SPFBO 7 FINALIST: Legacy of the Brightwash by Krystal Matar

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Hype hype hype has been built up around this book, and I would say for the right audience this book is going to wow you. The prose was what struck me first. Right away from the first chapter I knew this was going to be a well crafted book, and it didn’t let me down.

The plot starts out heavy handed and out in the open early on which can serve to suck the reader in early. A young girl’s body washed ashore… and as if that’s not morbid enough she’s covered in tattoos, tortured, mutilated, and limbless. What a way to kick things off. But, the pace slows and allows for the characters to take center stage for a while. The man who finds a little girl’s body has no understanding of where she’s come from. He isn’t even really a detective of that sort. His job is to keep tabs on those that are magically inclined, and investigating a homicide is not typically his jurisdiction. This girl won’t leave his thoughts and she becomes an interest he can’t set aside, and so instead he goes on a search to find out what happened to her.

The other main POV is from a woman who’s hiding the fact she’s more powerful than she lets on. She calls herself a “whisperer”, which is someone who’s able to take the pain from people as they die by disconnecting their minds from their body’s pain. She’s actually a Healer, which is much more rare and a more powerful version of that class of magic. If she’s found out she could get sent to an AWFUL prison or an even worse, a breeding program where men and women are forced to sleep together to create custom designed powers in their children.

This is a fucked up world. It is REALLY dark, there’s child murder, torture, systematic rape and breeding programs. The government is oppressive and all encompassing creating a suffocated society. The male character himself is sort of a cog in the wheel and his story is watching how he slowly gets bent out of shape and then leaves the wheel entirely. I think this was supposed to be a kind of redemption arc but I’m tired of people only learning that treating people like shit is bad when something hits home for them personally. It’s only bad when something happens to them… he was cool with this system when his son was locked away as was his ex wife who’s getting continuously raped, and then her children of those rapes were taken from her. He’s cool with this and participates for years… until someone he loves falls victim to this cycle, too. It’s a believable and convincing character arc… but I think you’re supposed to like him and I don’t. This really muddies the whole book because I can’t invest in this relationship he’s in, either which is arguably Plot A and overwhelms the original plot of the girl who died.

The woman character I found to be much more pallatable from the start and only became more empathetic with time…. well… outside of the romance.

So, I do have a lot of personal taste issues with this book. Anyone who follows my reviews knows that I struggle with many common tropes in romance, and as a whole it’s not a genre I reach for. I’ve really been trying to broaden my horizons and dip my toes into romance, and actually I’ve loved Olivia Atwater’s Half a Soul, and T. Kingfisher’s Swordheart — so I’m getting there!! However, there were just a few things here that didn’t work for me personally.

I was introduced to the term UST by a fellow judge. It stands for Unresolved Sexual Tension. I wanted to scream at the characters to fuck or get off the pot. I didn’t like the guy… and I don’t like UST, and just… it didn’t work on any level for me. I have discovered my personal taste for romance must have a lot of on-scene chemistry. If there’s are only brief interactions followed by obsessive thoughts later that does not build a romance for me. I also just don’t like a ton of time spent on romantic thoughts about off-scene characters in general. A few things here and there to make me believe that they care and the other person is on their mind, sure. But when it starts to take up significant page time I would much prefer that relationship be built in a person to person way.

It was hard to tell for me if the pacing was truly dragging in a way most people would notice, or if it was just me because I was disliking the romance so much. I can say the pacing was a little wonky as far as the plotlines. The dead girl was dropped and picked up again at random times and it got a little frustrating…. and then ends on a cliffhanger.

Okay, okay…. there. I’m done with my complaints and I’m going back to compliments.

The world building was utterly riveting. I want more stories in this world, I want to know everything about it. It seems so hauntingly real. The evil serves a purpose which is something that’s so necessary for me to invest in a world and want to revisit. I hate it when evil is evil just because evil. There are economic driving factors, and as anyone knows, money is truly the root of all the fucked up things we do to each other as a society. If a company or govt can save money by being brutal to nameless faceless grunt, they absolutely will.

The magic system was fascinating, it wasn’t hand-wavey but it wasn’t a hard magic system either. There were broadly categorized magics but not something like Sanderson or Brent Weeks. The city felt real living breathing place, and it was all done without major info dumps. I hate info dumps, and I find it extremely impressive when something this intricate, thought out, and dense to be written in a way that felt organic rather than someone sitting down and telling me how things work.

I found the characters to have distinct voices, the dialogue was as well written as the narrative part of the story. Everything was smooth and elegant and a joy to read. It was easy to forget I was reading and just get completely lost in my head-movie. I got great visualizations of each scene, and I felt fully immersed which I have to say is such a rare experience for me because I have such a hard time visualizing things. It has to be written just so.


Here’s how the scoring will work out. This is one of those times where my enjoyment score, and the score for the book are pretty different. I absolutely do recommend it to others. I am a weird and absurdly picky romance reader.


  • Plot: 10/15
  • Characters: 12/15
  • World Building: 14/15
  • Writing: 14/15
  • Pacing: 7/15
  • Originality: 11/15
  • Enjoyment: 4/10

Final Score: 72/100


This is the story of Tashué Blackwood, who is a Regulation Officer in the city of Yaelsmuir. This means that he and his fellow officers keep tabs on the ‘tainted’ people of the city, who are those who have magical talents. Every person with magic must register with the Authority or be put in the Rift, a maximum security facility where Tashué’s own son Jason is, for refusing to register.

When a dead girl with a strange tattoo washes up on the shore of the Brightwash, Tashué takes it upon himself to investigate where she came from and why nobody seems to care. That’s just the beginning of the shenanigans going down in Yaelsmuir. 

I really enjoyed Legacy of the Brightwash. It was hard to put down once I picked it up, very easy to read for long periods of time, and the world and characters were just fantastically crafted. The world where Tashué and the others live, is a sort of gaslamp/western-adjacent world of trains and guns, waistcoats and petticoats. It was very easy for me to imagine this city, both dirty and corrupt, and opulent and magical. 

There were so many characters in this book to love, and the POV does switch between them fairly often, though we do see the story mostly from Tashué’s POV. The characters may seem like archetypes at first, but each of them grow into someone unique as the story goes on, and I absolutely latched onto more than one of them. You’ve got everything here from the chain-smoking veteran lawman, the woman with a mysterious past, the loyal partner who knows you too well to take your shit, the mysterious and charming spy, etc, etc, etc. There wasn’t a POV character in this book that I didn’t find interesting in some way. My favorite character was definitely Ishmael Saeati. I can’t wait to read more about him.

A lot of the plot focuses on a romance between Tashué and Stella Whiterock, a tainted woman who lives next to him. I was definitely here for the romance aspect, though there is plenty going on outside of it. The mystery of what is happening in Yaelsmuir, and where the dead girl from the Brightwash came from unravels slowly over the course of the book. There was romance, mystery, and intrigue mixed with corruption, conspiracy, and violence. 

All told, I loved it. It was slowly paced, but never so slow that I found it boring. There was always something going on that was interesting, even if it wasn’t pulse-pounding and rocketing towards the finish. I loved it from start to finish. 9/10 stars!~

COMBINED END SCORE: 8.1 or 8/10 for SPFBO!