Bralick’s A Dark So Deep in review

A Dark So Deep (The Madness Method, #2)A Dark So Deep by J. Leigh Bralick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There aren’t too many books out there that I wait most (im)patiently for. A Dark So Deep was one of them. The sequel to The Madness Project, Bralick’s opening gambit in a fusion of fantasy and steampunk, this follow-up brings readers right back to the brink of war in Brinmark, the capital city of Cavnal. Prince Tarik aka the mage called Shade stands in the middle of an ever deepening political intrigue and resulting chasm between the government and its peoples. Is he meant to start or stop a war? The question looms large throughout the book.
I hadn’t realized just how Brinmark-starved I was until ADSD came out, nor just how much I missed Tarik, Hayli and the gang, the city, the magic, the steam and the mechanisms. Most of all I missed the language. Bralick’s mind is a genius, bringing world-building to a new imaginative high. The various accents and linguistic flourishes are all incredibly original, and invasive like a catchy commercial tune except I’m not singing some company’s jingle but falling into a vocal and mental syntax of another world entirely. It’s invasive in a good way, as a testament to Bralick’s storytelling and commitment to delivering a story that engages the brain wholly. Reading The Madness Project, and now A Dark So Deep, I was fully transported from reality to another world entirely as details most authors overlook have been well considered and worked into the storytelling and played upon with seemingly cunning ease.
The book opens with immediate action and stays in a keyed up, page-turning plot pace throughout, throwing us right back in amongst the street rats and mages as they take refuge at an abandoned smelter at the edge of town, their previous home at the Hole forfeited as a loss after being raided at the end of The Madness Project. Hayli is still being held captive by Dr. Kippler, her mind deviously being toyed with as a new threat on the anti-mage front rears its duplicitous head in the persons of Andon Vrey and Miss Farrady. Tarik, ever torn between self and duty (perceived or assigned by blood lineage, though Cavnal or Istian is still up for grabs) is determined to rescue Hayli while the rest of his crew is distrustful of the girl they believe betrayed them to the ministry/crown.
A good first chunk of the book is dedicated to Hayli’s rescue with Tarik continuing to explore his magic. However, the harder Tarik pushes the more his magic fractures causing him to eventually lose control over it entirely. He journeys deeper into the enigmas of what magic is to a mage just as Hayli’s brain is toyed with for the same purpose by forces that would understand such things for entirely different reasons. Bralick delivers a stunning work of mind-bending writing in giving us Hayli’s perspective as she endures lies and manipulation, so convincing that she had me guessing for a good long while, as unable to decipher between the truth and the lies as Hayli. That, for someone who prefers a high level of control in their mind, was a startlingly scary jaunt into what insanity must feel like.
Correspondingly, I thought Andon Vrey and Miss Farrady were some of the most dastardly villains I’ve read yet. Even now the character Andon, his history and purpose and true involvement in the ministry plots remains a mystery that lingers, ever piquing the interest, Miss Farrady close on his heels. Bralick doesn’t give us much about them beyond the periphery of what Hayli and/or Tarik knows about them which titillates for future books and possible explanations.
Even more, chock full of political intrigues, manipulations, revelations, and unexpected plot twists, A Dark So Deep not only follows The Madness Project, it gives us characters that have changed markedly over the course of the story, growing and developing as real people would if experiencing a serious set of dire, even lethal circumstances. Layers of delicious storytelling intertwine to weave a rich, intricate, continually expanding and deepening plot that is still beginning to unfold with a promise of at least three more books to follow in the series.
I want to wrap Brinmark and its inhabitants around me like an insulating blanket, adopt the city slang patois and go running around in the dark with people who can walk through walls, read minds, influence emotions, change faces, start fires, teleport, heal, and a score of other unnamed abilities. I want to fight the good fight alongside these brave souls who fight not for some world-changing cause, but for the right to be themselves, and use the gifts they were born with. Against needless oppression born of greed, of power lust, of malicious intolerance. In today’s world fraught with similar narrow-minded perceptions, it’s Bralick’s brand of fiction that dares to draw striking, thought-provoking parallels.
Fans of The Madness Project will not be disappointed with A Dark So Deep. I fell even more in love with this world and its peoples with this second volume in the series. My need for the third installment is as great as my anticipation of the next book in the Game of Thrones series, and that’s saying something.

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