Legacy of the Brightwash by Krystle Matar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Tainted Dominion (Book #1)
Genre: Fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy, Murder Mystery, Romance
Pages: 664 pages (Kindle edition)
Published: 18th February 2021 by Imburleigh Publishing (Self-Published)
I thought I would end up disliking Legacy of the Brightwash. I was wrong.
“You should still help… Even if you don’t think you’re good at it. The best way to learn something is to not be good at it first.”
Ah, Legacy of the Brightwash by Krystle Matar, the first book in the Tainted Dominion series. This is one of those books you keep hearing great things about for years, but somehow the universe just schemed to stop you from reading it; that’s me, I am the universe, and I am responsible for my own delay. As someone who loves reading both traditionally published and self-published fantasy books equally, it is kinda crazy it took me this long to read Matar’s debut. And I am surprised by the result. Theoretically, and I will elaborate upon this later, I should not have liked this SPFBO 7 runner-up. But now that I’ve read it, if it has won the competition, I will say it is well-deserved. I am not saying the winner did not deserve it; I haven’t read Reign and Ruin by J. D. Evans, and there is always a possibility I will end up liking that book more than this. But luck, as always, is responsible for how Legacy of the Brightwash did not win the competition. Anyway, enough introduction, onward to the review. Based on my own experience and enjoyment, I will discuss why this book will be, or will not be, for you.
“You can drown yourself in all your ‘should’ves… It’s tempting to wallow in all the things you could have done differently, but it helps no one. Learn from it, certainly, but leave yourself room for forgiveness, hey?”
Follow the law and you’ll stay safe. But what if the law is wrong? There are many themes in this novel, but this is the biggest one. Tashue’s faith in the law is beginning to crack. Three years ago, Tashue stood by when the Authority condemned his son to the brutality of the Rift for non-compliance. When Tashué’s son refused to register as tainted, the laws had to be upheld. He’d never doubted his job as a Regulation Officer before, but three years of watching your son wither away can break down even the strongest convictions. Then a dead girl washed up on the bank of the Brightwash, tattooed and mutilated. Where had she come from? Who would tattoo a child? Was it the same person who killed her? Why was he the only one who cared? Will Tashué be able to stand against everything he thought he believed in to get the answers he’s looking for?
“I couldn’t see how killing a child could possibly be the actions of a hero. Heroes don’t murder children and leave them in the ditches for others to find so that others will rise in revolt. Heroes lead the revolts themselves on the merit of their words and their ideas and their strength, without the need to murder infants.”
From this premise, it will be easy to tell this is a story where the bad guys are the ones in charge of the law. This is not a rare plot occurrence. Countless stories have done this before. But still, Matar executed it so well. I assure you that Legacy of the Brightwash is many things. It is a murder mystery. It is a political fantasy. It is also sprinkled with magic. And romance covers many pages of the book. But more importantly, whether you consider this a grimdark novel or not, Legacy of the Brightwash is a heavily character-driven novel that depicts love, found family, passion, justice, and hope in an unforgiving world and system that is terrible and bleak. And all of these were big positives of the novel for me. Eventually, even the romance.
“No matter how miserable things were somewhere, life always managed to go on everywhere else.”
I am not a romance reader. So many of my favorite fantasy books exhibit love, friendship, hope, found family, and more; they are often essential elements in an incredible story for me. But those with detailed sex scenes or many pages devoted to romance? Yeah. Most of my favorite fantasy books did not fall into the romance genre. I assume many of us (male fantasy readers and myself included as I speak about this) do not tend to consider heavy romances as our preference for escapism. Personally speaking, I found many romances in epic fantasy infuriating—not in a good way—or not well-written. However, I think many fantasy readers (including us who don’t like reading romance in epic fantasy) agree that we do want and need to love or be loved in the real world. Loneliness can be a slow death. Allow me to be sappy a bit. But to love, be loved, and cherish each other, can be a cure for loneliness. It is one of the best strengths or invisible treasures we can have as human being. And the two main characters of Legacy of the Brightwash exemplary displayed these needs in humanity.
