I know a lot of writers manage to move back and forth between hard sci-fi and fantasy without any trouble, and Emma Newman is definitely one of them. My hat is off to authors who understand the nuances of the different genres and manage to create engaging characters and develop engaging worlds whatever the genre or likely market. In Brother’s Ruin, Newman has obviously slipped a first toe into the water of what promises to be a much longer and richer fantasy series. This book is, in many ways, a prologue for a longer work. The volume is less than 200 pages, reading almost like a novella, but it introduces the key players and positions them on the chessboard in anticipation of more adventures to come.
Charlotte (Charlie) is our young protagonist in an alternate Victorian society in which magic exists and the houses of magic are juxtaposed with the nobility in government. For some, being identified as latent in magic promises rewards of financial recompense for their families and positions of power in the magical academies. For others, like Charlie, the thought of exposing herself as a holder of magic would ruin her life. She would have to leave her family, wouldn’t be able to marry, and would effectively lose her freedom. In fact, the book explores the meaning of freedom in various contexts. How free can a young woman (of secretly independent means) hope to become in any walk of this society?
There is much second-guessing of right and wrong, good and evil, strength and weakness, all set against a richly detailed backdrop of a society that is very Victorian, but where the underpinnings of the society are threatened by the presence of magic. In some ways, this work reminded me a little of Victoria Schwab’s recently completed Shades of Light trilogy. For those who like fantasy, alternate history, and a straight up good story, I’d highly recommend Brother’s Ruin. While it’s not technically a YA book (at least I don’t think it’s intended to be), it would definitely be suitable for younger and older readers alike.