Esmay Rosalyne’s Spoiler-Free Review of Legacy of Brick and Bone by Krystle Matar
Publication date: 25 April 2023
Series: Book 2 in The Tainted Dominion
Genre: Grimdark Fantasy, Gaslamp Fantasy, Romantic Fantasy
Rating: 4.5 stars
*Disclaimer: I received a free eARC of this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Follow the law and you’ll stay safe. But what if the law betrays you?
It all started with the girl from the river: mutilated, tattooed, murdered. Tashué couldn’t help but look for answers and in the process, he uncovered the ugly truths being hidden by the very law he used to believe in—the law of the Authority.
Now he’s fighting for his life. Mere survival isn’t enough; he desperately wants to save his son from the Authority, and he wants revolution. At any cost.
Davik Kaine has been gathering power under everyone’s noses. Ruthless, ambitious, with a rebel army backing him, he wants revolution, too. He’s probably the only person powerful enough to protect Tashué from the looming implosion of the political field. And he’s the only person with the connections to save Jason.
He may also be responsible for the death of the girl from the river.
Is making peace with Davik worth it, if it saves Tashué’s son from the Authority?
If Tashué plays along with what Davik wants, can Tashué get retribution for the girl from the river?
Review of Legacy of Brick and Bone
Look, I’ve made it no secret that Legacy of the Brightwash was my favourite book of 2022 and also instantly one of my favourite books of all time. Needless to say that I was equally excited and nervous for this sequel, because would it be able to meet my (almost unfairly) high expectations? Well, to that I can only say: Hell to the fuck yes. So, bear with me while I (attempt to) get my gushing under control and explain to you why you desperately need to read this character-driven, grimdark gaslamp fantasy series. I promise it’s everything you didn’t know you needed.
Okay, first thing I loved about this sequel is that it starts with a nice recap of all the wild things that happened in book 1, ending with the line: “And so, this idiot is in a lot of trouble.” And yeah, that sums it all up pretty nicely.
I was personally a very big fan of how this book begins, because instead of continuing on straight where book 1 left off, the first 20% of this book cuts back a few days and fills us in on some of the events that led up to the explosive ending to Legacy of the Brightwash. Anxious as I was to see how the story would continue after that crazy final chapter of book 1, I also really appreciated the time to breathe and get settled again. And what’s even better, this book opens up with a new POV from my favourite side character of book 1 and we quite literally start with… a bang! And no, not the explosive kind of bang, but more the steamy kind of bang, if you know what I mean 😉
Whereas book 1 mostly felt like Tashué and Stella’s story, book 2 really gives some of the other POV characters their time to shine. In fact, I think some of the secondary characters from book 1 actually ended up having my favourite storylines in this sequel, the character development was just SO good.
I mean, I was already floored by Matar’s excellent character work in book 1, but holy damn she stepped it up a notch in this sequel. The characters’ backstories are fleshed out and we get an even closer look into their complex minds, exploring just how far they are willing to go to accomplish what they think is right. Heck, even the ‘antagonists’ turned out to be much more morally complex than I was anticipating and I was so impressed with how Matar developed them. Though, don’t worry, some of them are still just deliciously despicable and you will have a great time hating them with a burning passion.
I also can’t give high enough praise to the complex character dynamics here. One of my favourite aspects of this series is how it explores all types of messy and painfully human relationships. From the unconventional and slightly dysfunctional family dynamics, to the strong and heartfelt friendships, to the emotional and passionate romances, to the unlikely alliances, and to the messy relationships that straddle the line between all those four.
Every single character interaction is just so intense and compelling, because all of these characters are incredibly driven and passionate, letting their emotions rule their actions more often than is probably good for them. And because people sometimes behave in strange, irrational and volatile ways when emotions are involved, these characters managed to surprise me multiple times with their (stupid) actions.
The way Matar captures human emotion is just unmatched, which is probably why these characters’ personal journeys touch me so deeply. Seriously, I don’t cry while reading, never… AND YET, Matar managed to get me not once, not twice, but MULTIPLE times. Reading this series is such an emotional rollercoaster and I adore every single (painful) second of it.
Now, this is quite a dark and heavy story which deals with difficult themes such as mental health, trauma, addiction, oppression, corruption, grief, and loss. And yet, I personally think that the story never becomes too bleak, because those themes are explored in such a raw, honest and authentic way. I mean, yes, The Dominion is an unforgiving, brutal and bleak place, yet that darkness is beautifully counterbalanced by the love, hope, courage, loyalty and passion that drives our protagonists forward.
It’s truly remarkable to me that Matar was able to write 7 different POV characters who are all flawed, broken and messed up, without their struggles and suffering ever feeling unbearable. Of course it was tragic to see them at war with themselves because of their shifted/shattered worldviews and conflicting morals and emotions, but it also made them so much more relatable and human. And what I maybe love most about these broken characters is that they always keep holding onto hope, never giving up their relentless fight against the vile people that keep the brutal power system in place.
With all this gushing, you’ve probably noticed by now that I absolutely love that this series is so slow-burn and character-driven. That said, I do have to admit that I thought the plot and pacing were not the strongest in a couple of places, especially in Stella’s storyline. There were some moments while reading this (aptly named) brick of a book that felt a bit too slow even for me.
The mystery aspect from book 1 is absent here, instead shifting focus to lots of political scheming and, as you might have gathered from the cover, pugilism. To be fair, the political intrigue is very well-written and I never thought I could be this captivated by boxing training, but I also just can’t deny that the pacing was a bit wonky for me in the middle. Don’t get me wrong, I was never bored while reading this, but I do think there were some sections that maybe could have been tightened up a little to keep the tension higher.
Luckily, those slight pacing issues ended up being only a minor quibble, because there’s just too much to love for me here. The immersive gaslamp aesthetic, the queer-positive society, the intriguing yet devastating magic system (which we get to explore in new and interesting ways in this sequel), the soul-stirring prose… it all just works for me and I love it!
Also, all the slow build-up did eventually result in another thrilling and explosive conclusion that had me glued to the page. The final 200 pages of this book were unputdownable and made me slightly nauseous from anxiety and stress. Which I admit may not sound too great, but I honestly loved it. This is exactly the type of reading experience I am always hunting for.
So, safe to say that I am extremely happy with this follow-up to one of my all-time favourite books. From a plot perspective, I may have enjoyed the first book a bit more, but on an emotional level, nothing will ever come close to my reading experience of this sequel. If you haven’t already started The Tainted Dominion series, then I honestly think you are doing yourself a disservice. Don’t miss out on this masterpiece of a story, it will emotionally destroy you in all the best ways and I love it for that.