Samantha Cohoe's BRIGHT RUINED THINGS - THE TEMPEST Doesn't Matter
by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the digital ARC of Samantha Cohoe’s Bright Ruined Things (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm) in exchange for an honest review. The book is out on February 15!
Samantha Cohoe’s Bright Ruined Things is a YA retelling of The Tempest (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm) set in the 1920s, but you definitely don’t need to have read the play to enjoy this fabulous novel. (I read the play last in college, a looong time ago, and I actually think trying to remember the connections did more harm than good to my impressions of this novel.)
In the book, the main character Mae lives on an island ruled by the Prosper family. The patriarch Lord Prosper found the island with her father and discovered the magic that has made the Prospers wealthy beyond imagining. Ever since, Lord Prosper and his descendants have ruled the island, compounding their wealth with the aid of the spirits who serve them.
Mae’s father died along the way, and Lord Prosper promised to care for her. But now, she’s 18, and her position is less than certain. Though she loves her best friend Coco (Lord Prosper’s granddaughter), Mae feels invisible to the rest of the Prosper family, who make up her whole world. Never having left the island, Mae is desperate. She’s desperate to stay. She’s desperate to learn magic. And she’s desperate for Lord Prosper’s illegitimate grandson, Miles.
Unfortunately, it’s Ivo, another grandson and the heir to Lord Prosper’s magic, who the family has in mind for Mae.
This situation sets off the rest of the journey, as Mae wrestles with how to deal with her arranged engagement to Ivo, her feelings for Coco and Miles, and her intense desire to gain some power over her identity.
There’s so much to love about this book. Initially, I thought that this was going to be a predictable fantasy novel with a love triangle at its center, but it takes turn after turn. Mae is a fascinating character: having been sheltered for her whole life, she doesn’t understand her own strengths or the realities of the world outside the island. The journey of this character is unexpected, and I so appreciated the way that Cohoe built both the world and these characters. Though this is a distinctly fantasy world, there’s commentary here on gender, class, and colonization, and all of the social commentary is centered on this extremely nuanced protagonist.
As I neared the end of my egalley, I kept checking how much of the book was left because I didn’t think Cohoe could wrap up everything—would there be a sequel?! And yet, somehow, the novel’s ending is completely satisfying. In short, I loved Samantha Cohoe’s Bright Ruined Things (and not remembering much about The Tempest didn’t matter at all!).
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