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Book review: Legacy of Brick and Bone by Krystle Matar

PArtial cover of Legacy of Brick and Bone by Krystle Matar

While reading The Legacy of Brick and Bone by Krystle Matar, I created the hashtag #100DaysofBrickand Bone because it’s over a thousand pages long and I knew it would take me forever to read it. It didn’t take me quite 100 days, but it was a journey for sure. And since I finished it right before a trip to Switzerland followed by a trip to Vermont followed by the beginning of the school year, it’s now been quite a while since I read it. Some of the details are a bit fuzzier than they would normally be, so I’m going to write a “vibes only” review of this gorgeous, glorious, sprawling work of genius from one of indie fantasy’s greats, hoping I will be forgiven if I’ve misremembered a little detail or two.

Cover of Legacy of Brick and Bone by Krystle Matar, showing a boxing glove, bullets, and newsprint on a blood-spattered boxing matEpic vibes

To say this book is epic is like saying the sun is hot. It’s not just a doorstop—you could hold open the Black Gate to Mordor with this bad boy and the cave trolls could strain at their chains all day and be unable to move it. But length alone does not an epic book make. It’s the scale of the story here that makes it epic. When I first saw the page count, my jaw dropped, and I was like, surely there’s a way this could be shortened. But nope. It’s the story of many characters, all woven together as their lives intertwine in complicated ways, and it couldn’t really be told any other way.

Sure, you could drop a POV or two, but which would you choose? Ishmael, the himbo with secret depth, arguably the unexpected star of the book? Tashué, the tarnished tinman we fell in love with in Brightwash? Stella, the iron-willed heroine who pulled him from his personal hell? Jason, Tashué’s son and the very embodiment of Talent? Lorne, the chaotic disaster boxer who never met a bad decision he didn’t like? Ozra, the lovable rogue with a heart of gold? Or Illea, the calculating politician whose heart comes to life so brilliantly in these pages? None of them are disposable. They all have to be here. Take one away and the whole becomes lesser than the sum.

Romantic vibes

I must say that I was expecting this book to be more romantic after reading Legacy of the Brightwash¸ the book that made me fall in love with Stella and Tashué and with romantic fantasy in general. We do get plenty of romantic vibes here, but if you’re coming into Brick and Bone expecting more of the same, know that it’s a different book with different vibes. There’s plenty of romance here and a fair amount of heat—hell, we are even treated to a face-sitting scene in the first chapter, thank you very much Mx. Matar—but there’s no one central romance storyline. Most characters have a love interest (or two) and/or a fuck buddy (or two), and it’s interesting to follow these various threads as they weave in and out of the other plotlines.

Stella and Tashué are kept apart for most of the book (but not all—never fear!), which was a little disappointing, but the love story of Jason and Lorne was quite absorbing, painful though it was for various reasons (not the least of which being Jason’s incarceration in the Rift). Lorne, disaster that he is, has some disaster moments that I won’t spoil, and it’s as fun as it is cringy to watch him squirm and thrash about. Ishmael being Ishmael, he gets in on some action, but we also see references to a past lover, which in fairness didn’t do much for me, since they were never on the page. And Illea—ah, Illea. Who can figure out the secrets to your fiery heart?

Western vibes

I have to admit that I was surprised by how much parts of this book reminded me of a classic Western movie. And then I was surprised at how surprised I had been, considering the setup: a fantasy world with guns and smugglers and indigenous people being screwed out of their land by a colonial power. So when members of the group flee Yaelsmuir and go off into the wilderness, pursued by what can only be described as bounty hunters, the Western vibes are hot and heavy.

It’s not just the horses and guns and campfires that make it Western, though. There’s a real sense of cinematic sweep and drama, of real and metaphorical storms sweeping across landscapes. Matar lets the tension build in little character moments, interspersed with bouts of intense action that include shoot-outs on horseback and some magical shenanigans that traditional Westerns can only dream of. What makes it so great is how Matar switches from city scenes, which are so gritty and industrial and political, to these scenes in natural settings, with a completely different vibe, so effortlessly and effectively. A masterclass in genre-blending from a master in their craft.

Dark vibes

You want dark fantasy? Hooboy, do we have darkness here. Which should not surprise anyone who has read The Legacy of the Brightwash, which centers around dead and mutilated children. We get more of that—a whole lot more, and while we do get inured to that to some extent, we are constantly reminded of the horrors perpetuated by this system and wondering Why the fuck would anyone allow this to go on? And then we think of our own history and our present, where children were—and still are—used as laborers in dangerous situations to further the ends of the capitalist agenda, and it makes perfect sense. Some writers prefer to keep the darkness and the violence limited to adults, which is fine, but since the cell phones in everyone’s pockets contain minerals mined by children, and since some US states have now rolled back protections against children working in slaughterhouses, it seems only appropriate to see these horrors represented in fiction as well.

And this is a bloody book. There’s one scene in particular that takes place in the forest where someone’s Talent goes wild to exceedingly gory effect that had me a bit shook, to be perfectly honest. This book is absolutely not for the faint of heart, and I say this as someone with a very faint heart. But I was prepared for it, and I steeled myself against it, and I made it through alive, though I can’t say unscathed. But that’s the point of dark fantasy, isn’t it? The world is a dark and bloody place, and sometimes you need to face that darkness directly so you’ll get mad enough to do something about it. If this book doesn’t piss you off and make you want to stick a red-hot poker into the eye of the oligarchic systems that keep us all down, there may be no hope for you.

Character vibes

It’s an open secret that Matar does some of the best character work around, and Legacy of Brick and Bone is a step up from the already incredible work in Brightwash, which is saying something. Each of the characters has a rich and convincing interior life, each of them distinct and worth rooting for. Even the villains, such as they are, come off as multifaceted and worthy of some measure of sympathy, though we don’t get inside their heads directly.

We already knew Stella and Tashué quite well, and most of the cast as well, but to my mind it was Ishmael who stole the show here. In Brightwash, I saw him as a drunken playboy, almost a figure of fun at times, though he did show flashes of depth. In Brick and Bone, we get to know him in much greater detail, and there’s so much more to him. Not just what we learn about the details of his life and his profession, which was surprising and fascinating, but he’s just such a complex and interesting character, without losing the snarky, slutty side we came to know and love in Brightwash.

Final vibe check

I don’t often read books over a thousand pages; I’m too impatient, too eager for the next story. But as I let Legacy of Brick and Bone wash over me, my impatience disintegrated, replaced by awe and fascination. This is a big world, and I realized that as much of it as we get to explore here, there’s so much more yet to discover. I’ll try to maintain the same patience for the next tome to arrive, the next brick in Krystle Matar’s legacy to be laid.

Read my review of The Calyx Charm by May Peterson

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