Esme’s SPFBO 5 Review: The Brightest Light by Scott J Robinson


My first review for SPFBO 5!!! My ratings and the status of the book are at the bottom of the review. For each review, I’ll note how much of the book I read and whether it’s “cut” or “still alive” –  “still alive” meaning it’s under consideration for a semi but no decision has been made yet. I won’t be making semi-finalist decisions until I’ve read everything and discussed stuff with my teammate!


The Review:

This will be a book for those who enjoy steampunk and science-fantasy. I have quite a few of them in my allotment this year, which is sort of surprising since I didn’t have many in last year’s competition. I wasn’t aware there was a sub-sub-genre within Steampunk called Crystal Steampunk, you learn something new every day! So, if you’re into that niche you’d probably enjoy this one quite a bit!

This is a world where cities fly, known as “Skylands”, they are supported via giant crystal engines of ancient design. Thousands of years ago there were long fought wars between the various cities and the “Wilders”. Tired of the bloodshed, one mayor’s solution was to raise the city into the sky – because why not? Since the first Skyland took flight there were hundreds more that followed, and they each have their own names, rules, and cultures. Some have just a few hundred people living on them while others have thousands. They roam the skies and occasionally dock with each other to exchange goods and people. The whole book sort of had a Big Brother vibe to it. Any time a citizen wants to move from one Skyland to another they go through an interrogation process, forced to show their ID, and state their business for crossing over. Authorities keep logs about who was on what Skyland, and why they were there. The ID crystals did not appear to be optional either. When two Skylands docked in the second chapter there were cannons from each side that were pointed at each other ready to throw down if something went wrong. 

The main character, Kade, is an ex-thief but he’s been out of the business for about a decade. It was involuntary. He didn’t quit or want to change his ways and lead a moral life – he fucked up a job and his group abandoned him. He’s lucky they didn’t decide to kill him instead. The Skyway Men are an elite group of heisters that don’t flinch when it comes to killing people, even their own. The book opens after he’s received his first job since his screw up, and he’s determined to make a good show of it this time around. When he goes to meet up with his contacts however, they are a no show at the bar. Instead of taking this as a red flag and getting out, he barrels head-on into a trap and ends up in quite a bit of drama and bloodshed. It turns out he was given false information and it was an elaborate set up to make the victim of said robbery believe it was the Skyway Men who robbed them. The “why” behind many of the events (like why would someone set Kade and the Skyway Men up) are purposefully vague and mysterious so it would be a bit spoilery to go more into the plot. 

There are other mysteries outside of the set-up scheme…throughout much of the book you’re not entirely sure what Kade’s full backstory is, and because of these intentional vagueries, it takes a while to get to know Kade even though he’s the single POV. It was a little bit of a drawback for me because it took half the book for me to start to become invested in Kade’s success. He’s also not a very ‘colorful’ character when first meeting him. He’s not really a jokester, or flamboyant, exceptionally kind or especially gritty in a way that catches your attention quickly. He’s a slower burn kind of character who’s more or less your average joe that you get to know better through time. I wasn’t totally enraptured by his love interest, partly because I found her annoying, and partly because it’s me and romance. If you like cutesy romances between a woman cop and a ‘thief-with-a-heart’ you might enjoy this aspect more than myself  🙂  This isn’t to say it was a romance book, it wasn’t, so don’t let that deter you if you’re not into it. 

I felt like the world building was interesting, I haven’t read a crystal steampunk before so it came across very fresh for me. There were crystals that get implanted in people’s wrists and they worked like IDs that could be scanned for verification using different types of crystals. There were crystals that powered cars, trucks, and lamps. There were crystals that ran the engines that kept these giant land masses in the air. Lots of crystals. 

 The prose is light and quick, there weren’t many overly descriptive passages and it managed to be straight to the point but avoid being dull. The style is a little clipped and staccato with a bunch of short phrases and sentences. The dialogue was natural for the most part, but there were a few passages where things felt a bit forced or cliche. I also caught a few grammar/spelling errors along the way, (things like ‘you’ instead of ‘your’) but it wasn’t something that distracted me too much. 

All in all, I do recommend this to people who really enjoy steampunk and a lot of science in their fantasy.


  • Plot: 11/15
  • Character: 9/15
  • World Building 13/15
  • Writing 11/15
  • Pacing 12.5/15
  • Originality 12/15
  • Personal Enjoyment 6.5/10

Final Score: 75/100 –> 7.5/10 –> 3.5/5 stars on GR 


Read 100% 

Rating of 75/100

Still alive


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