My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Disclaimer: Though I purchased and read this book of my own accord, the author is an acquaintance. Take that as you will.
Brush With Darkness, the first novel in the Arts Reborn series, by author Jamie Maltman, introduces the reader to our protagonist, Simon Baroba, a legionary of the Republic of Pazh. The story follows the adventures of this young man as the Republic first encounters an evil rising out from Scentar, a neighbouring nation, in the form of dark magic. Simon must help the Republic face the threat of this darkness, a power which was believed to be merely legend. But as Simon discovers, a small group of people have long known otherwise and they will help him discover his own Talent as he tries to stop the threat.
The book weaves a rich tapestry, exposing the reader to an expansive new world, inspired by ancient Rome, Greece and the surrounding territories. The author uses those historical civilizations as the framework for the Pazian military, political and social structures, building an intricate world and society. But this is not historical fiction proper. The historically inspired elements serve to influence and provide a reference for the reader but the world itself is wholly other. There is magic, which provides an element of fantasy to the work, taking what could be a straight historical fiction were it based in Rome proper and adding another layer to the story. The magic itself aligns with good and evil, where good magic is expressed in creation, through art, while evil magic consumes and destroys. The author’s affinity for art, by way of painting and sculpting, also serves as a major theme for the book, woven throughout as both descriptive colour and a critical aspect of the storyline. The threads of art, history and magic suit the story, blending naturally and yet never overwhelming the core narrative.
Brush With Darkness establishes a complex, interesting world that quickly pulled me in. I found myself wanting to know where the story was going next, looking for opportunities to steal a few more moments with the book. I’m looking forward to exploring this world and these characters further as the Arts Reborn series continues. The book should appeal to a broad audience. Though the story contains an aspect of fantasy in the inclusion of magic it is never overwhelming or inaccessible in the way that straight fantasy can sometimes be. Likewise, the historically inspired details serve as a base for setting, time and culture, never dominating the story with unnecessary details. It is a highly accessible adventure that will draw readers in with characters you will pull for and a world that you’ll want to explore further.