Fascinating 4 out of 5
The year is 1850 and Great Britain is flourishing, thanks to the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. When a new mage is discovered, Royal Society elites descend like buzzards to snatch up a new apprentice. Talented mages are bought from their families at a tremendous price, while weak mages are snapped up for a pittance. For a lower middle class family like the Gunns, the loss of a son can be disastrous, so when seemingly magical incidents begin cropping up at home, they fear for their Ben’s life and their own livelihoods.
But Benjamin Gunn isn’t a talented mage. His sister Charlotte is, and to prevent her brother from being imprisoned for false reporting she combines her powers with his to make him seem a better prospect.
When she discovers a nefarious plot by the sinister Doctor Ledbetter, Charlotte must use all her cunning and guile to protect her family, her secret and her city.
Brother’s Ruin is the first in a new gaslamp fantasy series by Emma Newman.
Well to be honest the novella had me at Gaslamp. I mean, I’m a big steampunk fan (next to horror) and when I think gaslamp and fantasy, I get excited. Especially with the interesting synopsis from the book. I was actually looking forward to it. Only it’s not really about the fantasy or the gaslamp or the mages in the end. It’s not even, really, about the brother either. Not completely.
We follow Charlotte Gunn, a multi-talented woman who must live her life as a “woman must be seen not heard” kind of world. She witnesses how mages are recruited by the Royal Society, at the same time understanding how many see being recruited as a privilege. When Benjamin, her brother, is deemed to be a mage, Charlotte does what she can to prove them right, hiding her own abilities. Only everything spirals out of control as secrets are spilled and it puts Charlotte, her family, and her city into jeopardy.
It’s a story of sacrifice. Of political intrigue. It’s drama as Charlotte tries to balance the conflicting forces in her life, especially when it comes to her family and the secrets that come to the fore. The story ends on a cliffhanger, which sets up the Industrial Magic series well.
The writing was great. Elegantly put down in a way that reflects Charlotte Gunn’s personality (and the fact that she’s a woman). The magic is fascinating, and the fantasy inspired Great Britain makes for a dark, twisted world.
We are introduced to Charlotte Gunn first. Immediately we get a sense that there is more to her than meets the eye. She’s a strong, independent woman effectively born in the wrong era. Or at least that’s what I get from the book. She has to live in false pretense because the world she lives in does not see women as very important. Makes sense considering the Victorian Era theme of the book.
Benjamin wants to do what is best for his family, wanting to protect his sister too. Only he has failing health which makes working difficult. So when the Royal Society wants to recruit him, he does what any guilt riddled brother would do. Accept.
The remaining characters in the story are also fascinating. Such as Doctor Ledbetter, Magus Hopkins and other well written characters in the book.
From a storytelling perspective, Brother’s Ruin is a great delve into the struggles of a powerful woman who is made less powerful by her situation. Where she hopes to overcome through sacrifice and determination.
The worldbuilding is great, and I was transported into that dark Victorian era where no one can be trusted.
The characters are all distinct and have been well written to reflect both the times and their situations. From the parents who just want the best and will do what they can, to the representatives of the Royal Society.
No doubt I enjoyed it, and would definitely read the rest of the series.
Brother’s Ruin was published March 14th, 2017.
Did you know: Emma Newman is a professional audiobook narrator and also co-writes and hosts the Hugo-nominated podcast ‘Tea and Jeopardy’
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