Sometimes I’ll search NetGalley for the names of authors I’ve read for something new and familiar at once. I recently came across Emma Newman’s new novella, Brother’s Ruin, and I decided to give it a shot.
The last thing I read of Newman’s was Planetfall, a sci-fi that was a character focus on someone with a rather debilitating mental illness. With that experience, I was expecting this new novel, though in a different genre, to also be quite character focused.
Arguably, it was. And that was the problem.
Set in a Victorian London which prizes magic and others magic users, I was expecting stronger world-building. As it is, the reader is thrown right into the thick of it with it and I rather felt as if I had started reading at the second chapter, having missed some information. Plus, the synopsis of the book is actually quite misleading.
For a lower middle class family like the Gunns, the loss of a son can be disastrous, so when seemingly magical incidents begin cropping up at home, they fear for their Ben’s life and their own livelihoods.
But Benjamin Gunn isn’t a talented mage. His sister Charlotte is, and to prevent her brother from being imprisoned for false reporting she combines her powers with his to make him seem a better prospect.
Totally not what’s going on. I understand not wanting to spoil the events of the book, but they’ve completely manufactured motivations there that don’t exist in the text itself.
The bulk of what bothered me is that I didn’t care at all for Charlotte past the opening sequence with the baker. Considering the narrative was so focused on her, it clearly became an issue. Though this was a short read, I wasn’t compelled at all to keep reading. Charlotte is the only character that’s really fleshed out, and she makes stupid choices. She takes it upon herself to take responsibility for other people’s errors without even discussing things with them.
She does it, of course, because she cares about them.
Because going behind someone’s back to solve their problems in secret is definitely what you should do when you love someone. Also, lying to the man you want to marry is acceptable. Of course.
This was a fast-paced story that I think I would have enjoyed better had it been novel-length and had time to really explore more of the world and the side characters.
As it is, I’m keen to pass – on fluttery feelings for a stranger, side characters who make dumb decisions, and a main character that looks like she’s going to be a magical prodigy. How many tropes can you fit into less than 200 pages?
It’s not likely that I’ll give the second volume a chance, but I won’t give up on reading Newman’s other work.
Have you read Brother’s Ruin? Any of Emma Newman’s other work? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!