“My son is imprisoned in the Rift, Mr. Finn. I come here three or four times a week to see him and most of the time he has fresh bruises. No new ones this time, thank the North Star. As long as my son is in this place, I don’t have ‘good’ nights.”
I fell face first into this story. I bought it a while back and cheered it on during the SPFBO finals because it just looked SO GOOD, but I haven’t had the time to read it until recently. AND NOW I’M ANNOYED I PUT IT OFF FOR SO LONG. I devoured 150 pages in one day. That rarely happens to me anymore because my attention span is a joke, lmao.
The smoky, magical, grim world of Krystle Matar’s Brightwash is a fitting follow up to my last read, A Handful of Souls (another SPFBO semi-finalist). Like A Handful of Souls, the Dominion Matar’s characters inhabit is a dark, brutal city, filled with oppression, secrets and tragedy. Each character has something to hide, something to run from, someone to protect. These characters are so real and actualised from the onset, and just amazing to read about. I felt like I was tugged into their universe from the very beginning.
“Everyone’s tired, Captain. Everyone is just bones and exhaustion in this city.”
SPOILER WARNING FROM HERE
The story starts with Captain Tashué Blackwood finding the body of a girl on the city’s riverbank and the series of events that follow. As he tries to solve the horrific crime, Tashué begins questioning everything he thought he knew about the world of the Dominion and those they call ‘tainted’ (or, as his son prefers, Talented).
Tashué is exactly the kind of character that I love because he’s so intricately thought out, but I did definitely want to scream at him multiple times throughout. Case in point: after his son Jason failed to register his Talent, he was arrested and thrown in a horrible prison called the Rift where all Talents are suppressed (and all inmates treated abysmally). And, like, UGH. PROTECT JASON AT ALL COSTS.
“His father is a stubborn man who stands by his beliefs, no matter the cost. Jason inherited that. And he believes that the Authority is an evil entity that will strip his humanity from him, so he defied them and got himself sent into the Rift.”
We start the book three years after Tashué watched his son be arrested and did nothing, and the years of Jason in prison have begun eating away at Tashué. He begs Jason to register, Jason refuses. He doesn’t want to sign his name on a document labelling him as ‘bad meat’. (With you, Jason buddy. I’m with you.) I definitely found myself struggling with Tashué’s reasoning and loyalties. It’s so, so clear that he loves his son and yet he JUST KEEPS GASLIGHTING HIMSELF. Not that it’s not believable, just that it’s so heartbreaking. So not what a father should do. Which is, of course, the point.
Every word hit Tashué like a fist. Queen of the common man, maybe, Queen of the ‘regular’ people, but even she clearly believed that people with Talent were people apart. To be managed. Jason had it, all along, back when Tashué still thought the Registration was for safety, to help people. Tainted, bad meat. Jason, I’m so fucking sorry.
And it was this scene that really made me cheer for the character development of Tashué in *checks notes* the first 153 pages. Like, we get such a deep dive into his mental civil wars with himself and I really enjoyed seeing him go from being someone I wanted to scream at to someone I was like YAS GO MY FRIEND, I AM AT YOUR SIDE FOR THE ENSUING SHENANIGANS.
But still also kind of wanted to scream at and throw spoons at.
Look, he imagined Rainer saying, the man is so loyal to our ideals that he allowed his own son to be processed for refusing to register. An exemplary Officer, truly.
I really and truly loved the scene where Stella called Tashué out on just how badly he let Jason down. She laid it all out there and I loved her for it. For not letting him try and apologise his way out of it. But what I really loved about the scene was where Tashué broke. I wish, for Jason’s sake, that it had come earlier, but his speech to Stella just SHREDDED ME. He’s the most frustrating and infuriating character at times, but Christ I just loved his development and his angst and his need to fix things. No one was proved more wrong than Tashué and reading how deeply it ripped him apart was harrowing, but just, ugh, amazingly well done. Hats fucking off to Matar because I LOVED EVERY FUCKING WORD OF HIS SPEECH.
