Brother’s Ruin (Industrial Magic #1), by Emma Newman
Description: (from Macmillan)
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.
Expected publication: March 30th 2017, part of the Tor.com Winter Line-Up
A review copy (e-galley) of this book was provided by the publisher. Some things might change in the final copy.
I have mixed feelings about Brother’s Ruin because there were things in this novella that I really liked and some others not so much. I had very high hopes so that might explain my small disappointment.
First, the cover! I really love it, it’s really good at showing the Victorian era setting and the atmosphere of fear crawling around for everyone and especially for the people with powers that this story focuses on.
“She was nothing, a girl who secretly earned a paltry amount of money compared to theirs, waiting to marry a sensible man and be one of the millions trying to make a decent life in this harsh, unforgiving city. She had to hide what made her special, be it her artistic talent or the burden of her magical affinity, and neither could serve her here.”
We follow Charlotte, who comes from the lower middle class. I liked this detail because I feel there are too much stories about the upper middle class or even the upper class. I “liked” that Charlotte was a very caring person toward her family, doing everything in her power to help and preserve them. She has to worry about money, about having enough to eat and about her future. This makes for a story more believable, or more relatable, since I’m getting tired of heroines running around and having adventures and not caring about their future, their parents and consequences.
Due to the time the story is set in, women don’t have that much rights, and I liked the feminist tones underlining the story and Charlotte’s way of thinking. More than just a young woman with powers (which is already super cool), she also is a children books illustrator who has to work under a pen name.
“With one leg inside and one leg dangling out of the window, it was the worst possible time. Cursing women’s clothing everywhere beneath her breath, Charlotte struggled to twist around and untangle it, just as the sound of one of the front door locks being tumbled echoed through the house.”
There was just a bit of “romance”, but for my personal taste it was still a little bit too much. I felt like it hinted at more coming in the following novellas and that was really not the part that made me excited to read the next instalment.
Indeed, we learn Charlotte is engaged to a nice man, she says she’s in love with and I want to believe this but I couldn’t really see any real feelings. But then of course another man set foot in the story and I feel like it focused too much on how she was swooning over him (please don’t evolve into a love triangle please.) She still tried not to get distracted by her attraction to him and that’s actually something that I found great. But the attraction part seemed unnecessary to me.
I also cringed at times because of the decisions Charlotte ended up making. I know most stories wouldn’t happen without bad decisions but still… This doesn’t mean I didn’t like her as a character, because I really did, but some things felt too easy for the story to move on sometimes.
Brother’s Ruin felt too much like a big first chapter than a story that could stand on its own, even if part of a series.
I said this novella was a little bit of a disappointment, but on the other hand I never wanted to stop reading it, I wanted to know how it ended and liked the world Emma Newman created. I really am curious to read more on this series, where the industrial revolution is brought with the apparition of people with magic (which you could guess by reading the name of the series.)
The truth is, I read and loved Planetfall last year, and I was expecting a little bit more from Emma Newman. So for me, the best thing here was the world building and the fact that I feel the best part of the story was to come in the following instalments.
“She tucked the notebook and pencil away, blew out the candle and headed for the window. It was time for this rude young woman to make a difference.”
Anyway I’m a sucker for magic, young women with magical powers and good book cover so I’m pretty sure I’ll end up buying this one when it’s out! I have really good hopes for the sequels of this new historical urban fantasy series!
I also have Emma Newman’s novels Between two thorns and After Atlas waiting for me in my bookshelf and the little disappointment of the novella didn’t dampen at all my wish to read them!