*SPFBO7 Finalist Review*
Legacy of the Brightwash is a romance gaslamp fantasy with some dark undertones. It caught me by surprise, to be honest. The blending of genres is very well done, and the worldbuilding is superb. The story takes place in one city, yet the world doesn't feel small. The author excels at descriptive writing, and you really feel like you're there with the characters, experiencing everything this world has to offer them.
The story starts following Tashue, who works for the Authority, sort of like the police force in this world. His job is to oversee several Talented individuals, people whose magic power the city, from the steamboats to the lights. The Talented (or tainted, as they are sometimes called in a derogatory manner) are forced to register, and their whereabouts are tracked. They must follow a strict code of conduct. If they don't register, or step outside the very limited lines drawn for them, they can be sent away to the Rift - a jail-like facility that many never return from. From the outset, the story was intriguing. Tashue finds a child whose legs and arms are cut off, with a strange tattoo on the back of her neck. She is dead, having been washed up on the riverbank. No one knows who she is or how she got there. It should have been none of his business, but the child's death sticks with Tashue, compelling him to find out what happened to her. This sets him on a new trajectory for his life, and he finds himself questioning everything he has ever known.
As far as characters go, I didn't really like Tashue all that much. He is part of a system that oppresses others, and while he doesn't feel all that right doing some of the things he does, I was quite irritated initially by his "Well, this stuff we do is wrong but I can't do anything about it, can I?" type of attitude. Much like a reluctant slave owner, he exists in the system and doesn't question his privilege until that very system throws his son in the Rift. As his character develops, he becomes more and more disillusioned by what he represents. He grew on me, eventually, but I didn't end up actually liking him when all is said and done.
The story also follows that of Stella and her daughter Ceridwen. Stella is introduced as Tashue's love interest, and their pining for each other and the sexual tension between them can be cut with a knife. However, it becomes apparent that Stella is not who she initially seems to be - a whisperer who helps people die peacefully - and she and her daughter are likable and engaging. A good portion of the book is spent on Stella and Tashue's burgeoning love affair, and at one point you're basically begging them to have sex finally, and be done with it. Generally speaking, I wasn't put off by their romance. It was a bit overdone as far as just how much they thought of each other, but I'm sure romance fans will gobble this up.
The writing is, simply put, beautiful. The author is very talented in crafting a scene, making you feel like you are really there, while keeping the characters the focal point. However, this book did drag a bit. There were several throwaway scenes that didn't do much to progress the plot, and there was a lot of rehashing of information, such as characters telling other characters what had just happened, that the reader already knows about. There are a few inciting incidents, so there isn't a typical five act structure. I'm more of a traditionalist when it comes to story structure, however, I'm all about writing the story the way it needs to be written, as opposed to forcing the story into a structure that doesn't fit it. So while I was a bit put off by the - how shall I put this - haphazard way the plot fits together, I can also see why the author made some of the choices that she did.
My main contention with this story, besides the unnecessary scenes, is a lack of cohesion in the plot. I think this is due to what I mentioned above, but I also think it's related to the author trying to accomplish too much. There are several side characters with side plotlines, and while I really enjoyed the secondary characters, it felt more like side roads spiraling off from the main road and not meeting up than a river flowing towards the same goal. This is the first book in series, so I would imagine a lot of these plotlines meet up eventually, but they don't in this story, and it left me a bit perplexed. The main mystery of the dead child is solved, but it only opened a Pandora's Box of other issues that don't really get addressed.
I ended up liking this book, but I didn't love it. The hard part is what to grade it, since there were some things that were very well done, and other things that were frustrating. Objectively, the writing is fantastic. The characters developed, grew, and changed. I also believe that objectively this book is too long and not cohesive enough. Subjectively, I didn't personally like the main character, but I liked all the other characters. The character's interpersonal relationships were also well done. I really liked the writing. I didn't like the structure of the book. I'm uncertain whether I'm invested enough to continue with the series.
For SPFBO purposes, I would give it a solid 6.5. Fans of romance, great worldbuilding, fantastic writing, and who don't mind the general tone of the story being dark, will like this one.