Book review: Blood Over Bright Haven by M. L. Wang

Blood Over Bright Haven by M. L. Wang review

Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: M. L. Wang is a weird recluse, probably in a small room somewhere, planting tomatoes and talking to them. She enjoys gruesome nature documentaries and long walks in circles around her room.

Her books include Blood Over Bright Haven, The Sword of Kaigen, the Theonite Series (discontinued), and The Volta Academy Chronicles (published under Maya Lin Wang).

Publisher: M.L. Wang (July 25, 2023) Page count: 527 pages (Kindle) Formats: ebook

Dark, disturbing, and utterly addictive, Blood Over Bright Haven is an absolute must-read. I’m not well-versed in the dark academia subgenre, but you can’t go wrong with this page-turner. It delves into topics of imperialism, racism, elitism, and supremacy, but it’s a damn good book above all. 

The City of Tiran is impressive. Enclosed within a magical Barrier, it offers its citizens comfort and industrialization made possible by magic. Refugees from the outside, however, can’t expect equal treatment, and they usually scrape by in factories or doing menial jobs. Those who live outside? Dead or soon to be dead through Blight. This lethal light appears from nowhere and strips away layer after layer of human and animal bodies until nothing but blood remains.

Within the confines of the walls, Sciona Freynan has the potential to make history as the first female highmage. She just needs to pass the final exam. Since work, studies, and magic are her sole priorities and she lacks social skills or real interest in other human beings, she feels she can do it. Driven by insatiable ambition and hunger for glory and gifted with a brilliant (if obsessive) mind, she has no equals. There’s just one problem – she’s a woman. And most mages believe women are not destined for greatness.

To avoid revealing any crucial plot points, I’ll keep the synopsis brief. Wang gradually unveils the true origin of magic and sheds light on the mysterious Otherrealm – from which mages draw energy to power the city. Expect the unexpected. It’s dark academia, after all, where appearances are often deceiving. 

Blood Over Bright Haven avoids gratuitous violence but contains graphic scenes that may unsettle some readers. It excels at stripping its protagonist from her core beliefs while making her understand the monstrous secrets of Tiran. 

There’s, of course, a man and a potential for romance. Sciona faces many obstacles, and it is through the other point of view character, Thomil—a Kwen refugee—that we understand how limited her choices are. Their chemistry and dynamics are great. But here’s the catch – we’re talking about M.L. Wang’s book. In The Sword of Kaigen, she has proven to be unafraid of defying readers’ expectations and making bold, heart-wrenching choices. I have issues with parts of the story and the characterization of one of the bad guys, but the ending left me speechless and deserves all the stars.

A word about the magic. I’m not usually a fan of magic systems, but I loved how similar to coding it was. How logical and elegant it felt. Bravo! The characterization of most players is top-notch, too.

The book itself is relatively short (around 120,000 words) and tells a complete story. It skilfully explores themes of gender injustice, racism, faith, and consequences of intentions. All while providing suspense, action, and personal drama. The second half of the book is driven by anger. A righteous anger that serves as a catalyst for societal change, igniting a fire that propels the characters and their world forward.

To provide a balanced perspective, it is worth mentioning that some readers may take issue with the somewhat simplistic depiction of certain characters and the use of narrative shortcuts to convey the message. Personally, I found myself emotionally engaged, and these aspects did not hinder my overall enjoyment of the story.

In short, Blood Over Bright Haves is excellent. It tells a complete story, provides a satisfying ending, and is an emotional rollercoaster as the narrative takes bold risks and delivers gut-wrenching twists. Go ahead, give it a read.

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