“How had he picked her out of the chaos and the crowd? But then, she had just done the same. There were some people in your life that you searched for constantly, praying that they would appear just so that you could know they still graced the world.”
That, in my opinion, is the biggest asset of Legacy of the Brigthwash. Not the romance per se, but the characterizations and dialogues. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t click with the many pages of detailed sex scenes. If it were up to me, I would decrease the page count for it out of the book. And it took me about a quarter of the novel, until the fine dining scene, to feel fully invested. Those who have read this will know which specific scene I am talking about. But I cannot dispute how bright the characters, their characterizations, and their gradual development washed over me. Tashue and Stella, the two main characters, are broken and lonely individuals who find their love and need in each other. Their romance is slow-burn and fought for by them and us readers; do not expect the fruition of their relationship to happen quickly, and you will be rewarded. And this is just one example.
“Grief and loss, they’re like the fire that shapes us… Turns us into something better.”
I think the first quarter of Legacy of the Brightwash was a “getting used to” section. There were many characters and names introduced here. But rest assured that they’re all there for good reasons. I constantly grew to care about the characters more and more as I read through the book. Legacy of the Brightwash utilizes multiple POV chapters, but Tashue certainly dominated the narrative. He, understandably, has the most POV chapters and page count. And I liked the character. I have a soft spot for characters doing the best they can to redeem themselves, and Tashue embodied this. Regardless of the myriad of mistakes he made in the past, and still do in the present timeframe, he never ceases to give up on undoing the damages he caused. The odds are always against Tashue and the protagonists, but despite his fury and frustration with his circumstances, Tashue still tries everything to give his affection and understanding to Stella and Ceridwen, patch things up with Jason, and I liked reading his friendship with Rhodrishi and Kazrani.
“Watching Ceridwen grow was a joy, and yet it seemed to happen faster and faster these days, time sliding away from her before she could grasp it. And the older Ceridwen got, the more scared Stella was that she would lose her delicate hold on protecting her.”
It is worth noting that the entire story in this book takes place in the city of Yaelsmuir, and this novel has been marketed and reviewed by many readers as a grimdark fantasy novel. Although I do not consider this a totally grimdark fantasy as I felt the tone of the narrative did not all-consumingly reflect that, and the main characters are relatively kind-hearted people put in desperate situations, my god, as the premise mentioned, with children being mutilated and killed, this is indeed a dark story. But here is what I loved most about Legacy of the Brightwash in addition to the characterizations: hope and courage against overwhelming odds. This is not an overwhelmingly dark novel, in my opinion. And to battle against the darkness, Matar magnificently includes beautiful and soothing moments related to friendship, found family, and parenthood as a contrast and beacon of light in the narrative. And I definitely embraced those moments amid all the unraveling chaos and tension.
“I try not to judge people for what I see in their vulnerable moments. We’ve all faced dark days and I’ve yet to meet someone who always made the right choice. That change is not something to be ashamed of and it’s not something you should resist. You can’t be the same woman you were when you woke up this morning. But it’s alright to exist as this new woman, cracked by your rough handling, but still alive.”
It is not a surprise why Legacy of the Brightwash garnered so much positive reception in the self-published fantasy community for the past two years. Even though Matar’s debut novel contains elements that weren’t my preference for reading, like three detailed sex scenes and a relatively heavier focus on romance, I cannot deny they were well-written. I did not skip reading any of those scenes in the book as I did in Darkdawn by Jay Kristoff, for example. The relationship between the main characters won me over. If you love a slow-burn murder mystery and political fantasy with superbly-written flawed characters, even more so if you love reading romance, too, make sure to read Legacy of the Brightwash. Honestly, I am glad I waited this long before reading it because the ending did end on a mean cliffhanger. The sequel, Legacy of Brick and Bone, will be published next April. I don’t have to wait long. And I undoubtedly look forward to reading it as soon as possible.
Side note: There is a character named Petrik in the book, but the author has mentioned this is purely a coincidence. Not based on me.
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