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*NOTE: I wrote and published this review on Goodreads long before Krystle & I became teammates here at Before We Go Blog, but that would not have changed a thing about my blubbering and gushing over this book.*

Please forgive me in advance how effusive the praise is going to be for “Legacy of the Brightwash”, Book One of “Tainted Dominion”. I have read many outstanding books in my lifetime. For example, just the last four or five books I read were, in my opinion, amazing, five-star reads. Each book, of course, has it’s own unique merits. But “Legacy of the Brightwash” transcends being a great read.

This book has catapulted into my personal top one hundred books of all-time. To put this in perspective, less than a quarter of the famous authors whose books are on my top one hundred books list are NOT long-dead luminaries. Thankfully, Matar is young, very much alive, and well. Let’s wish her a long life of continued writing brilliance, because I need at least another fifty or so books from her to come close to being satisfied.

One of the things that I am stuck on about this book is that I can’t easily categorize exactly “what” this book really is in terms of genre. I bought the book primarily on the recommendation of another fantastic author, who kept insisting how good it was, and because of all the hype and buzz about Matar’s writing. But when I bought it, I was expecting a more easily-defined work. I bought it expecting, primarily, grimdark fantasy.

Matar mixes and blends genres so adeptly, there is no point in trying. “Legacy of the Brightwash” has elements of Police procedural, mystery, grimdark fantasy, gaslamp fantasy, military fantasy, steampunk fantasy, romantic fantasy, pure romance novel, social commentary novel, and more. So let’s just leave it as: an incredible book, rather than attempting to classify it.

So, in failing to be able to categorize it, let’s speak a bit about what the book is about. In a nutshell, for me, though it’s so much more than this, the book is – to over-simplify – a fantasy-murder “who-dun-it”.

The beating heart of this book is it’s main character, a man named Tashué, who gets most of the POV chapters in the book. Tashué is a decorated military veteran and hero, who comes with a lot of gravitas to his job as Regulation Officer for “The Authority” for the “Dominion”. He’s a seasoned, highly-respected, law enforcement supervisory-level Officer of two decades experience.

The Authority is essentially a Police / Probation and Parole type service that has been created to control those in society who are blessed (or cursed) with magical powers. The dichotomy and irony of the blessed versus cursed viewpoint will not be lost on the reader. Some see the people Tashué is duty-bound to monitor as “Talented”, while other see them as “Tainted.” Tashué himself is one with such latent abilities, as do many in the world Matar has created.

Despite this, Tashué’s role is to keep “Tainted” from allowing their unfettered powers to wreak havoc in “decent” society. As all Regulation Officers, he has a case-load of Tainted assigned to him. Those Tainted who cannot comply with the rules imposed on them, can receive various sanctions and punishments. The most severe punishment reserved for Tainted is to be sent to “The Rift”. And Tashué is one of the people responsible for these types of incarcerations.

The Rift is an acronym that stands for “The Residential Institute for Feral Tainted and Non-Compliant”. If this sounds like a brutal, repressive, and inhumane prison, that’s because it is. The life expectancy for those confined to the Rift is short. Conditions are horrible. Either the authorities within, or the other inmates, will eventually kill those imprisoned there. And astoundingly for the reader, we quickly learn that Tashué’s own son is a Rift prisoner, due to the contravention of being unwilling to register his Talent.

Besides agonizing over his son’s safety, Tashué’s life is complicated on numerous fronts. He’s starting to develop feeling for one of his cases, and a fatherly attachment to the daughter of that case. An alluring, ambitious, socialite has her own designs – both romantic and political – on Tashué. Other influential forces – both legitimate and illegitimate – in the Dominion want to use Tashué for their own ends. As much as he inspires loyalty and devotion from his colleagues, Tashué has disloyal and dangerous officers working beneath him that threaten catastrophic consequences.

Perhaps most distressingly for the lawman, is that all his tribulations are leading him to question everything he believes in, and why he is an officer in the first place.

The final complication is that a mutilated child is found murdered. While the case is not in Tashué’s jurisdiction, and most people seem ambivalent to the horrible killing, he becomes obsessed with solving the crime.

I typically don’t reveal much of the plot in my reviews, and this is not going to change with this review. Besides potential spoilers, I don’t want to do anything that might take away from the fact you, dear reader, NEED to read this book and find out for yourself how good it is.

No secret, amazing characterization over amazing plot is my preference. This book has both in spades, but I need to pay homage here to how ridiculously well-written Matar’s characters are. This is a character-driven book. And Matar’s principal character is completely unforgettable. Make no mistake, in Tashué, Matar has created someone who I believe will go down (in due time) in the annals as one of fantasy fiction’s most iconic characters. Right up there with Aragorn, Geralt, San dan Glokta, and others.

In Tashué, Matar has designed a protagonist that many of us wish we could be. He’s a great leader, charismatic, smart, tough, brave, passionate, dedicated, has integrity, and a kind heart. He is also very flawed. He is a person who is imperfect, but good at their core, with the ability to evolve, change, see things from a different perspective, and stand with integrity and principle behind the new perspective, no matter the cost. Tashué does not take the easy road. But he understands what the right road looks like, and when the time comes, he takes it.

