‘Magically gifted aristocrats rule Britain, and the people must serve them. But rebellion now strikes at the heart of the old order. Abi has escaped public execution, thanks to an unexpected ally. Her brother Luke is on the run with Silyen Jardine, the most mysterious aristocrat of all. And as political and magical conflicts escalate, each must decide how far they’ll go for their beliefs.
Dragons clash in the skies, as two powerful women duel for the soul of Britain. A symbol of government will blaze as it dies, and doors between worlds will open – and close forever. But the battle within human hearts will be the fiercest of all.’
Firstly, thank you very much to Pan Macmillan for sending me the Dark Gifts Trilogy to read! This review primarily focuses on the last in the trilogy, Bright Ruin, and, while it contains no specific spoilers, there are broad references to events.
Bright Ruin is the conclusion to the Dark Gifts Trilogy, in which Britain is divided into a class system that sees one serving the other for a decade, during which they must surrender all rights and are considered slaves – not that the ‘commoners’ have many rights in comparison to their ‘Equal’ rulers to start with. This system is not one that even all of the ruling class agree with, and Bright Ruin sees the conclusion of the ongoing battles between and within the Skilled and non-Skilled classes.
The third book in the series has a notably different tone to Gilded Cage and Tarnished City, taking some considerably darker twists while also seeming somewhat crisper in its narrative style. This is not to say that its darker tone is something negative – indeed it would not have the impact it does were events to be handled with a lighter touch. What I found most haunting about the series as a whole is its handling of politics in the setting in which events unfold, and I found myself unable to forget that, though we are told and often try to believe that the class system no longer exists and there are equal opportunities for all, this is, in-fact, not the case.
For me, the most interesting threads of the narrative were those that directly involved one of the Jardine brothers, which I really wasn’t expecting going into the trilogy. I read a considerable amount of YA fantasy and sometimes find it difficult to get invested in the stories of male characters, usually because they quite frequently turn out to either be the standard love interest who may or may not treat the female protagonist poorly, the eventual traitor or the enemy. While it could be said that the trio are each of these, in one way or another, they are all delightfully difficult to figure out and have their own paths to travel, making none of them a mere plot device. Each of them is quite dark and twisty, neither completely ‘evil’ nor fully redeemable, caught between forces that they are both at the mercy of and trying to control. Gavar has to be my favourite, his unpredictable and sometimes violent nature contrasted by his unwavering devotion to his slaveborn daughter, Libby, though it was my opinion of Silyen that altered the most over the course of the trilogy, and mostly as events in Bright Ruin unfolded. Walking in the very dark end of the morally grey, Silyen’s open acknowledgement of his priorities as learning and understanding – at what cost? – make him an intriguing character that the reader by turn may find morally repulsive and yet garner grudging respect for his moments of honesty.
Bouda is terrifying in her determination to achieve her goals and a frightening picture of what the pursuit of what power can do. Yet, despite there being moments when she seems truly evil in her attitude towards those not of her class (and towards Libby in particular), there undeniably remain instances where the reader feels sympathy for what she’s been crafted into by her upbringing and just what she’s willing to do to try and get her own way. It’s true that she makes some progress in terms of understanding of herself and some of the people around her, but whether she truly makes enough progress as regards her attitude to how society functions and how she treats people is debatable, as she is often her worst enemy, demonstrating a glimpse of humanity only to rapidly conceal it.
One of the many elements I appreciated about James’ work is the style of speech of the characters and their thoughts. I don’t mean in terms of accents being written out, but the patterns of speech, use of slang and everyday words and phrases that the British actually use. It serves to make the characters more familiar, believable and of the setting of their stories. This goes hand in hand with the use of events in history with their own Dark Gifts twists, making Britain’s alternative history unique and familiar enough to lend further credibility to the world that the characters have been brought up in.
Bright Ruin hits UK shelves next Thursday, 26th July. If you’ve not picked up any of the Dark Gifts trilogy before, now’s an excellent time to do so! I read the last two books in 48 hours, unable to put them down, and thoroughly enjoyed my time in the magic and mayhem of Dark Gifts Britain. Highly recommended!
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pub date: 26th July 2018