Legacy of the Brightwash follows Tashué Blackwood and Stella Whiterock as well as a handful of supporting characters through a murder mystery, gaslamp, grimdark, romance, political fantasy. There is something very special in the center of this odd Venn diagram of subgenres—a fully realized world with unique characters and dynamic relationships.
When Tashué, a regulation officer, finds the mutilated body of a child on the shore, he begins an obsessive search for the truth behind this child’s death. This catalyst starts off an internal struggle between his values and his sworn duty, which is externalized by his budding relationship with Stella Whiterock, one of his charges.
As a regulation officer, Tashué is tasked with monitoring the magic users of the city known as the tainted or talented, depending on your prejudices. He has always followed the law even when it meant watching his son go to a prison for refusing to register his magical abilities with the city. However, a series of events will lead Tashué to struggle with the laws that he has sworn to uphold.
Honestly, I could ramble on about the plot of Brightwash for quite a while and still have difficulty encompassing all the different elements. Did I mention there was a gambling den in which one of our main supporting character fights for a living? That being said, the pieces somehow fit together.
If you are looking for a straight forward plot, character with a mission pursues goals, this book is not for you. There are twists and turns and subplots on top of subplots. However, if you are interested in following messy characters through complex situations and interpersonal relationships in a well-constructed world, pick it up yesterday.
Krystle Matar shines in the relationships between her characters, whether romantic or not. The quite scenes in which two or three characters are feeling each other out and relating with one another are the highlight. These relationships feel like they have existed long before page 1, continuing throughout every break in the story.
If I had to recognize a fault, I would say that I had a difficult time understanding the political dynamics between characters of different classes. Yaelsmuir is a city of haves and have nots. The upper-class lives in opulence, whereas the lower class loves the current queen because she made it law that large apartment buildings must have a window in each unit. That being said, there are times when people of lower social standing outright disrespect powerful people in public settings without consequences. At other times, the wealthy used their power to control and manipulate others. The social rules around class seemed to change often, and I didn’t feel that the story helped me understand how that worked in their culture. If power structures work differently in this world, I am on board with that, but I didn’t feel that I was able to understand how those structures worked in this world even after 660 pages.
Another warning for readers: if you go into this book expecting Joe Abercombie-esque grimdark, you will not find it. The darkness of this story comes from the world building and the moral grayness of characters, not from moral nihilism or extreme violence. If you are looking for a classic murder mystery, you will be disappointed. While a murder mystery is the catalyst and weaves through the story, it is not the meat of the plot. If you read the long list of subgenres attached to this book expecting a straight-forward version of that subgenre, look elsewhere. Legacy of the Brightwash melds aspects of a variety of subgenres within fantasy to create a lived-in world that is loyal to all the attached subgenres while bending them into something cohesive and new.
Brightwash was thoroughly entertaining. The interpersonal character work and worldbuilding made this story in my opinion. I highly recommend you check it out.