Bright Ruined Things
Updated: Feb 3, 2022
Rating - ⭐⭐
"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."
Bright Ruined Things is a standalone YA fantasy novel by Samantha Cohoe.
First and foremost I would like to thank NetGalley and Wednesday Books for allowing me to review this title. Please note that this in no way affects my opinions. Also note that what I read was an ARC, and things may be subject to change for the final copy.
If I could sum up my reading experience with one emotion it would be mad. This book just made me furious the entire time for several reasons as nothing about this worked for me. At its core, this story could have had potential, but all of it was wasted on an overly dramatic plot and unlikeable characters. This felt like one big messy family drama thinly veiled as a fantasy story full of characters who had no redeemable qualities. In all honesty, my two-star rating might be too generous.
In order to really get into what bothered me, I am going to go into spoilers at the end. The spoilers will be sectioned off with a warning, so if you don't want to get spoiled, stop reading when you see the bolded uppercase title.
Now, let's get into the details.
The writing in and of itself was fine as I was able to get through the story with only minor issues. One complaint I had would be that there were a good amount of very short sentences, which is something that I find hinders my reading ability. It makes the writing choppy and it flows oddly as my brain just keeps abruptly stopping.
The only other issue I had was the use of nicknames. The main character is constantly called Mousy Mae which, while it is used for a reason, becomes annoying rather quickly because of how often it was said.
At the beginning, it also includes a very basic family tree, which is great to see but it would be nice to see it look a bit better for the final copy.
Let's get this out of the way first. Apparently, this story is supposed to be a retelling of a Shakespeare play called The Tempest. I was not aware of that at all as it was not stated anywhere in the synopsis on Goodreads, and I only found out about it because of the reviews. I cannot fault NetGalley on this as it is part of the description on there, but any readers who are finding the book through Goodreads should be made aware of this. Also, since I do not know what the play is about, I cannot comment on how similar the plots are to each other.
Now, as I said in the introduction, while this is penned as a fantasy, it plays out more like a family drama which is something that I did not want nor need. At the center of the family drama, we have our main character Mae, who is not part of the family and is thus the worst outlet for this story (and not just because I simply didn't like her). As I said, this entire story focuses on the Prosper family, so having an outsider who is not part of said family be the person you are getting the story though, doesn't work because what is happening has nothing to do with her.
Aside from the overly dramatic story, this was also missing a lot of needed context. There are a lot of complex relationships in here, and we are thrown in the middle of it without really knowing how it all started. The characters would reflect on something that happened in the past and it was like you were expected to know what happened already (even though you don't).
Finally, as I was reading along, as a reader does, I was trying to predict what direction the plot was heading in, and I liked the version playing out in my head better than the actual story. I was also so bothered by the way the story was unfolding that I skipped all the way to the end to see what happened... Overall though, this story just didn't deliver the fantasy story I was expecting and was left with a mess of family relations instead.
The world in this novel was lacking a lot of, well, building and clarity. The story takes place on a magical island, one of only a few, and the Prosper family makes their wealth on mining something called aether. We are given hints of a world but not much else context to fill it as the reader is left with a lot of questions.
For one, we are not told why magic is isolated to only a few islands besides plot convenience. There was only one instance I can remember where the study of magic was mentioned outside of the islands, but it was very brief. We also do not get to know pretty much anything about the use of aether and the process of mining and utilizing it. For a standalone novel, it is crucial that you establish and develop some form of well-thought-out world, but the world here seems to be only crafted to the extent to somewhat support the plot and no more than that.
My other issue with the world-building is that this is supposed to take place in the 1920s, and not once does it feel like it is. If you are going to market your novel as being partly historical, some effort must at least be made in order to actually make it so. I think the only hint of this being set in the 20s was the mention of bobs being a hair trend. Other than that, this could have taken place at any point in time and no one would have noticed the difference.
I would say that this story is primarily character-driven seeing as the story focuses on Mae and the Prosper family (and Rex) almost entirely. For me, to enjoy a good character-driven story, I need the characters and the relationships between them to be well-developed and likeable. That is most definitely not the case here as all of the characters, with the exception of one, were all unlikeable and the dynamics between them were underdeveloped and overly dramatic.
