Review: Blood Over Bright Haven by M.L. Wang






Sciona’s hair is neither blonde nor long. I just couldn’t find a suitable stock image that represented her. 🙁


An orphan since the age of four, Sciona has always had more to prove than her fellow students. For twenty years, she has devoted every waking moment to the study of magic, fueled by a mad desire to achieve the impossible: to be the first woman ever admitted to the High Magistry. When she finally claws her way up the ranks to become a highmage, however, she finds that her challenges have just begun. Her new colleagues will stop at nothing to let her know she is unwelcome, beginning with giving her a janitor instead of a qualified lab assistant.

What neither Sciona nor her peers realize is that her taciturn assistant was once more than a janitor; before he mopped floors for the mages, Thomil was a nomadic hunter from beyond Tiran’s magical barrier. Ten years have passed since he survived the perilous crossing that killed his family. But working for a highmage, he sees the opportunity to finally understand the forces that decimated his tribe, drove him from his homeland, and keep the Tiranish in power.

Through their fractious relationship, mage and outsider uncover an ancient secret that could change the course of magic forever—if it doesn’t get them killed first. Sciona has defined her life by the pursuit of truth, but how much is one truth worth with the fate of civilization in the balance?


“To hope, Highmage Freynan.”

Blood Over Bright Haven by M. L. Wang has undeniably secured a spot among my most cherished reads of 2023, and I’m certain it will remain one of my all time favorites too. Wang’s exquisite attention to constructing an immersive world, coupled with a meticulously developed system of magic and a cast of morally complex characters, renders Blood Over Bright Haven an unparalleled gem within the realm of grimdark/high fantasy. This is the kind of book that beckons for multiple revisits, revealing deeper layers of enjoyment with each subsequent reading.

Right from the opening sentence, Wang immerses the reader in a whirlwind of intense action, visceral gore, and poignant heartache, all shrouded in an air of suspense and enigma that captivates from the outset, leaving an insatiable curiosity to unravel the unfolding events. The subsequent chapters up until the closing sentence which I’ve quoted above continued to astound me with their unfolding events, leaving me thoroughly amazed and entertained.

The meticulous construction of the book’s universe brought me immense delight. Tiran, characterized by its paradoxical blend of advanced scientific prowess and deeply entrenched misogyny and patriarchy, was portrayed with expert craftsmanship, vividly capturing its fractured state marred by prejudice and xenophobia. The skillful narration not only painted a vivid picture but also tugged at the reader’s emotions, evoking a sense of empathy for the countless injustices that unfolded within its confines.

The enchanting magic system portrayed in Blood Over Bright Haven is truly exceptional. As someone deeply entrenched in the field of software engineering, I derived immense pleasure from the meticulous process of crafting and encoding each spell, demanding thoughtful deliberation, precise calculation, and transcription into a Spellograph prior to enactment. The author’s meticulous detailing of every stage instills unwavering clarity in the reader’s understanding, eliminating any potential ambiguity or uncertainty.

Another element that struck a chord with me in Blood Over Bright Haven was its unique approach to religion, which drew heavily from the realms of science and engineering. The doctrines presented within the narrative were akin to theses formulated by the religion’s progenitors, aligning faith with a structured and empirical foundation. This departure from convention is a rare and refreshing occurrence within the realm of fantasy literature.

Another area where Wang truly excelled was in the art of crafting plot twists within the narrative. These twists were nothing short of masterpieces, intricately designed and skillfully executed. While as a reader, I could sense the impending grandeur, I found myself consistently caught off guard by the revelations as Wang unveiled each carefully woven plot twist. Another notable aspect that stood out was the thought provoking dialogues between characters, prompting profound contemplation on matters of morality, the blurred lines between right and wrong, the impact of unwavering belief, and the sacrifices society is willing to make in pursuit of scientific progress for the greater good. These exchanges fostered a compelling introspection, challenging readers to reevaluate their perspectives and ponder the intricacies of our societal choices.

The portrayal of Sciona as the lead character was truly captivating. She embodied an unapologetic self centeredness, a prejudice laden perspective, and an abundance of hubris. Wang’s depiction of Sciona’s journey in a predominantly male dominated profession resonated deeply, as she navigated a landscape fraught with obstacles solely due to her gender. The narrative vividly showcased the challenges she faced, from enduring inappropriate and demeaning comments from male colleagues to enduring instances of sexual intimidation, and experiencing systemic bias and discrimination from the governing authorities, all conspiring to hinder her progress at every turn. It’s sobering to acknowledge that despite the fantastical setting, these issues remain an unfortunate reality in our contemporary world, underscoring the persistent struggles faced by women even in our ostensibly advanced society.

Thomil’s character was exquisitely crafted, resonating with a deep sense of authenticity. As a Kwen, Wang adeptly conveyed the poignant spectrum of discrimination he endured within the confines of Tiran. The narrative poignantly delved into Thomil’s innermost musings, offering a heartrending glimpse into his experiences. It was truly disheartening to witness the extent of prejudice he faced solely based on his Kwen identity, despite possessing the same brilliance, intellect, and inherent humanity as any Tiranish individual. The portrayal served as a powerful reminder of the injustice and bias that can persist, unjustly shaping the lives of those who are equally deserving of respect and recognition.

Concluding my review, I wholeheartedly endorse Blood Over Bright Haven as a must-read for aficionados of grimdark/high/epic fantasy. Its impeccable execution and artful craftsmanship make it a literary gem that beckons repeated perusal, offering fresh revelations and pleasures with each successive reading.

Book Cover:

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