Magic has made the city of Tiran an industrial utopia, but magic has a cost—and the collectors have come calling.
An orphan since the age of four, Sciona has always had more to prove than her fellow students. For twenty years, she has devoted every waking moment to the study of magic, fueled by a mad desire to achieve the impossible: to be the first woman ever admitted to the High Magistry. When she finally claws her way up the ranks to become a highmage, however, she finds that her challenges have just begun. Her new colleagues will stop at nothing to let her know she is unwelcome, beginning with giving her a janitor instead of a qualified lab assistant.
What neither Sciona nor her peers realize is that her taciturn assistant was once more than a janitor; before he mopped floors for the mages, Thomil was a nomadic hunter from beyond Tiran’s magical barrier. Ten years have passed since he survived the perilous crossing that killed his family. But working for a highmage, he sees the opportunity to finally understand the forces that decimated his tribe, drove him from his homeland, and keep the Tiranish in power.
Through their fractious relationship, mage and outsider uncover an ancient secret that could change the course of magic forever—if it doesn’t get them killed first. Sciona has defined her life by the pursuit of truth, but how much is one truth worth with the fate of civilization in the balance?
A standalone dark academia brimming with mystery, tragedy, and the damning echoes of the past. For fans of Leigh Bardugo, V. E. Schwab, and Fullmetal Alchemist.
“This, my Eleventh Decree as Lord Prophet Leon’s sole surviving disciple, pertains to the lines numbering 234, 235, and 301 in Leon’s primary spell journal.
My decree is that, henceforth, no mapping sequence of Leon’s invention shall be altered in its replication nor duplicated except in application for its intended purpose, which is the survey of God’s Bounty. For the Prophet wrote no spell except according to Feryn’s Will. Therefore, while Leon’s writings, which are the Will of God, endures, Tiran shall endure. He who would alter the mirror of Godhood invites calamity, for he does the work of devils.”
- The Tirasid, Law, Verse 13 (64 of Tiran)
Blood Over Bright Haven is the new novel from the SPFBO5 winner M.L. Wang, an excellent standalone story that blends dark academia with gaslamp fantasy. A highly emotional book, which isn't afraid of touching many difficult themes, such as racism and sexism, and that might end up becoming one of my favourite reads of the year.
The city of Tiran is an industrial utopia propelled by magic, but magic has a cost, and most people refuse to acknowledge it. In our story, we are going to be following two characters whose lives will intersect without expecting what it will bring.
The first of them is Sciona, a brilliant academic who has devoted all her energy to the study of magic, with the goal of achieving the impossible: being the first woman admitted to the High Magistry. And when she achieves it, she soon discovers that her challenges didn't stop there, as most of her male colleagues look down on her, forcing her to use a janitor as her lab assistant.
And here is where the second character enters in scene (despite we got a taste of him in the first chapter), Thomil. A janitor who originally belonged to the Kwen, a group of nomadic tribes that lived beyond the Tiran's barrier and which were decimated by an unknown force; he hopes that collaborating in Sciona's research will help him to discover the truth behind it.
Soon, the relationship between them will evolve, and even Sciona is feeling she's having for the first time a friend. Thomil's sharp mind becomes the perfect complement to the brilliance of Sciona, and soon they start discovering the true nature of what fuels the magic of Tiran.
Morning bird chatter hit just as harshly, feeling like a hail of bullets. Through the hangover, she found memory fragments of Thomil from the previous night and, among them, a realization that made her smile, despite the splintering headache: she had made a friend.
And with all this plot, M.L. Wang crafts a really engaging story that dissects many themes that could be applied nowadays even.
Firstly, how sexism is rooted inside Tiran. Sciona has always been dismissed due to her genre, especially in the academic environment; even when she is one of the best investigators in the field, she's undervalued and treated more like a curiosity or somebody that was upped to magistracy by her mentor to have a trophy. Once the truth about Tiran's magic is discovered by her, her reaction is considered histrionical and emotional, all because "she's a woman, and woman's mind are not ready". Sciona is not only fighting for her own prestige, but also she sees herself as somebody who is opening doors that were previously closed to her genre.
In the second place, racism is a base for the "utopic" Tiran. While the Tiranian are at the top of society, most of the difficult and underpaid work is taken by immigrants of Kwen origin, who are treated as scum; Tiranian consider themselves superior, an attitude that can be seen in how Kwen are forced to live in ghettos; and when the sinister origin of magic is revealed, most of the "citizens" decided to ignore it, as they don't consider it important.
And finally, greed over people is an angular piece to the plot; when the price of power is shown, we see how most of the citizens just reject the truth, as accepting it would require forfeiting their lifestyle; and the whole city is propelled by greed.
Brilliant men—even moderately intelligent men—in this city get showered with opportunities to succeed. Brilliant women have to fight for those opportunities, and, when we get them, we have to defend them tooth and nail, or they’ll be snatched away.
For a standalone, it's incredible the amount of worldbuilding that M.L. Wang has been able to fit; the industrial city of Tiran is full of small details and gadgets, most of them original, and propelled by this magic that is the base of all the inventions. With the use of small snippets at the start of every chapter, we have a look at Tiranian religious beliefs, which are interwoven with magic.
We get to observe how the academic system is an integral part of the city, as they control most of the industry and the access to magic, the source of any power in Tiran; a system that is deeply flawed and corrupt.
The pacing was mostly in a great spot, despite at some points I felt it slows too much just to explain how some details of the magic work, but honestly, I devoured each of the "scientifical" explanations, because they become a key piece in solving the mystery.
Without wanting to spoil much, I can say that all the build-up gets a big payoff in the form of many emotional punches.
Blood Over Bright Haven is an excellent standalone novel, perfect for those that are looking for something different but with a big emotional charge; dark academia fans will love it. Personally, I hope we get to explore more of the world, especially of the Kwen territories, but as a single novel, this is almost perfect!
Hi! I’m M. L. Wang, author, martial artist, and weird recluse currently hiding somewhere in Wisconsin with my maroon-bellied parakeet, Sulu. I enjoy gruesome nature documentaries and long walks in circles around my room.
My books include Blood Over Bright Haven, The Sword of Kaigen, the Theonite Series (discontinued), and The Volta Academy Chronicles (published under Maya Lin Wang).