What better way to re-launch than with the sequel to the book that started our reviews here?
I’ve met Kaye Thornbrugh at a couple of good cons by now, and I’ve always enjoyed hanging out with her. I liked Flicker, her first book, but there were some rocky points that needed shoring up, and I pointed that out. It was a good book.
She’s learned a lot about the art of writing a novel since then. Brightly isn’t a good book – it’s a great one.
Flicker set up the world in which these characters live; the magic shop, the odd jobs. It let us see how Kaye’s magic system works, and filled us in on the backstory to her characters. For some authors, that’s all there is; an origin story. For Thornbrugh, it feels like the origin work was something she needed to tell in order to start telling us cool stories in that world. Brightly has more character growth, more interpersonal dynamics, and frankly more fun now that the reins are off. Her writing has all the glee of a dog that’s managed to escape from the backyard and really get out into the world.
Let’s start with the main character, Lee. Lee’s still something of an apprentice; she knows enough to know she’s outmatched and outgunned, but she’s working on that. Lee’s internal dialogue is given to us, and we really feel what it is to be a teenage girl. She’s emotional, sure, and that’s to be expected. There’s a trap that many authors fall into here – that this blushing awkwardness should immediately spring, fully-formed, into an epic and/or tragic romance. Thornbrugh isn’t excluding the possibility of that, but the way she handles Lee’s emotional state at any given time makes you feel like you’re looking at an actual person instead of a character from a romance novel. Lee’s emotional experimentation and fumbling is endearing in a way that makes her character that much more sympathetic.
And then there’s Filo. I love Filo. Here’s a kid that’s in roughly the same position as Lee, except that he’s got a lot more ability to get things done. Filo’s problem is the Spiderman dilemma – with great power comes great responsibility. He’s constantly trying to pass himself off as not-a-teenager, because to do otherwise would mean he couldn’t get his job done. There’s a scene towards the very beginning of the book when Filo and Lee deal with some atrocity in a neighborhood basement. The lady who owns the house is very grateful to both of them – so grateful she offers to call CPS and get them help. Filo can’t take it, of course – that would get in the way of him doing his job, but the fact that this lady sees the vulnerability under Filo’s facade of easy competence makes the reader become attached to Filo as well.
Nasser, Lee’s master in the arts of magic, is a more distant character. This is pretty intentional; we’re looking at Lee’s POV, and as a result our perceptions of Nasser are filtered through Lee’s hormonal responses to him. It’s hard to feel a direct connection to this third part of our protagonist triumvirate, because what the reader feels instead is a greater connection to Lee in the presence of Nasser. He’s a good character, but the real magic comes from Lee dealing (badly) with her attraction to him.
The world’s getting larger, too. Flicker really set up the dynamics of the shop; Brightly almost immediately takes us away from that locale and into more fabulous settings. As the titles imply, it’s flashier, hipper, and just a heck of a lot of fun. The world we’re exposed to becomes something of a cross between Harry Potter and The Magicians, a place of wonder and magic, but one where the danger is a little more real-feeling.
Flicker and Brightly are well named. Flicker gave us the beginning glimmers of what Thornbrugh could do; Brightly has managed to pull it off with aplomb.