Sci-Fi Novels

Review: Bonds of Brass, by Emily Skrutskie

Bonds of Brass

Written by Emily Skrutskie, Published by Del Rey, April 2020

Bonds of Brass is my return from a 6-month reading hiatus and it did not disappoint. Deep character work meets significant worldbuilding to reveal a plot that never tires. It’s one of the few space operas that never faltered as I was reading it. The pieces fit well together and the reveals were epic, leaving me gushing about the plot to anyone who would listen. 

Spoilers below…

Writing Lessons Learned

  • It’s possible to introduce a key character later in a novel, especially if it’s part of a book series. The introduction of Wen as a leading character gave the protagonist a renewed outlook on his life, creating an ally and another source of conflict. Without her addition, the plot may have stagnated, and the conflicts may have seemed repetitive.
  • There’s a subtle art to inserting major reveals in a plot and it takes a deep knowledge of your world and your characters to pull them off. It’s clear Skrutskie knows everything about her characters – what makes them tick, why they do what they do, and how their past defines their present. Knowing these things makes for a well-integrated secret reveal that can cause a gasp from the reader.
  • A bildungsroman doesn’t have to meander in soul-searching and gradual growth. The ascent from youth to adulthood can happen with the snap of a finger and it may take the reader a bit to understand that transition. One moment, Ettian is a fun-loving recruit at a flight school, drinking with his friends and enjoying his life. The next, he’s on the run, making life-altering decisions and throwing himself into a lion’s den of power struggles and empire-spanning conflicts. 
  • Finally, Bonds of Brass was a great lesson for me in the art of writing a solid fight scene. Between the air battles and the hand-to-hand combat, there are many great examples of how to create tension alongside realistic descriptions that don’t overdo each individual punch or shot.

Plot Structure Analysis

This is the element that drives me to obsess over space opera as a sub-genre. There is never a dull moment – every page is filled with nail-biting action, betrayals and surprise reveals, eventually leading to an epic conclusion. Skrutskie does a masterful job of managing the many conflict points along the way to an epic climax with very little falling action. This approach leaves the reader in a constant state of excitement and builds momentum for the second book in the series.

There are a number of key elements and storylines that mesh well to make Bonds of Brass a fully-realized story:

  1. A massive reveal at the beginning of the book that paints most of the following conflicts, adding tension and a secret that both characters can bond over.
  2. A simmering love story that draws you into the personal lives of the protagonist and his potential beau, leaving you deeply invested in his personal life.
  3. The introduction of a third character who seems random but eventually becomes a turning point as the protagonist comes to terms with his life goals.
  4. The underlying history of the recent war and its implications on the past, present, and future of the protagonist.
  5. An overall path from the innocence of adolescence to the tough decision making of adulthood.

Bonds of Brass finds a way to mesh all of these storylines together to create an interwoven narrative that engages from start to finish. It’s equal parts space opera, military science fiction, action adventure, and love story. These subgenres work well together and it’s impressive to see them combined into one tale.

Character Analysis

As the protagonist, Ettian is a complex character, balancing a somewhat mysterious and torturous past with the newfound acceptance of friends, classmates, and his love interest, Gal. Skrutskie makes the reader feel like they already know him from the start, but continuously ups the ante by revealing additional details along the way that refine our perceptions of him. We see a battle of internal conflicts in everything he does, from his support of Gal to his wavering reluctance to take part in a revolution that supports a dead empire he feels betrayed him. I had no trouble connecting deeply with him and was excited to discover more with each passing chapter. Needless to say, the final reveal blows everything you thought you knew about Ettian out of the water. This creates an exciting exercise for the reader in reevaluating the many pieces to form a new, more complex puzzle.

Gal plays the love interest and secret heir to the empire that destroyed Ettian’s past. He’s an interesting character who hasn’t faced Ettian’s hardships. The gulf between their experiences is ever present throughout the conflicts, showing Gal to be a privileged young man, confident in himself and his future. He has little hesitation about his love for Ettian, which adds an interesting element to the love story. As the story progresses, we start to see hints of Gal’s terrifying family and the possibility for a dark side that could overtake the sweetness and playfulness he exhibits early on. This intensifies as the novel progresses and creates a potentially dreadful chasm as the book’s final events are brought to light.

Finally, we get Wen, an unexpected addition to the narrative who explodes on the scene in all of her glory. She’s hilarious and well-written, giving us a humor aspect alongside the tragedies of lost family and a life living under an oppressive gang leader. Her addition to the story is essential to Ettian’s growth as a character. She reminds him of where he came from and thus softens the glow around his perception of current events. Without her, we wouldn’t have the conflict in the final half of the book and it would be significantly less exciting. Personally, she was my favorite character and I look forward to getting to know her better in future books.

NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.

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