Brother's Ruin Is A Kind Of Magic

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of magic, must be in want of a school of witchcraft and wizardry. Brother’s Ruin by Emma Newman is the first installment of a new gaslamp fantasy series. In 1850 England, Charlotte Gunn is leading a double life. Not only is she a successful illustrator under a male pseudonym, but also a mage who has yet to be discovered by the Royal Society of Esoteric Arts. She works hard to hide what she does and what she is, lying to most everyone but her brother. When she finds that her father owes a great debt, and her brother may also be a mage, she must guard her secrets even more carefully than before—while working to make sure her brother receives the best offer from the magic colleges.

In a post-Potter world, it is prudent to explain to your readership exactly why your mage doesn’t want to go to Hogwarts. Newman does provide, in time, justification for Charlotte’s reasoning, but readers who are still bitter that they never received their letter may have a hard time empathizing with Charlotte. The Royal Society of Esoteric Arts are servants of the Crown first and foremost; these sons and daughters of the Empire may not marry or pursue careers that are not magical in nature. I still felt like that would be a small price to pay to play with magic and be among peers who do not treat you differently because you are a woman, but you do you, Charlotte.

The romance, what there is of it, feels very weak. Charlotte’s fiancé George is a major reason she does not want to join the Royal Society of Esoteric Arts, but she hardly seems to like him and lusts after another man. In a rare reversal of literary tropes, George contributes so little that he could be replaced with a sexy sensible lamp and the plot would lose nothing. It’s fine to have extraneous characters that contribute little to the plot, but as an anchor for Charlotte it’s hard to see the appeal of his sensible nature and mutton chops. She also lies to him incessantly, not only about her powers but also her career as an illustrator and her sleuthing adventures. How can we root for a love interest the heroine doesn't even trust? Magus Hopkins, while not nearly as nice, seems to light Charlotte’s fires higher and I foresee adultery in Charlotte’s future.

Brother’s Ruin is a quick, entertaining read, but ultimately it feels like a prologue rather than the first full book in the series. 183 pages is not a great amount of real estate to map out both plot and world-building, and something’s got to give. We are not informed about the issues within the Royal Society until quite near the end, and even then it’s a lot of telling but little showing, aside from one corrupt Magus whose motivations are still a mystery at the end. There is a lot of potential in the premise this book sets up; I do hope the sequel will be meatier.

Brother’s Ruin by Emma Newman was published on March 14, 2017 by It is available wherever fine books are sold.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.