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eARC Review: Blood over Bright Haven by M.L. Wang

Updated: Apr 18

Initial Indie Release Date:  25 July 2023

Big 5 Publisher Release Date:  29 October 2024

Rating:  3/5

Book boxes:  Maybe FairyLoot, The Broken Binding, Goldsboro, Illumicrate

Synopsis:  Magic has made the city of Tiran an industrial utopia, but magic has a cost—and the collectors have come calling.


An orphan since the age of four, Sciona has always had more to prove than her fellow students. For twenty years, she has devoted every waking moment to the study of magic, fueled by a mad desire to achieve the impossible: to be the first woman ever admitted to the High Magistry. When she finally claws her way up the ranks to become a highmage, however, she finds that her challenges have just begun. Her new colleagues will stop at nothing to let her know she is unwelcome, beginning with giving her a janitor instead of a qualified lab assistant.


What neither Sciona nor her peers realize is that her taciturn assistant was once more than a janitor; before he mopped floors for the mages, Thomil was a nomadic hunter from beyond Tiran’s magical barrier. Ten years have passed since he survived the perilous crossing that killed his family. But working for a highmage, he sees the opportunity to finally understand the forces that decimated his tribe, drove him from his homeland, and keep the Tiranish in power.


Through their fractious relationship, mage and outsider uncover an ancient secret that could change the course of magic forever—if it doesn’t get them killed first. Sciona has defined her life by the pursuit of truth, but how much is one truth worth with the fate of civilization in the balance?

 

Review


Blood over Bright Haven serves as a wonderful example of storytelling as catharsis and reads very much like a manifesto. Wang heavily serves readers overtones of extreme violence against a certain religion and government establishment. The first half hooked me—I loved Thomis and Sciona’s very complicated and tumultuous relationship—but the last half of the book took a completely different direction from what I was expecting, though I immediately guessed what the damning nature of the source of the magic was and what the consequences for those in power would be. Though I found the read compelling and was able to get it read in under 24 hours, which is quite a feat for me, I find the overall narrative fell short a bit for me.


Sciona’s plight as a woman in a man’s academic field has been vastly overdone in literature.  I can see its use often in historical fiction, but in fantasy, where we can build new worlds, I don’t really care to read it; and though it’s overt in the synopsis, I assumed Wang’s use of this trope would have some kind of brilliant twist to make it more unique.  It didn’t.  In fact, until Thomil’s appearance in the High Magistry, I was not quite so interested as I thought I would be.  Sure, the first chapter had me on the edge of my seat, but it wasn’t until he and Sciona were forcibly thrown together that I felt any kind of propulsion through the story.  From there until about the middle of the book, I was hooked.  


After the midpoint, the plot got very predictable and on the nose.  The theocratic establishment is not subtly done, and the characters are all very stock and flat.  The complexity I expected did not appear in any of the characterizations.  Sciona was marginally rounded, and I did enjoy that she wasn’t a complete angel because she was a woman.  In fact, she very much acted like any of the Tiranishmen around her, and I feel, had she been a man in Tiran she would be like every other man in Tiran.  


Thomil had absolutely no faults and though I imagined if this were a romantasy, he would be super dreamy because of his immense strength.  He was really stock and flat, and again, I expected more subtlety and complexity from Wang but didn’t get it here with Thomil.  He and Sciona, when together, were great to read, but I found myself bored when the book focused on only one character or the other, which indicated to me that the tension between the two drove the plot and not the characters themselves.


Despite the unsubtle nature of hatred toward a singular group of people, I found it a compelling read.  The world was not built upon heaps of dumped info, but it’s safe to say it resembled our world closely enough that there was no need for too deep a build anyway.  I wish I were more in love with the book than I am, as Wang’s The Sword of Kaigen won the SFBO award and I have both the special editions of it, but I guess I’m in the minority here.   It was not lost on me what the religious/government establishment represents, and the end felt, as I mentioned in the intro, very much like catharsis.  Tell us how you really feel, there—sheesh.  


Overall, 3/5.  Quite a long book for not a whole lot of depth and complexity.  Characters felt stock and flat.  Not too much there but carbs where there should be a more well-balanced meal.  I may be passing on this one for my SE collection, though it pains me to say. 


My thanks to Penguin Random House and Del Rey via NetGalley for the eARC, for which I willingly give my own, honest opinion.


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