Legacy of the Brightwash — Krystle Matar

Photo of Legacy of the Brightwash with other SPFBO7 finalists

Legacy of the Brightwash — Krystle Matar

Sometimes, when I don’t know how to start a review, I clear my head, think of reading it, and write the first word that comes to mind. In this case, it was: sensitive.

It took me a while to figure out where it came from. I mean, it’s a story that starts off with a mutilated child washed ashore the banks of the Brightwash and delves into a bleak world in which people with magic (the “Tainted” or “Talented,” depending on which side you’re on) are either incarcerated, or registered in the system and living… well, less-than-privileged lives. And yet, “sensitive” came to mind.

Let’s start with the writing. The author’s prose may pack a punch, but the details are very… human. Just in the first few pages, you can close your eyes and feel the love of a parent for their child, an unspoken pain in Tashué that makes holding another person’s baby bittersweet. This is before we even know anything about the characters or the world, lol. And this very human way of storytelling does not let up in 650 pages, not even when the darker, bleaker events of the story rear their ugly heads.

Then there are the themes. We do see quite a few instances of violence and murder (all of which are in the author’s trigger warning at the start of the book), which are not exactly subtle, but also the eradication of cultural identity and the systemic treatment of those who are born different. We really see how these concepts permeate all layers of society, from paperwork of the lowest bureaucratic drudge, to fancy dinner parties with the wealthy and powerful. It’s more subtle, more sensitive, more masterfully woven into the narrative. It’s not too far off from the real world, actually. I thought it was well done.

Legacy of the Brightwash is a slow-burn fantasy, which might not be for readers who want action and answers right away. The book’s strengths, I feel, lie in the prose, in the details that make the world work. While there is a mystery introduced in the first pages, we do spend more time with characters in their world as opposed to investigating it. At times, I actually forgot that a child had washed up on the Brightwash because I was too immersed in Tashué’s world outside his job. This slow pace and meandering might not work for some, but I thought it was an interesting… sensitive… look into the world the author has created.

I really enjoyed Legacy of the Brightwash. Check it out if you’re into slow-burn fantasy romance/mystery with complex, human worldbuilding!

Key words to help you decide: multiple POV, slow-burn romance, gas lamp fantasy, fantasy mystery, character-driven, LGBTQ+, us vs. them, (very) flawed system

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