Review: Brother’s Ruin by Emma Newman

Brother’s Ruin by Emma Newman (Industrial Magic #1)

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Publisher: Tor.com on March 14, 2017

Source: Publisher

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

The year is 1850 and Great Britain is flourishing, thanks to the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts.

BROTHER’S RUIN is the first novella in a new series that promises inventive historical fantasy, relatable characters, and an undercurrent of mystery and twisty political schemes. While some readers may find the beginning of the story slow, fans of historical fantasy will adore the attention to historical detail.

Charlotte Gunn is many things: sister, fiancee, daughter…and a keeper of secrets. She flouts convention as an accomplished professional illustrator using a male pseudonym, but even more scandalous than that, Charlotte is a Latent. An untrained mage with latent ability, Charlotte avoids detection by the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts by using her magic only very sparingly. The Society has many informants throughout England, helping them to forcibly conscripts Latents into their ranks to serve crown and country; while the families of Latents are compensated handsomely for their loved one’s service and abilities, those who are found harbouring Latents face criminal charges. So when Charlotte’s brother Ben’s name is put forth for the Royal Society, she’s understandably quite shaken.

Although we don’t get a lot of informationΒ on the magic system in BROTHER’S RUIN, I’m intrigued by the details we do see. Mages in the Royal Society train in one of three colleges: Thermaturgy, Dynamics, and Kinetics. Typically mages have aptitude in one or two of the colleges, but some rare magi have ability in all three; representatives from the Colleges test Latents and then makes offers to them, and people accept a College based on their interests (and the compensation offered). When Ben submits himself for testing, we meet a number of representatives from the Royal Society and they are pretty dang sketchy. Their presence puts Charlotte on edge, making her fear not only the outcome of Ben’s test but also her own discovery.

At the same time that Ben is preparing to take his magical test, Charlotte discovers that her family is in financial ruin. With her father in danger from a shady debt collector, Charlotte takes it upon herself to try to plead her father’s case. But when she visits the collector’s firm, Charlotte discovers that her father’s financial woes may very well be connected to the Royal Society…

Emma Newman has a talent for including the social conventions and attitudes that dictated life at the time without bogging down the story too much (at least, not according to a detail-lover like me). From hiding her career to caring for her ill brother to trying to save her father, Charlotte is every inch a character that I respect and admire. She constantly sacrifices for her loved ones and she isn’t afraid to stand up to authority when she feels it’s necessary, and she’s got a strong moral center. Basically, I love Charlotte and I can’t wait to see what she gets up to next. So far I don’t have much of an opinion on the other characters – aside from Ben, who I found a bit whiny and grating – so hopefully we’ll learn more about them in the next instalment.

This novella ended up taking quite an unexpected turn and I couldn’t be happier about it! BROTHER’S RUIN is the set-up for what I fully expect to be a great series, and if you like historical fantasy with feminist undertones, you’ll definitely like this one.

What’s your favourite historical fantasy novel? Have you read BROTHER’S RUIN or anything else by Emma Newman? Let me know in the comments!

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  • This one has the coolest cover. But I already wanted to read it, so your review telling me I should affected me not at all! Or further made me want to junk the book I not digging right now and just move on with my TBR list.

    • Tor and Tor.com seriously have such an incredible art department, they’re doing great work. Hahaha well I’m glad it had no impact then! πŸ˜‰ I will always support DNFing boring books.

  • This sounds like such a Danya book! πŸ™‚ I’m glad that it was a great read for you. It sounds very complex and well-developed for a novella. I am curious about this twist that you mention too! And Charlotte sounds like an amazing character too. I’ll be looking forward to reading your thoughts on book 1 of the series.

    • You caught me, Nick! Hahaha. Historical fantasy with a plucky heroine is always a yes from me, but this one really *is* sophisticated for a novella. As far as I know this is actually a series of novellas? But I guess we’ll see soon enough! πŸ™‚

  • I’m so glad you enjoyed this. I’m not sure I have time to read it this month, which is a shame. It sounds right up my alley, plus I love Emma Newman! Thanks for sharing your review:-)

    • Oh no, that is a bummer! I’ve got a feeling you’re going to enjoy it because as you said…Emma Newman! Hopefully you’ve got more time in April. πŸ™‚

  • I do like historical fantasy πŸ˜€

  • Haven’t read the book, but this line got me:

    > Mages in the Royal Society train in one of three colleges: Thermaturgy, Dynamics, and Kinetics.

    I remember taking dynamics and kinetics courses through undergrad/grad school. I feel like the magical versions would be way more fun…

    • Ahhh yes, I too took dynamics and kinetics in school while I studied English, History, and Library Science….LOL. πŸ˜‰ While I can’t comment on the real-world ones, I really liked the glimpses we got of the magical versions!

  • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

    What a fascinating premise! Historical fantasy is quickly becoming one of my favorite genres, and books like this one can only reinforce my preference. Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

    • Me too, Maddalena! Historical fantasy has really been bringing it lately, and Emma Newman certainly has the writing chops to pull it off (even in novella form). I highly recommend this one! πŸ™‚

  • Greg Hill

    I love that name… Royal Society of the esoteric Arts. Yes please! Gaslamp fantasy is not something I’ve read a lot of, but I’d love to. Something so mysterious about it. πŸ™‚ And Charlotte sounds fantastic. Didn’t Emma Newman write the Split Worlds series? That’s one I was pondering a while back but never did read them.

