Bonds of Brass (Book)
But when dozens of classmates spring an assassination plot on Gal, a devastating secret comes to light: Gal is the heir to the Umber Empire. Ettian barely manages to save his best friend and flee the compromised academy unscathed, rattled that Gal stands to inherit the empire that broke him, and that there are still people willing to fight back against Umber rule.
As they piece together a way to deliver Gal safely to his throne, Ettian finds himself torn in half by an impossible choice. Does he save the man who’s won his heart and trust that Gal’s goodness could transform the empire? Or does he throw his lot in with the brewing rebellion and fight to take back what’s rightfully theirs?
The latest science fiction book series kicks off with a tale of political intrigue, high action, and a dash of love-story. But is it worth kicking off a new trilogy? Check out my full review to find out!
Bonds of Brass is the first book in the Bloodright Trilogy, and as the name indicates, blood rights and lineage play a fairly significant role in the story and overall world-building. The book starts off seven years after the galaxy-spanning Umber Empire has conquered the Archon Empire. The Umbers are the “head honchos” in space and have taken control of a ridiculous amount of worlds and systems with their ruthless tactics and iron fists.
While there are pockets of resistance out there, their galactic empire is pretty much firmly in control, thanks to their massive warships and ever expanding reach. The Archons put up quite a fight, but ultimately were uprooted. Ettian is among the Archon kids who were orphaned in the process and taken in (conscripted) by the Umber government. Over the last few years he’s taken steps to move on with life and even attends the Umber Imperial Academy where he’s among the top students.
He leads a normal life, making friends, enjoying his time flying, and trying to set aside the crush he has on his roommate, Gal. The two are nearly inseparable, but both of their worlds are upended in a blink when their routine patrol turns into an attack. Fellow Archon classmates have revealed themselves as part of a bigger resistance and attempt to take out Gal...who is secretly the royal Umber heir!
Sounds like a lot, right? Well, that’s only the beginning. Literally, that’s how the book opens up. Even so, it doesn’t feel overwhelming as the amount of information and worldbuilding conveyed in this short period of time feels deftly handled. I never felt overloaded or confused, but within just the first chapter, I felt like I had a solid understanding of the dynamics at play in this galaxy. It also manages to immediately set up the relationship between Ettian and Gal (who we follow for the entire novel) in a natural way that is instantly engaging.
Once Ettian rescues Gal, a bigger conspiracy comes to light, not only from those outside the Umber Empire, but also within it. The pair escape and flee to the outskirts of the Empire, where they won’t (hopefully) be recognized while they try to figure out a plan to quell the potential civil war. Along the way they make new allies while the two struggle with their feelings towards each other even as they’re surrounded by enemies on all sides. All the while Ettian finds himself confronted by his loyalty to his best friend and the people he once believed destroyed…
In order to avoid spoilers, I’ll keep the story bits there. Suffice it to say, there’s quite a bit more that goes on in the story. Even as it deals with galactic-scale political intrigue and battles, Skrutskie manages to keep the focus on these characters; managing a delicate balance between the wider conflict and keeping it personal for readers.
It definitely brings on the “epic space opera” vibes and incorporates a good deal of action and a strong sense of adventure. There’s plenty of “hard” science fiction elements thrown in, but doesn’t get bogged down in technical aspects. It was a blast to read, and as I mentioned, it doesn’t take long to become attached to the characters and the conflicts they must contend with. And even as it sets itself up as the start of a trilogy (it gives one BIG twist at the end) it feels satisfying on its own. I turned the last page eager for more, but NOT like I was left wanting. It still manages to tell a complete, and engaging, self-contained story.
Bonds of Brass is smartly written, bringing together a great deal of humor and wit throughout, while still pulling on the heartstrings at the right times. It’s concise when it needs to be, and slows down for exposition at just the right times. This manages to keep the tension high, while offering breaks for readers to “catch their breath” all the while setting a quick pace that had me flying through chapters.
The only real issue I had with the book is that I never quite knew which direction it was going in terms of it’s primary theme. Bonds of Brass has a lot to say about loyalty and the problems with Empires in general, but it presents some things in a way that feel negative and had me thinking “this is a terrible thing,” but then had the character(s) respond as if it were good! Then a few chapters later, it seemed reversed.
In some ways it feels like the story was confused on what it ultimately wanted to say thematically. While this could be explained away by the conflicting emotions in our main character, Ettian, since these parts were geared towards what the reader is supposed to feel, it seemed more confusing and took me out of the story at a couple moments.