Brother’s Ruin by Emma Newman. ★★★★
Brother’s Ruin is the first in a planned series of historical fantasy novellas.
Charlotte Gunn is the daughter of a lower middle income family in 1850 England. Her father barely scrapes by as an illustrator, but Charlotte has her own secret artistic career that she’s using to help her older brother pay for engineering school. Then disaster strikes – Charlotte finds out that her father is in debt and doesn’t have the money to pay and is facing debtor’s prison or worse.
In addition to her own career as an illustrator, Charlotte has another secret – she has significant magical abilities.
Hiding magical abilities is illegal, and if Charlotte is discovered involuntarily, her family would be presumed to help her and face prosecution. But if Charlotte voluntarily announces her abilities to the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts, they would pay her family a compensation of funds analogous with her abilities. It could offer the solution to her family’s financial problems, but it would mean the end to Charlotte’s dreams. Mages are forbidden to marry, but Charlotte has a fiancee. Mages are forbidden to have incomes independent from their work with the Royal Society, but Charlotte loves her art. Can Charlotte find a solution to save her father and her own dreams? Or will she have to make a sacrifice?
My favorite thing about Brother’s Ruin is Charlotte. She’s such a spunky heroine! On the surface, she acts very hard to be the proper Victorian lady. As such, her family and others pay very little attention to her, and she has a lot of leeway to lead her own life. She’s smart, determined, and by golly, she’s got gumption. I’d love to read more about her.
I also enjoyed the alternate history Newman has crafted. She pays heed to historical details but embellishes them with fantastical twists. The Royal Society is appropriately mysterious and intimidating. If you’re discovered with magical powers, you’re taken from your family and made to devote your life to the Society. An early scene with a young boy being dragged from his mother by Society enforcers shows just how real this threat is. It’s abundantly clear why Charlotte doesn’t want to join them.
Brother’s Ruin is a novella, and thus a pretty quick read. It is clearly the beginning of a series, feeling much more like a “Part One” than an independent story. The next novella is also supposed to come out in 2017, but there’s no firm news. That’s too bad! I really want the next part of this story.
I received this novella from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.