by Samantha Cohoe
Publication: February 15, 2022
**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**
Bright Ruined Things is a reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Because I haven’t read The Tempest, I did read a few summaries beforehand. For the most part, knowing the source material isn’t vital to understanding the book, but it was interesting to see what was borrowed from the play. If anything, those who have read The Tempest will be able to point out these things as well as recognize how the story diverges. From my limited understanding, a lot gets turned upside down in this reimagining.
Mae is the central character of the novel, and it’s through her that readers experience the day’s events. It’s the one night a year that high society mainlanders are invited onto the island to celebrate First Night. This particular day has more going for it than usual as the spirits on the island begin to die, and Mae starts to suspect that Ivo, the Prosper heir, may be behind it. There are no other viewpoints, which was both refreshing and frustrating. Refreshing because the books I’ve been reading have been those with multiple viewpoints. Frustrating because I wanted to peer into the minds of a few individuals but was limited to only what Mae could see or hear. It contributed to a sense of mystery, amplifying it at certain points in the book especially when Mae could only hear one side of a conversation. My anxiety kept building as I became embroiled in trying to figure out who was lying and who was telling the truth. I struggled with waiting to discover what lay at the end because I wanted the answer sooner than later–this is why I don’t do well with thrillers and mysteries.
Overall, I enjoyed the book but was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied. The book was well-written and thoughtfully plotted out. My lack of satisfaction may have largely been due to my dislike of nearly all the characters except for Ivo. Ivo who was the heir. Ivo who was perceived to be peculiar and anti-social. Ivo who had to bear the secrets of the island while everyone got to leave to the mainland and live their lives. Ivo who was not nearly appreciated enough by his own family. Was I just a bit angry? Yes, I was. While I was rooting for Ivo, I couldn’t decide how I felt about Mae.
Despite living on the island her entire life, Mae doesn’t have a place or a role like the Prospers. She longs for the island to belong to her like she feels she belongs to it. This desire underlies her ambitions to learn how to use magic. Additionally, sheltered from the outside world with her only connections to it through her best friend Cordy Prosper, she’s a bit naive and also a people pleaser. I couldn’t fault her for the whirlwind of emotions she undergoes because the people who were supposed to care for her ensured she didn’t get much of anything. Her existence revolved around them and the island. Additionally, it’s a maddening read because Mae can’t seem to decide what she wants. It was difficult to see her uncertainty or agree with her decisions. Then there were those few times I wanted to cheer her on. I often had to remind myself that the book takes place in a single day, so it makes sense why she can’t seem to commit to a decision. Despite being frustrated with Mae, I believe Cohoe does a great job at showcasing how fickle emotions can be and Mae is fickle.
Bright Ruined Things is a search for belonging and family framed in the larger context of the mysteries surrounding the Prospers and the island. Although I didn’t care much for many of the characters, it was still a book I couldn’t put down because I needed to find out the ending.
If you’ve read the book, direct me to your review or let me know what you think. I’d love to talk about this book with someone.