Review: Tainted – A Tainted Dominion Novella by Krystle Matar

Tea is the cornerstone of civilization, Mr. Blackwood, and I could never trust a man who doesn’t take tea.

Glaen Forsooth

Glaen must choose: the woman he loves, or freedom. Does he comply with the law of the Authority, or does he continue to see Gianna, the only light of his life? The consequences of his choice will ripple through more than he realizes. Revolution can start with a single shot.

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My Review

Tainted is a gritty, gaslamp novella set in the same world as Krystle Matar’s amazing and popular debut novel, Legacy of the Brightwash, and is equally compelling. Our hero from the novel, Tashué Blackwood is seen in a completely different light in this story. It is told from the perspective of one of Tashué’s cases who we met in Legacy of the Brightwash, Glaen Forsooth. Glaen was arrested for fraternization with another tainted in the novel, and his beloved Gianna Tarbrook was shot dead by a Regulation Officer. Tainted begins before this tragedy and we live through it once more from Glaen’s heartbreaking perspective:

“Gianna gives me a reason to breathe. She is like the sun rising after a long and terrible night. But the night was more than only a few hours; the sun set for me years ago. Until I met Gianna. Now it has risen again.”

Glaen Forsooth

After Gianna is shot Glaen mistakenly believes Tashué to have been her murderer and is consumed by hatred for him. He cannot understand how Tashué could work as a Regulation Officer for so long, condemning Tainted/Talented people who do not follow the rules to a life inside the Rift – the forbidding penitentiary where Tainted/Talented people are sent who break the rules. We saw this attitude from Tashué himself by the end of Brightwash as he came to realise what was important in life and question the rules set by The Authority. This lends some dramatic irony to Tainted, since Glaen has no idea of Tashué’s professional doubts and actual decency of character. 

In Tainted we are once more greeted by Matar’s wonderful world-building skills:

“The Residential Institute for Feral Tainted and Non-Compliants—the Rift—stood on an island in the Brightwash river, a great ugly behemoth that loomed upon the rock. It was once a fort that stood guard against invaders coming downriver. A gated courtyard sprawled around the stone structure, making the edifice as imposing and unwelcoming as it was meant to be. The river ran fast around the island, surrounding the Rift in a haze of mist and water.”

We get to see much more of the Rift from the point of view of Glaen as an inmate. It had a certain air of mystery in Legacy of the Brightwash, so I found this exposé of the brutal regime and it’s guards who pick on the weak to make themselves feel stronger, particularly interesting.

When Glaen encounters Tashué’s son Jason inside the Rift he is even more shocked and horrified by Tashué – how could he let his own son languish in such a place? He comes to hate Tashué with a vengeance:

“When Glaen had met Hillbraun’s gaze and seen such hatred, he realized why Tashué Blackwood was so loathsome. As a tainted, Glaen was used to hatred. In fact, he expected it, at least from those without Talent. But Tashué’s lack of hatred was hard to swallow. He didn’t hate the tainted, but he still thought they needed to be regulated. He still thought that they couldn’t be trusted to make their own decisions. Sweet North Star, that was so much worse.”

Once again, the author brings the powerful theme of the fear of the other to the fore with the Tainted/Talented being locked away to keep untalented people safe from their powers. The Regulation Officers have been trained to be bigots who believe themselves more worthy citizens than the tainted, despite the fact that it is the tainted who keep the trams running, the lamps lit and who heal the sick with their talents in this world:

“The man thumbed back the hammer of that ugly rifle, his whole body tense and wild, eager for blood, his eyes filled with hatred so complete Glaen quailed in the face of it. It was hatred like that, unreasoning and blinding and consuming, which had turned the tainted into an inferior class. It didn’t care that they all bled the same blood, couldn’t be reasoned with or soothed. Hatred like that killed people.”

Tainted may be short, but it contains some fabulous characterisation. I loved Gianna’s free-spirited, carefree, positive nature, despite her short amount of time alive in the story, she is fully fleshed out. Glaen is much more cautious, almost her opposite. Scared to step out of line and live his life:

“The future hasn’t happened yet, but by living in fear of it, you’re paralysed. You’ll never grow, my love. The future lies like shackles across your shoulders. You’re stunted, chained to this half-life you live. Stand with me, Glaen. Look up. Look up into the sky and see the beauty our city holds.” 

Gianna Tarbrook

 Jason is downtrodden and almost defeated, but has not let go of his hope to escape one day. Rezji is a tough, taciturn type with hidden depths and a probable tragic past:

We all have our dead that we carry with us


This is another emotional story from Matar, something which she does so well. The action of the final stages of the story was fast-paced and hair-raisingly exciting and the final face-off had a fittingly tragic conclusion. Anyone who enjoyed Legacy of the Brightwash will love this story – Matar has knocked it out of the park once more!

About the Author

Krystle Matar has been writing for a long time, but things got serious when Tashué Blackwood walked into her life, an amber-eyed whirlwind.

When she isn’t arguing with him or any of his friends, she parents and farms. She has a lot of children and even more animals and one very excellent husband.

She is currently working on lots of stories set in the Dominion. She expects to exist in this universe for a while.

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