Don't get me wrong, a character doesn't have to be likeable for the story to be good, but when the story itself isn't good and all you have going for you is the characters...them being unlikeable does not help. Even the one character I liked I couldn't enjoy because of the way the author handled them (I will talk more about this in the spoilers).
Now, let's go straight into my main reason for disliking this book - Mae. Mae is our main character, and I wanted to shove her off the cliff of the island the entire time I was reading this. That's how frustrating it was to be inside of her head. She was stuck so far into her own world that all her actions come off as selfish and reckless, and those actions are sadly what drove the story.
She constantly jumps to conclusions with no real evidence and would not see reason beyond it. Her character also made no sense at points, as in the beginning, she is incredibly desperate to stay on the island, but when given the opportunity to do so, she won't take it. For someone in as desperate as a situation she is in, it just doesn't line up. At one point, without going into spoilers, she mentioned how if she could put herself into someone else's situation she would, but it was the exact situation she was trying to run away from which made no sense at all.
I also simply had not one ounce of sympathy for her character. As I said earlier, not only is she reckless, selfish, and presumptuous, she is also nosey. Everything that happens in this book was all because she just couldn't keep her nose where it belonged.
Regarding the rest of the cast of characters, they felt more like archetypes than actual characters. Miles was the black sheep, Alasdair was the playboy, Coco was the rebellious one, Apollonia was the prim one, and Aeris the spirit was basically Peeves the Poltergeist. Ivo was the only character that I liked even though he also fell into an archetype of being the broody one. None of the characters were utilized well.
In terms of character relationships, I was not here for any of them, mainly because it got really annoying real fast because of how much Mae thought about Miles. There were also just a lot of gaps in all of the relationships. Because of where the story starts, Mae and her relationships with the members of the Prosper family are already established, and we are thus missing a lot of context as to how said relationships grew.
For example, it was alluded to that Mae and Ivo became friends at one point but fell apart but we don't get to see that. Mae and Miles seem to kick things off pretty easily even though they hadn't seen each other for a long time. We are not told why Mae and Coco get along so well.
I don't even know how to sum up this reading experience other than saying that I wouldn't recommend this to anyone really. If you are looking for a well-developed fantasy or a book that radiated 1920s energy, then this is not for you. If you are looking for a messy family drama, well, maybe give it a shot?
WARNING - SPOILERS AHEAD - PROCEED WITH CAUTION
Now, let's talk about the big reveal that was the ending of this book. The strange things on the island were all happening for the most ridiculous reason. Lord Prosper has to perform a ritual on First Night in order to bind the spirits that inhabit the island into servitude. His reasoning was that because the spirits did nothing with the power and potential the island had, he needed to give their life meaning by forcing them to work for the family... I'm sorry, what? All of this...for forced labour...just no.
Moving onto the one thing I liked about this book that was still ruined in some way because I just couldn't have anything nice - Ivo. Ivo was the only good thing about this story because he actually had an interesting character arc, it was just ruined because of how all of the other characters treated him.
I knew in my soul that Ivo was a good guy, so having to read about him being dragged through the mud by characters I didn't like who also had no evidence to instigate him, bothered me on a very deep level. And to top it all off, he dies in the end. You keep a character like Alasdair alive, have him saved even, but you kill off poor Ivo. I even found killing off Rex to be a bit ridiculous as well, even if he wasn't a good guy, because it was so sudden.
Now, I mentioned earlier in the plot section that what I was envisioning in my head ended up being better than what actually happened, and I want to talk about that a bit. To quickly catch up, Ivo was not the one at fault, it was Lord Prosper making him do it the entire time, and the rest of the Prosper family make it off the island safe and sound after a failed binding ritual releases all the spirits.
Here's where I thought the story was going. Miles was giving me weird vibes and was being a bit too passive. I thought that he was orchestrating the whole thing and pining it on Ivo because he was the black sheep of the family, and he wanted to take Ivo's place as heir of the family. I was hoping that Mae would stop making assumptions with Ivo and start to realize that her idolizing Miles wasn't particularly healthy and that Ivo instead was the one who cared for her. Even though I didn't like Mae, I would have liked to see a happy ending for her and Ivo.
As you can see though...that is not the story I ended up getting, but I much prefer what was playing out in my head.