“I’ll carve off every piece of my own humanity if I have to, to keep him safe. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t do the same! If you had to sit in front of your child and see how they’d been beaten, to watch the bruises and the cuts come and go and wonder if the next time will kill them, you would do the same fucking thing. You don’t know what it’s like to go into that place and look at your child through that fucking grate and watch them die in front of your eyes, diminishing in front of you. Judge me all you want for all the mistakes I’ve made, fine. Judge me for everything that led me and Jason to this point, fine. But don’t judge me for what I do now to try and undo the damage I’ve done!”
Poor Tashué. Poor, poor Tashué. Lad really needs so many hugs.
Hugs for the lot of them, really. I wanted to hug and protect Jason in every scene (and when he was off page! I wanted more of his POV!). He’s twenty years old, his father’s turned him in, he’s being beaten and starved – just PROTECT JASON AT ALL COSTS OKAY?!
And Lorne. Oh my gosh, Lorne. His devotion to Jason and Tashué is just wonderful to read about and I WANT ONLY GOOD THINGS FOR HIM. I have a terrible feeling that something bad is going to happen to one of them and it’s making for STRESSFUL READING. I adored Lorne and I really hope we get more of his POV in the next book. Him and Jason both.
GIVE THEM THEIR HAPPY ENDING.
Every shred of him got so hot in a fight that he was convinced part of his soul burned away. And in the quiet moments after, when he was trying to sleep and his whole body ached, his mind flashed him through all the fights he could still remember.
Now, Stella I loved from page one. Stella is Tashué’s latest charge to monitor on the register, and she’s full of secrets, and I just loved reading her POV. Her and her daughter are just precious. Stella works helping people, healing them magically undercover where and when she can. It’s easy to see why Tashué falls so fast for her.
What world was it if she let [the boy] die only because she was afraid for her own life? Living longer was not a good enough gift, not when an innocent child was in front of her and she had to choose.
And I totally shipped her and Tashué from the start. (Matar does an excellent job of showing Tashué’s inner turmoil regarding their power dynamic.) Stella is just such a good person through and through. And her scenes with Tashué were so adorable and wholesome. I really hope they get more happiness in the next book!
As for Illea … From the get go I’ve been like,
Like, AT ALL. I am curious to see where the next book takes her, and what happens with her and Ishmael, but honestly I just want Ishmael to get on Team Leave the Fucking Dominion. Frustrating as he could be in places (WHERE WERE YOU AT THE END, DUDE?!!?) I adored Ishmael overall. He had a quiet presence despite being one of the most brazen and outspoken of the cast, and I loved his love for Tashué. (Which it doesn’t seem like Tashué appreciates? lmao. Cos his whole speech about Ishmael not loving anyone is a bit funny cos it’s obvious to EVERYONE that Ishmael loves him. Oi vey, someone hit Tashué with the awareness stick.
“Fuck them and their manners and their etiquette. I won’t diminish myself for their approval. I am who I am and I’m sitting at their fucking table anyway, aren’t I? And when the Queen wanted company last night, she sent for me.”
And the moments and exchanges between him and Tashué were filled with so much meaning and hinted-at history – I really hope we get more focus on their past in the next book. I HAVE QUESTIONS AND REQUIRE THESE TWO TO SORT THEIR STUFF OUT.
If you can’t tell by now, I adored the book. Characters that make me want to throw the book across the room because I want them to find joy are the best characters, honestly. \o/ And there are so many to love, root for and scream at in Brightwash.
Overall, the setting of this world is so unique and the take on fantasy and politics is both familiar and fresh. It’s a murder mystery set in a dark, gritty world that grows into something much bigger. The horrific opening act reveals something far, far worse lurking inside the Dominion and I’m really curious to see where it’ll go in the next book. Further, something I’m unflinchingly picky about is character development and relationships, and what I loved about Brightwash is how much time you get to spend getting to know the characters and the world. It’s a BIG CHONKY TOME of a novel and yet it reads quickly, never feeling heavy with info or taking too much time to get to the next point.
As magical and mysterious as Carnival Row, as upsetting and filled with warning as 1984, as harrowing and heartbreaking as The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, as powerful and painful as V For Vendetta, and as dark and twisty as The Alienist, Brightwash honestly blew me away.