It started with a simple dream for Simon: join the legions, escape a life of mediocrity, and bring respect to the family name. A border incursion by restive Scentari barbarians looked like that opportunity for an artist turned soldier to transcend his roots, and fight for the glory of the Pazian Republic. Or so it seemed.
The return of dark magic, thought to be the stuff of myth and legend, turns a simple mission into a brutal slaughter, and Simon must warn the Senate of the unimaginable defeat. But a mysterious sculptress shows him that his buried creativity may be their only hope against an ancient foe that poses the greatest threat the Republic has ever seen.
Simon must explore this Talent while navigating a treacherous maelstrom of political intrigue and shifting allegiances, torn between ambition and curiosity, duty and love.
The ARTS REBORN series follows the story of the lives touched by the return of opposing magical forces of artistic creation and elemental destruction to the Republic of Pazh, a historically-inspired world where hints of ancient Rome, Greece and the Mediterranean mix with the fantastical.
Brush With Darkness is Book I of Arts Reborn, but stands alone as a story, with additional arcs that continue on in the series.
This was a re-read for me, so the review will be a blend of the original review and the current read through.
I came to enjoy Maltman’s work when I first read it, and so I knew I’d enjoy it on the second read through. I expected to see some extra layers in the plot, since I’d already read it once and picked up the story’s surface. In this I wasn’t disappointed – I suspect that on other readings I will discover a few more layers hidden beneath what I’ve already discovered. Mr. Maltman does an wonderful job in building very complex plots.
As this is the first actual book of the series, there is a lot of world building that takes place. Not only does Maltman need to develop the time-sense (Roman Republic), but also the culture and political arenas, as well. Each layer is given a quick sketch as it is introduced, then at need it is developed further and refined allowing a completely immersive reading experience.
There are large battles, small skirmishes, webs of political intrigues, as well as the personal understanding of the characters woven together to bring the world for the Arts Reborn series into focus. A few points are left shadowed, much like the real world. And like the real world, these shadowed places have a greater impact on the rest than expected. I’ve enjoyed being able to return and look upon the rich tapestry once again while getting lost in Maltman’s world.
Each of the main characters is definitely their own well-developed person. A few may seem a tad shallow, but that is the same as in life. The secondary cast, most have just a bit part in the story, though major influences along the way, are also developed, though there remains enough left to the imagination they don’t always quite feel realistic.
For the main cast, watching the two grow from uncertain adolescents into semi-certain quasi-adults is a joy, and one I’d hope to emulate in my own work. Both continue to show vulnerabilities, insecurities, and uncertainties through the end of this installment, yet both started as regular people who had even more along with the lack of self confidence being out in the world provides. Both are tested, and through their decisions learn what they can, or cannot, do though they do not discover their limits in this installment. (With a multi-book series, I’d hope they don’t!)
The overall pacing in the book is well done. It sets up an organic ebb and flow that fits with the events that are occurring most of the time. The only real quibble I have is about midway through the book when the characters are training – I’ve been around artists, and I know just how many grueling hours they put in to practice their skills. Being able to master even just a portion in two weeks – that doesn’t quite work for me, even though this is fantasy and the training is with someone who’s a natural. It just feels a bit rushed.
I will always freely admit when I’m an addict to a particular author, and that it influences my ratings. In this case, I’m fully addicted to the Arts Reborn, and so give it a whole hearted 5 of 5 paws. Battles, magic, love, and a touch of redemption all make this book well worth reading.
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