesting. Tashue is tortured by both his past and his present and as the two increasingly overlap, he grows more and more lost. One of his anchors is his son Jason, a tainted who refused to cooperate with the government and now rots in prison where he’s beaten and savaged. The heartfelt conversations between the two are some of the most visceral scenes in the book. Tashue’s other tether is a woman named Stella Whiterock, a low-key tainted under Tashue’s supervision as an Authority agent. Stella harbors a ten-year-old daughter and her own shady past, and her internal conflicts are intriguing. The very-slowly developing (and forbidden) romance between them is one of the central plot threads of the book, with the other being the secret behind the murdered child. I also liked some of the side characters, most of whom were distinct and interesting.

I have to say, I adored the world-building. The extent to which the government abused the tainted was shocking and depressing. The city of Yaselmuir is a decaying late-technology metropolis featuring trains, electric lights, and revolvers. The idea of the enslaved tainted being the source and continued success of these industries starts the moral questions rolling for the characters and the readers. One also gets a sense of the blended cultures of the world and the underlying prejudices that play into the plot and the motivations of the characters. All this was done with a subtle, light touch that was delightful to read. Swirling politics and the shifting allegiances of the city’s power blocs keep the characters and the reader guessing as to what’s coming next. 

If I found a large sticking point with this book, it was a matter of pace. The two major plot elements—the romance and the murder mystery—are both very slow burns, with a lot of exposition happening before either gains any traction. While I was enamored with the constructed world, I did often find myself wishing something would happen. Legacy’s inciting incident occurs in the first few pages and then there is a long stretch without a lot of plot advancement. The story’s climax, considering the duration of the build-up, was a bit weak to me. I think this book could have stood a 10% bulk cut to streamline it. 

Bloat notwithstanding, I still found this a great debut and I think any author should wish to do this well with their first published book.

Legacy should appeal to fans of good world-building, forbidden romance, and multiple POVs.


ŁUKASZ

Legacy of The Brightwash is an impressive debut. It blends elements of dark fantasy and romance with the murder mystery. Tashué Blackwood has been working as Regulation Officer for years, no questions asked. Even when the Authority condemned his son Jason for refusing to register as tainted, he did nothing. However, when a dead girl washes up on the banks of the Brightwash, tattooed and mutilated, something breaks in him. He starts looking for answers.

Need I add he does not like the answers?

Matar has created a dark world and an even darker story. Pain, grief, and despair affect Tashué’s actions and development. But so does love. For his son, his friends, and the woman he would do anything to protect. Even in his darkest moments, Tashué can rely on others. Which is interesting, because most (if not all) of the characters in Legacy are deeply hurt and angry people with tragic pasts. I appreciated they could find some peace just by being together and caring for each other.

There is no single antagonist in the book. The system is rotten and the desire to change it puts Tashue on a collision course with the National Tainted Registration Authority, powerful (and power-hungry) politicians, and the prejudices of the world he lives in. This makes his change much more difficult. Instead of simply kicking the bad guy, he has to rethink everything he used to believe in.

At its core, Legacy of The Brightwash is a devastating tale about love, sacrifice, and how indifference and prejudice can shape a community and set the lives of others on dark paths. Systematic oppression turned gifted with Talent into second-class citizens. Most people label them as tainted and don’t trust them. Forced to register with the Authority, they have limited freedoms and even fewer possibilities. They’re used as assets to develop Dominion and that’s it.

Matar’s writing style is elegant and rich. Even when she describes the gruesome details, she does so with sensitivity - the book is never exploitative. That said, bear in mind she pulls no punches when she describes the cruelty of people and atrocities committed in the name of progress. In one chapter she describes the aftermath of the explosion that killed innocents - she shows victims but the true impact of these scenes lays in the emotional description of the pain of survivors whose world has just collapsed. Stunning descriptions, merciless and memorable.

Is it perfect, then? No. It's well-paced but not always; parts of the story drag. I think there's still a place left for ruthless trimming that would it tighter and more poignant. But it's just a minor quibble - I felt immersed in the story throughout.

I heartily recommend the novel. It’s intense, violent, and leaves a long-lasting impression. It makes the reader ask what comes next and when can they have it.


           MIHIR

I really enjoyed Legacy Of The Brightwash, Krystle Matar's debut which combines a bunch of genres such as gaslamp fantasy, murder mystery & plenty of dark fantasy as well. The author had previously mentioned that when she originally began writing this story in a different genre. Tashue the protagonist of that story was a much different character but shaded similarly. Thankfully Krystle Matar chose to write this version of the story and Tashue and here we are.

The story is set in Yaselmuir which is pretty modern by most fantasy genre standards. There's trains and easier modes of transport and also an earlier form of a revolver. This city settings are very much grimdark as the city and country are exploiting people with magic who are labelled as  "tainted". Forced to register with the National Tainted Registration Authority, these folks have a sub-human sort of experience. For some this is enough, but for some (like Tashue's son Jason, oppression is the same no matter what name is given to it). 

Tashue is a conflicted protagonist who is forced to weigh his conscience against what the society believes and what his job requires him to do. Tashue as a protagonist is a fascinating one and very much akin to the gumshoe detectives of yore. He's big, and good with his huge fists and has a heart of gold. The author wonderfully showcases Tashue and his emotional state vis-a-vis his son's predicament, his new Tainted registered person, and the socio-political happenings.

Krystle Matar's prose and world descriptions are possibly the best part of the story as we get to see the characters, the world they inhabit in a rich way. The author also includes a generous dose of romance to the story and it works really well. There's an attempt at a love triangle which was a nice trick. Her descriptions of the characters when they meet and the way she has the characters focusing on the clothes as well as the other person's physical attributes was a lot of fun to read. It helped build up the romantic tension as well as understand what the characters' emotions. 

The story also has a lot of dark elements to it including the child murder which kicks off Tashue's investigation, this leads to further grimdark revelations which I must say can be troublesome to some readers. But for GD fans, it won't be anything too scandalous. 

The only thing that wasn't to my liking was the overall plot pace (as similarly noted by my friends above). This is a real sticky issue as the book moves slowly and for many readers this might be a tricky proposition to overcome. 

Legacy Of The Brightwash is an excellent debut inspite of its pace issues. Krystle Matar has written a book that is definitely a standout one with its genre mix and rich characterization. It enticed me enough that I will want to checkout the sequel whenever she releases it in 2022-23. 


OFFICIAL SPFBO RATING



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