Brush With Darkness by Jamie Maltman

Brush With Darkness by Jamie MaltmanCombining a solid foundation of classical history and recognisable politics with plenty of fantastical action, Maltman creates as novel that will satisfy those interested in depth of world without losing those seeking a thrilling adventure.

Simon Baroba joined the legions in the hopes of a better life than watching his father drink the last of the business. When his talent for maps and designs catches the eye of a senior officer, drawing him from mere legionary to adjutant, Simon thinks that life might be starting. However, when warriors from neighbouring Scentar cross the border seeking to reclaim lands lost in the peace treaty of a generation ago, Simon finds himself first facing dark magic then discovering hidden talents of his own. But with magic seen as either a myth or a complete evil, and many senators more interested taking personal advantage of the situation than in defending the cities under threat, Simon finds himself equally at risk away from the war.

Maltman has created a world based on ancient Rome and the surrounding nations during the height of the Republic. However, this world is neither a Tolkienesque Western fantasy with a veneer of legions and senates, nor mired in historically accurate details such as blade shapes and couch sizes. As such, while readers intimately familiar with classical Europe might see all the differences, they will not see the joins.

The more fantastical elements are similarly both close to real-world religion and magic, and engagingly different. Maltman also draws his cast solely from humanity, and focuses more deeply on a few mystical threads rather than showing glimpses of many things. This clear but not rampant difference from the real-world offers readers an opportunity to experience interesting challenges and new solutions without losing their frame of reference.

Maltman’s use of a solely human cast also adds a firm foundation to the nuances of character. Without the issue of racial powers, biologies, and traits to unravel, readers are more able to see differences of rank, status, and location among even the supporting cast.

This nuance is especially noticeable in Simon, who is clearly influenced by both his parent’s mixed marriage and his father’s precise social status. Disdained by some for not being of pure enough lineage, he reacts with the classic attempt to be more of a citizen than anyone else, leading to a struggle between trusting those who value him for his personality and skills, and those who offer him the beginnings of social status in exchange for playing the game of politics for their team.

This theme of society vs personal goals also pervades the supporting cast: barbarian leaders want the status of superlative raider, but also have strong individual aims; senators seek to protect the citizens of the Republic, but not if the best course of action also strengthens a rival; and criminals judge artists for their failure to consider the good of the whole.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel. I recommend it to readers seeking fantasy that mixes politics with action.

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