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  • Friday Indie Review: Brightly by Kaye Thornbrugh

    Welcome back – the move is over, the website hack is taken care of (though we’re still rebuilding our backlog of posts).  Time to get back to the business of indie books.

    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.

    Friday-Indie-Logo Three point 5

  • Friday Indie Review: Flicker by Kaye Thornbrugh

    Okay, this is going to be a new thing here.  Every week, I’m going to do my darndest to get through an Indie book – small press or self-published – in a vain attempt to add some publicity to an already flooded web.  Every Friday, I’m going to put my thoughts on what I’ve read here.  Hopefully, it helps people find some good reads for themselves.

    I’m starting with Flicker, because this one really is kind of an expectation-shifter.  For all of you who think everything self-published is dreck, think again.  Flicker’s a modern fantasy in which our Protagonist, Lee, gets taken into a mystical realm of faeries.

    Lee’s an interesting character, and I have no doubt that Thornbrugh put a lot of herself in there.  There are multiple facets to her personality, and she reacts very differently to different situations.  Thornbrugh does a great job of keeping the wide-ranging Lee feeling like a real teenage girl, and not a cultural stereotype of what a real teenage girl could be.  Props to her for that; I don’t think I could have pulled it off.

    The world Flicker inhabits is much darker than your average girl-taken-to-magic-world story.  Faeries are dangerous, and they don’t actually care that much about humans.  She is tolerated, not welcomed, and her struggles to make her way through the world make for an excellent read.  There’s romance here, between Lee and a Seer named Nasser, who has his own issues.  The romance is handled well; both sides are awkward, fumbling idiots when it comes to dealing with the opposite sex, which again feels much more realistic than your average novel about a teenage girl.

    At least, it lines up with my own teenage experience.  Enough is said about that.

    The real moment this book started, for me, was here:  Lee is given the option to return to her mortal life, and she comes very close to taking it.  Upon confronting the mortal world, we really get an insight into the character, and her dealings with people.

    If what you’re looking for is a character-driven story grounded in realistic behavior (in the midst of magic and faeries and other cool stuff, of course), then Flicker is a good way to lose an afternoon.

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