    • Isn’t it great? And somehow it feels true to the time period, which just adds another layer of awesome. Gaslamp is the best, and it’s a fun term too! Charlotte was *such* a great heroine, I really loved her…way more than the characters in the first Split World book (which yes, is Newman’s). Apparently the SW books get better over time!

  • I haven’t read any books by this author! This sounds cool – almost steampunk-y? I love steampunk. Well, I love historical fiction in general, fantasy/paranormal aspects or no. πŸ˜€ Secret societies (good or bad) always intrigue me. I’m glad you enjoyed this novella, Danya!

    Have a great week. =)

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

    • Emma Newman’s been writing adult SFF for such a long time, but I don’t think she’s ever really had the kind of promo that this book is getting. Oh yeah, definitely a bit steampunk-feeling! Knowing your love of historical fiction (and fantasy too!) I highly recommend this one, Alyssa!

      Thanks girl, you too!

  • This looks absolutely amazing!!! Definitely reading this one soon! My favorite historical fantasy would have to be The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare! I loved that dark, gritty, magic imbued feel of london. Awesome post and thanks for sharing :P!!!
    Kariny @kariny’s boox frenzy

    • Oh my gosh, you’d *love* this one Kariny! Charlotte is kind of similar to Tessa in that she’s outwardly reserved and kinda shy but her inner self is fiery and adventurous. Thanks, I hope you get the chance to read it soon! πŸ™‚

      • omg really!!!! Okay you convinced me i’m buying this at the end of the month :P!!!

  • I’m not read many historical books to be honest but would LOVE to explore the genre! This sounds wonderful what with all gritty feel and also its set in LONDON!! <33

    • Historical fiction used to really intimidate me for some reason, but honestly it’s one of my favourites now. Throw in a dash of magic and a pinch of political scheming, and I’m totally sold. Based on what you’ve said Uma, I think you’d really like this one. And as a bonus: it’s a quick read!

  • DANYA! Another one headed to my TBR… Thanks. πŸ˜‰ What you do to my poor TBR!!! Ha ha.

    This really sounds like it is amazing and I am definitely going to keep my eyes open for it. I love that it isn’t overly long and yet it sounds like it managed to hold a great deal of info and plot. Plus that cover? I love it.

    • I KNOOOOW, I’m bad! Hahaha. Danya vs. The TBR Pile, coming soon to a theatre near you! πŸ˜‰

      Initially I was a bit concerned that there wouldn’t be enough space to really impart details in a novella, but Emma Newman totally knocked it out of the park here. Great protagonist, historical details, intriguing magic system, and a potential ship (!!!) all in less than 200 pages. Crazy!

  • Lynn Williams

    I can’t believe you’ve already read this! I just had it on my WoW a week or so ago. Cool – and it seems like you enjoyed it which is great.
    Lynn πŸ˜€

    • I’m reading like the wind these days! Gotta try to get ahead a bit because I sense that the rest of March and then into April is gonna be a bit crazy in my non-blogging and reading life. Loved it, I think you’ll really enjoy this one Lynn!

  • This one is giving me Sorceror to the Crown vibes? Have you read that one? Regardless, this sounds awesome. Love he time period and love kick-ass, sympathetic lady leads. I also like the strategy of starting a series with a novella, as long as it’s well written, it gives you a taste so you can judge if it’s going to be a series you want to spend some time with. Like an extended personal ad…for books.

    • YES, definitely! I loved Sorcerer to the Crown. And you’ll be happy to hear that Charlotte is much less impulsive and rash than Prunella (I know you didn’t like that!), even though she definitely gets into some mischief. The novella opening was fabulous! I’m not sure what’s happening with the rest of the series, if it’s going to be in novella form or novels. But either way – to use your analogy – I’d definitely go on a second date with this series. πŸ˜‰

      • Very glad to hear that about Charlotte! Makes it even more appealing!

  • Oooh the cover looks so cool and you definitely have me intrigued! I love historical fantasy! Charlotte sounds like an amazing character! Glad this was such a great read! Awesome review, Danya!

    • The cover art from Tor and Tor.com is killer! It’s always been good but dang, they’ve really been brining their A game lately. Charlotte is a fantastic heroine, and if you’re in the mood for a quick read I highly recommend you pick this one up. Thanks, Cyn! πŸ™‚

  • This sounds really good, glad you enjoyed it. I love books that surprise me in the end!!

    • It was awesome! And I have to say, the ending took me by surprise in the best way possible. It’s much more unique than I was expecting. πŸ™‚

  • How do you always find the really interesting books? This novella sounds so cool and Charlotte sounds like a character I can get behind. The world sounds interesting and I like the idea of mages having aptitudes in certain colleges and the idea of latents being essentially taken for service to the crown. It just sounds like an interesting world and I want to read but I’m not meant to be buying stuff until I clear some crap off my shelves. I mean, I have been but I’m not meant to be so you’re not helping!