Bright Ruined Things by Samantha Cohoe
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Forbidden magic, a family secret, and a night to reveal it all…
The only life Mae has ever known is on the island, living on the charity of the wealthy Prosper family who control the magic on the island and the spirits who inhabit it. Mae longs for magic of her own and to have a place among the Prosper family, where her best friend, Coco, will see her as an equal, and her crush, Miles, will finally see her. Now that she’s eighteen, Mae knows her time with the Prospers may soon come to an end.
But tonight is First Night, when the Prospers and their high-society friends return to the island to celebrate the night Lord Prosper first harnessed the island’s magic and started producing aether – a magical fuel source that has revolutionized the world. With everyone returning to the island, Mae finally has the chance to go after what she’s always wanted.
When the spirits start inexplicably dying, Mae starts to realize that things aren’t what they seem. And Ivo, the reclusive, mysterious heir to the Prosper magic, may hold all the answers – including a secret about Mae’s past that she doesn’t remember. As Mae and her friends begin to unravel the mysteries of the island, and the Prospers’ magic, Mae starts to question the truth of what her world was built on.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
It’s Mae’s last chance to learn magic.
She’s not a Prosper, not truly part of the family that made a fortune by controlling the aether only the island can provide. In fact, she only calls the island her home because the Prospers promised her late father they would raise her until she came of age. Any day now, they’re bound to realize she’s turned eighteen and no longer has a place on the island.
But First Night is coming. A night to celebrate the discovery and control of aether under Lord Prosper, anything could happen. Mae will have her best friend Coco at her side, and maybe this time, her crush Miles will see her, really see her, at long last. That is, of course, if she can figure out why spirits seem to be withering across the island.
With the help of unlikely allies, and with a dangerous secret dangling overhead, Mae must find her place on the island before First Night is over. Otherwise, she stands to lose it all, and maybe still more.
Bright Ruined Things is a reimaging of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
I wish I’d read The Tempest in full rather than just certain scenes before starting, because I suspect it adds quite a bit to the book. The connections I made between the two works were mostly a name here, a concept there, since my familiarity level is so low. A more Shakespeare-savvy reader, though, might spot deeper connections.
That said, I still enjoyed the concept. Mysterious magic, controlled by a single family? One girl, desperate to have a place among the magic using elite because otherwise, she faces a little too mundane to bear? And all that sprinkled with some 1920s aesthetic choices? As far as the set-up goes, it’s like candy to me. How was I supposed to resist making an ARC request?
Historical fantasy is my underdog favorite genre. It’s so delightful done right, and there’s something so captivating about glitz and glamor with a splash of magic!
This book needed a stronger foundation, though.
Like I said, people who’ve read The Tempest might get more out of Bright Ruined Things than I did. But coming into it with my limited knowledge meant I also left a little underwhelmed. For all the glittery, enticing reasons to read this book, I found the characters to be somewhat two dimensional and uninteresting. Mae, subject as she is to a curious bout of magic that limits her agency, only becomes interesting as she’s free to make her own choices. Supporting characters like Ivo, Miles, and Coco, though, remain rather flat.
Worse still, many of the character relationships rely on avoiding communication. This is far and away one of my biggest pet peeves in fiction, because there’s so many more interesting ways to generate tension than “he almost tells her the big secret, but instead shuts his mouth and walks away, prolonging the story for another 200 pages.”
(I will freely admit the lack of communication is used once in this book to devastating effect. In the least spoilery way possible, let me simply say that Mae learns how one of the supporting characters truly feels about her by eavesdropping, and it’s genuinely crushing. Doubly so if you’ve ever experienced something similar.)
I suppose I just wish overall that the characters had more oomph to them, more facets. Without full background knowledge of The Tempest, I can’t tell if I’m missing details that would round them out more fully by virtue of connecting to the source material, or if it’s that they’re really just that…unengaging to begin with.
This one is a bit of a toss-up in terms of recommendation.
Bright Ruined Things might be amazing for any Shakespeare buffs out there! Provided you like retellings, of course. Like I’ve said, someone with more familiarity with The Tempest might experience Bright Ruined Things in a more complete way. And, if you’re like me and enjoy historical fantasy, it might be worth your time just to experience another way to blend magic into the past!
At the same time, though, if you want a rich, complex story, you aren’t going to see much of that until the final burst of pages, and it can be slow going leading up to that point. The finale is a heady rush of fireworks and emotional explosives, but the time it takes to get there can be discouraging.
If you decide to give Bright Ruined Things a go, though, it’s out on shelves now! 🎆
CW: violence (including gun violence), suicide, loss of a loved one, drug use, addiction, smoking, sexual harassment