Brother’s Ruin, Emma Newman
3.5/5 (rounded to Goodreads 4)
190 pages| Publisher: Tor | Fantasy/ Historical Fiction
The digest: a decent premise with enough intrigue coming in the closing chapters to persuade fans to immediately move onto the sequel novella. A quick read for those seeking a fantasy/historical fiction story without having to think too hard. I rated it at 3.5 as I wish it was longer for more character and plot development.
Set in 1850, this novella closely follows a small cast of characters doing their best to get by in a version of Great Britain where the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts, an organisation which holds sway with the ruling elite, seeks total control on any demonstrable magic. If a person with magical tendencies voluntarily comes forward to the Royal Society, they are tested by senior mages and whisked away to be trained – their families compensated depending on the person’s abilities. Should such a person not come forward (and even try to hide their magic), well, let’s say that it doesn’t end well.
Newman’s novella follows Charlotte (single POV) as she works to hide her abilities and help get her brother, Ben, (a less magically inclined individual) gain an apprenticeship within the Royal Society – but that isn’t the most dangerous thing she does here.
Throughout the story, we are presented with Charlotte’s motivations and emotions, but at no point can the reader readily identify with her situation. It all feels a bit forced, and some of her decisions are questionable at best, and downright stupid at worst. We do see, however, some character development in the novella and readers should be able to see how Charlotte has grown from a position of fear and weakness to something else. Unfortunately, most of the other characters lack much development beyond the bare minimum and there is little to make the reader remember them. Ben does have some personality and his ailments mark him out as unique to others, and there is one other character later on who is markedly different to all of the others. To be fair – there are not many pages for Newman to develop her cast yet, and one can hope that in future instalments she works on this.
The main issue, however, is the episodic nature of the novella: at a little under 200 pages, there is simply not enough space for Newman’s story to be as developed as her writing style seems to require. Brother’s Ruin is most definitely the introduction to a larger body of work (the Industrial Magic series), which will hopefully allow the author to expand on the magic system, the society as it is presented to us, and indeed further develop the cast of characters in more depth. Anybody hoping to be blown away by a magnificent story will be disappointed and I would recommend that people who wish to read this story (its premise is interesting), be ready to dive straight into its sequel, Weaver’s Lament. There was certainly enough intrigue for me to read the sequel straight after and I do not regret that decision.
As stated in the digest, I recommend this book for readers looking into low fantasy or historical fiction. Don’t expect grand battles or a hard magic system (yet), and you should not be disappointed. 3.5/5