Krystle Matar’s debut, Legacy of the Brightwash was massive, earning well-deserved praise and becoming one of the top finalists for the seventh Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. It was dark, complicated, and human.
Legacy of the Brightwash was a murder mystery around an amputated girl found drowned in the Brightwash. The protagonist, Tashué, was a war hero turned Authority, the police force that deals with Tainted—those with magic powers. It took its time in settling you into the rhythms of the main city, introducing the large cast, and letting the characterizations deepen.
At the beginning of Legacy of Brick and Bone, that mystery has been unraveled. I won’t spoil what the mystery is for those who haven’t read the first book, but that answer alone is one of the grimmest things I’ve ever read. Tashué knows what’s happening, but he doesn’t have proof, either for court or the court of public opinion. And the people trying to keep the secret know that he knows, and need to act fast before Tashué can provide that proof.
Legacy of Brick and Bone doesn’t focus as intently on Tashué as its predecessor did. He still gets plenty to do, but he’s one of many. Much of his arc is confronting his own complicity with the Authority. Secondary characters from the first book get more of an active role—in particular, Ishmael Saeati, the diplomat and former lover of Tashué, Lorne, the boxer romantically involved with Tashué’s incarcerated son, Illea Winter, the political mastermind, and Stella Whiterock, now on the run with her daughter.
Stella has by far the most straightforward character arc in the story, as she, with a few allies, escapes the city of Yaelsmuir to find a new life somewhere else while being pursued. This section, being on the run in the wilderness, felt detached from the political machinations of much of the rest of the plot, but it was a welcome change of pace, and I found these to be my favorite sections of the book.
The political machinations are excellent in Legacy of Brick and Bone. Despite a large cast, every character is recognizable quickly and their motivations are understandable. The histories of each major player and how it affects them is exceptionally detailed and thought out. It’s complex without becoming convoluted. It feels real.
Much of the plot involves Tashué and Ishmael trying to find a way to rescue Tashué’s son, in jail for refusing to register as Tainted, while also trying to prevent the crisis coming to Yaelsmuir from coming to fruition. To this end, the only people who can protect them are Iwan Powell, the ruthless leader who runs Cattle Bone Bay, and Davik Kaine, the upstart smuggler who wants Powell’s job. The two attempt manipulate Tashué and Ishmael into doing their dirty work for them.
Matar uses the gaslamp setting to its fullest potential. The rise of pugilism ties in with the use of sports as ways to further political agendas. Those political agendas tie in with the rise of democracy, but still very much powerful people trying to gain more, and some of the underhanded tactics regarding the election wouldn’t be out of place today. There’s also the use of the printing press for propaganda. And the writing is detailed enough that the various districts of Yaelsmuir all come alive with their own flavours.
Legacy of Brick and Bone takes the same detailed and methodical worldbuilding and characterization of Legacy of the Brightwash, but the plot starts at a boil and stays that way throughout. Much like the first one, the threats cannot simply be ended by applying violence to the correct people, even if some are very deserving. The issues at stake are societal, and require societal change. It’s a superlative book, and it deserves as many accolades as the first.