Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: Brother's Ruin (Emma Newman)

Brother’s Ruin (Industrial Magic, #1)
Title: Brother's Ruin
Series: Industrial Magic, Book 1
Author: Emma Newman
Release Date: March 14, 2017
Genre: Alternate Gaslamp Fantasy Mystery
Told: Third Person Limited (Charlotte), Past Tense
Content Rating: Older Teen (scary situations)
Format Read: Paperback (library)
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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.

*          *          *

In a Sentence: A quick alternate "gaslamp" fantasy mystery that started rocky but was worth finishing thanks to an interesting if intellectual magic and unique setting.

I'm always interested in alternate histories with magic, so when Gail Carriger chose this as her Coop de Book Group pick for April 2017, I was excited to give it a try.

While I did end up reading the entire book and overall enjoyed it, the first chapter was a struggle. I understood what it was trying to do (i.e. introduce the world and the main character), but it just didn't grab me, even confused me a bit, and I seriously considered giving up by the end of it. However, since it was such a short book (technically a novella at only 184 pages), one of my favorite authors had blurbed it and it was a book club pick, I decided to give it another chapter or two. Thankfully the story, characters, and magic grew on me by the third chapter, and as it was such a quick read I found myself breezing through the rest with interest.

There are quite a few alternate-history-with-magic stories out there, but this one offers a somewhat unique twist (at least from my reading experience) in the setting's mandatory magus conscription: if a Latent gives themselves up they can choose one of the three offering colleges and compensation is made to their family, but if discovered they are forcibly taken and their family can be prosecuted. Although the different magus colleges (and in some ways the magic itself) were a bit too intellectual and therefore confusing for simple me to completely comprehend, it's an intriguing setup that I'm definitely interested in exploring further in future books.

The cast was decent albeit somewhat bland to the mind's eye or unmemorable of name as such that I occasionally had trouble keeping them straight, but overall I enjoyed following them. Charlotte had her special secret talents, as a main character does, but still maintained an innocent commoner quality that I appreciated given her role. As for romance, a bit of a love triangle does start to form as Charlotte is naturally drawn to the very handsome magus who sweeps into her life, but she is (so far) determined to stick to her love for her common but sweet fiance, and I liked her more for it.

There was a mystery subplot (my bane), but it was more misadventure than mystery and therefore easy for me to follow. The book's arc felt incomplete though, more half a story as little was resolved other than the main character taking her first step into a new life and the mystery proving but one piece of a giant puzzle that the series will apparently cover. In a way though it reminded me of the serial stories of old that I've wished would make a comeback, so I'm hoping this heralds a serial revival.

Conclusion: A decent alternate-history-with-magic novella with a unique setting. While it read more like half a book than a complete story, it's serial quality along with interesting magic and characters intrigue me enough to try the next book, Weaver's Lament, scheduled to release October 17, 2017.

Scribble Rating
3 of 5 Scribbles

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