I don’t even want to spoil how astounding the cast surrounding Tashué is by speaking too much about them either. Let’s just say, they are among the best characters I have EVER read. They range from ones who are courageous, loving, abused, broken, entitled, spoiled, arrogant, witty, cunning, predatory, depraved, amoral. Some have ALL or MOST those characteristics wrapped up in them. In other words, compelling. “Good” characters, whom the reader will love, will espouse narrow-minded, even racist views. “Bad” characters will show a nobility and fairness that will surprise us. Few authors can write characters with such intense depth, and such believable humanity, that Matar can.

The plot is flawless. The slow-burn pacing was spot-on. For a 700-ish-page book, this makes great pacing an even more astounding feat. I hope I have not given the impression thus far in the review that “Legacy of the Brightwash” is all character exposition, or that one could ever grow bored.

What a plot!!! There are heart-stopping gun battles, MMA style pugilistic ring-matches, bar fights, throat-cutting murders, and that is just what the “good” characters are up to. The political intrigue, back-stabbing, and jockeying for social standing and influence were some of my favorite parts of the book. The explosions, chases, and other action sequences will surely thrill any fiction fan.

This book had everything I could want in a novel. For such a lengthy, detailed, and comprehensive book, the reader will feel like they are reading a novella. It’s gripping, it’s page-turning, it’s simply a knock-out plot!

There is also a bit of a cliff-hanger at the end of the book, and I love the risk of somewhat unresolved endings. I know this bothers some readers, but I am not one of them: I applaud it! The way things end will undoubtedly leave the reader absolutely clamouring for the next book in the series, as I am!

I should take a moment to speak about the romance aspect of the novel. Unlike many fantasy fans, I am also a big romance fan. For me, romance is integral to any well-written novel, as it’s an essential aspect of the human condition.

Matar’s wonderful writing skill is on full display with how she treats the romantic tension, sense of angst and longing, titillation, confusion, and hope for reciprocation of feelings. There is more excruciating build-up than actual love scenes. Still, there are certainly enough steamy moments of fruition, tenderness, and ardour to satisfy any who like their fantasy spiced up with love, yearning, and desire.

Moreover, this is one of the few books I have ever written where the worldbuilding was so effortlessly woven into overall fabric of the book that I realized after-the-fact that I had a complete picture of what all the settings looked like in my head, though I couldn’t recall Matar describing them. But she did, of course. Everything was so subtle, and expertly-done.

I adored what Matar did in terms of magic in “Legacy of the Brightwash”. Once more, my predilection for “soft” magic systems was satiated in the book. Dragons, mages, and lighting bolts being thrown around will always be cool. But Matar’s magic elements reside with the hereditary, distinctive, and unpredictable powers of the Tainted, who are quite human, and fallible. The magic is confined to those who are born with it, and it can be used to heal, or to harm.

Beyond all what I have already said in lionizing this book, I must address how it struck me on a personal level. The aspect of a Law Enforcement Officer having to truly examine the laws they must enforce, whether all those laws are “just”, whether any of those laws can be a detriment, rather than a stabilizing force for good, and how they can reconcile their sworn duty with their morals, is heart-wrenching.

Personal experience aside, I am certain many Law Enforcement Officers have also grappled with this issue, while they do their duty, to the best of their ability. In addition, many law enforcers have unfortunately faced the challenge, despite all their efforts at parenting, that their children end up seemingly on “the other side of the law”. This could only potentially exacerbate a feeling of “failure” for a Law Enforcement Officer, and even a sense of shame and denial. No matter their vocation, parents often blame themselves for the perceived “failings” of their children.

I could feel Tashué’s rage, sense of impotence, guilt, frustration with both his son, and the system that imprisoned him – it was palpable. What was also appreciable, was the sense that Tashué’s son was wrongfully locked up by a system that, despite good intentions, had gotten things wrong, and that it was the son, rather than the father, who was showing a greater moral courage that would not be compromised. I found this aspect fascinating, brutally realistic, and the whole thing brought out strong emotions in me. Matar’s dazzling prose, and insightful commentary, only accentuated my feelings.

The line in “Legacy of the Brightwash”: “How was I suppose to know? My mother told me all my life follow the laws and you’ll be safe…”, will be with me, FOREVER. It is just a tiny example of numerous fantastic lines in the book.

I should conclude the strict “review” part here with the warning that, as evidenced by my last few comments, this book is very disturbing, and grim. Matar hits hard with themes of torture, child mutilation, abuse, addiction, racism, repression, and more. There is an ultimate sense of hope, and optimism, but there will be pain to get there. I shed tears over parts of this book. Part of it brought out feelings of anguish I was unprepared for. The journey was worth it, but for me, like Tashué, it was not always easy. That said, I read this book in the space of two days. I was completely addicted to it, and literally could not break away. Such a compulsive read I have rarely experienced.

Therefore, I won’t be so punctilious as to offer criticisms of this book. I would sound carping by pointing out microscopic imperfections on a masterpiece. People don’t speak of what’s wrong with Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel. There are no weak elements of this book worth mentioning. I must throw out the “five-star’ rating system for this one.

Simply put: “Legacy of the Brightwash” deserves to win every award for best debut novel, best fantasy novel, best novel period for 2021 that I can think of.

I predict as years pass, this book will be consistently held up there with some of the most recognized and lauded Indie fantasy books of all time, such as “Sword of Kaigen”, “Dragon Mage”, and “Paternus”.

To conclude, I am raising three-fingers worth of Glenfiddich to Krystle Matar. Congratulations Krystle, you have written a paragon of fiction that people will be talking about for a long, long time.


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