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Bright Ruin
By Vic James
Del Rey, $25.00, 397pp
Published: October 2018

This is a contemporary world that is split into two classes:  the Skilled and everyone else. Being Skilled is having incomprehensible powers, ruling the unskilled and generally being arrogant.  There had been a point in history when the Skilled rose up and deposed the ruling government, taking over the country – this being Britain.  They then imposed a slave class upon the rest of the populace…in a fashion.  Every citizen is required to serve ten years of their life as a slave.  They have only the choice of when.  There is a reward at the end of the service – if they survive – of having a higher status in society. 

See the link below for reviews of the first two books.

This story begins with a conspiracy afoot to stop slavedays, led by one of the Equals – Midsummer Zelston.  Their main adversary is Chancellor Jardine, the father of Gavar, Jenner and Silyen.  And, of course, Bouda Matravers, Gavar’s estranged wife.  There are legends of how Skill was used that are all but forgotten now but Silyen, Bouda and Midsummer have all been pushing the boundaries of their abilities and the results are going to be terrifying.  A cataclysmic battle appears to loom.  The main protagonists continue to be Abigail and her brother, Luke, and the action spins around them and their choices.  Luke and Silyen are following a plot thread apart from all the other action and it doesn’t coincide with anything until…and possibly…at the very end - although that is subject to the reader’s interpretation.  Luke and Silyen are pursuing an investigation of the nature of Skill and chasing a myth; while Luke is hoping the pursuit of the myth will also find his lost friend, Coira.

Meanwhile, Midsummer is planning a huge peaceful protest to bring attention to abolishing slavedays.  She knows it will be tricky to make a bold statement that won’t bring their movement public condemnation.  Her display is awesome and definitive but she didn’t take into account the hidden Skill of Chancellor Jardine.  It appears that Jardine had never made his particular Skill public knowledge; even his own family didn’t know his strength was one of Persuasion.  Gavar, watching from the crowd, has an epiphany:  just about everything that went wrong in his life could be attributed to his father.  And Gavar can now see his father’s hand in in so many key moments; from keeping his mother submissive, to controlling a crowd to ignore evidence and fawn on his every word.  This is more than he expected and he comes to an immediate decision:  his father cannot be allowed to do it anymore; he cannot be allowed to turn the crowd’s admiration of Midsummer’s sacrifice to serve his own political agenda.  So Gavar does the only thing possible.  Also in the crowd are Abigail and Dog; they don’t have the same understanding of what they are observing but they reach the same conclusion.  And Dog is adequately armed…

There is a lot going on in the story and I can’t quite find a way to express my dissatisfaction appropriately.  On the surface, the story flows well and the plot is complex.  But the plot feels disjointed in places: for example, Luke’s and Silyen’s investigation has absolutely no bearing on the escalation of violence between Equals and the rebellion.  I kept waiting for a big reveal to show how it would save everyone and make life wonderful (yes, the author does try to do this at the last scene but it is incomplete).  As to the rebellion, the author tried to show lots of conflict but it felt a bit contrived; for example, there is an unskilled spy in the ranks of the Equals….or, is he actually spying on the rebellion.  The author couldn’t seem to make up her mind and we were left without a resolution.  The characters continued to feel shallow and one-dimensional to me. 

And the ending was really dissatisfying.  Gavar’s epiphany made understandable many of the events in the previous two books but it felt like something rushed…something the author just thought of that would be cool.  If you’re going to do that, you need to prepare the reader to accept it.  And for all the suspense in Silyen’s and Luke’s search, we weren’t let in on what they learned.  The author made a cataclysmic event – which was a real game-changer – and guaranteed to completely change their society.  But we don’t how or why it happened!  And there was a hint that the event only affected the British:  does that mean the physical location only?  Did it affect any Brit Equals who were out of country?  Why was it confined to Britain?  I needed a better understanding as this is the final book in the trilogy.  Final books should not have loose ends and this one left too many at the end.

Can’t really recommend this; I spent way too many hours on this trilogy and feel disappointed.  ~~ Catherine Book

For other titles by Vic James click here

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