Oil and Dust, The Elemental Artist #1

Book Reviews / Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022

By: Jami Fairleigh
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Kitsune Publishing

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Content/Trigger Warnings: Shown on page:  Abandonment; Ableism (Some Ableist Language); Amnesia / Memory Loss; Anxiety; Anger Issues; Attempted Sexual Assault; Blood (Wounds); Bodies / Corpses; Burning (Gore); Alcohol; Death / Dying; Fire; Descriptions of food; Guilt; Loss of a Parent / Family; Manipulation / Toxic Relationship; Microaggressions; Murder; Pregnancy / Childbirth; Profanity (Colorful, not explicit); Religious Blasphemy; Religious Criticism; Scars; Self-harm; Sin (Discussion of); Societal Collapse; Trauma; Violence (Hand-to-hand combat); Weapons (Swords and other hand-held implements)

“I wished I’d been born two hundred years ago.
Before technology died.
Before the world died…
If I’d been born two hundred years ago, if I’d been born into the world of technology, I’d know who and where my parents were. More importantly, they’d know me”
Jami Fairleigh, Oil and Dust

I was truly impressed with Jami Fairliegh’s fantasy, Oil and Dust. It takes a very different and thoroughly refreshing approach to the dystopian theme and magic systems. Oil and Dust was a gripping page turning read, woven together with beautiful prose, a one of kind magic system, and character that are both well developed and relatable. Told in the first-person perspective, the story follows the life of Elemental Artist Matthew Sugiyama as he journeys to find his parents. Two hundred years ago, civilization as we know it destroyed itself. It was not destroyed by what we typically see in dystopian novels such as wars and nuclear devastation, instead, the world was destroyed by greed, religion, power, and money. The world as we know it is referred to as the Before. I really feel that this was not only singularly unique, but a brave decision as well. It certainly is not unlikely that these factors could contribute to the collapse of civilization, but to make this the root cause forces the reader to stop and think about what is going on in the world. Two hundred years later, the world seems ideal. There is no nuclear wasteland, no central government, little politics, no need for money, and no established religion. The story takes place in New England, and the names of states and cities have not changed, however, how people deal with each other has. Smaller towns have sprouted up and rely on travelers for news. People trade for goods. For Matthew, this is where the magic system comes in. Matthew is a trained Elemental Artist, which, through his art, he can change things. For example, he can look at home with a poor roof, draw a perfectly new one, and it will fix it. As someone who dabbles in drawing from time to time, I found this both fascinating and, frankly, brilliant. I loved this magic system. While it was fantasy, Ms. Fairliegh had it make sense. While Matthew can make improvements, his skills are somewhat limited. He cannot draw a house and make it appear. There are many complexities that go into a building that an artist cannot see, so he cannot create that type of structure, but he can improve what’s there. When he comes to a settlement, he will trade his skills for food and a place to stay. The world as they know it is now under a new threat, one that seems to be connected to Matthew. A group called the Revivalists are wreaking havoc as they travel from settlement to settlement. Again, this was quite an amazing choice. The Revivalists are a fanatic religious group that justify whatever they do in the name of God. They are reviving the old ways that was one of the causes of the destruction of civilization. While I did not get the impression that it was a negative portrayal of religion overall, but the takeaway is that fanaticism will justify what is done in the name of what they worship. It was the twisting of religion that I felt was what Ms. Farleigh was communicating. Oil and Dust is a fantasy that delves into many themes. It unique and original in its magic and dystopian themes and I highly recommend it.

The characters in Oil and Dust are very well thought out. Matthew is a wonderful protagonist. Left at an abbey to be trained as an artist when he was 3, he does not know who his family is. When completing their education, artists typically take a position in a settlement. However, Matthew bucks this tradition to find his family, and hence find out more of who he is. He is a strong character in the sense that he doesn’t let people tell him what to do or what is expected of him. As with many characters in the novel, he is kind and caring. I think this is a product of the new world born out of the destruction of the old. Matthew’s one flaw is that he is not very in tune with how others feel towards each other, most likely from being raised in an abbey with all boys. He can relate to people, but he is surprised when he finds out Ben is falling in love with Josephine. He’s not jealous, he totally misses the cues.

Some of the other notable characters are Josephine, Sally, Genevie, Whistler, and Ben. They form a family group of sorts. Matthew met Josephine first, and she becomes like a sister to him. They stay the winter at a settlement called Brookfield where they meet the others who have various roles in the town. Upon hearing about Matthew’s journey to find his family, after the winter, some travel with him. I enjoyed how the characters played of each other. There was good chemistry that leaped off the pages. Josephine is severely scarred on one side of her face, yet Ben falls in love with her. It was great to see characters who are not perfect and those who can look past it and see what lies beneath. The characters will run you through a gamut of emotions, which is always a sign of good writing. When we finally meet the main antagonist, a calm, cool, collected man named Talbot, he is the one you just love to hate.

As previously mentioned, the magic system was exceptional. Using art as a way to improve and repair things is so creative. Art is creative, this magic was creative. It was very well thought out and developed and, as in some fantasies, this magic is not hidden. As an Elemental Artist, Matthew is highly sought after in communities as everyone knows what they are capable of. Thus, he trades his artistic abilities for food, lodging and other things he may need as he travels. One of the interesting points is that it is believed that only men are trained as artists. There are no women artists. I can’t give anything away here, so you will have to read the book. There are women scholars, such as Josephine. It is well thought out since Matthew is capable of repairing objects, painting a portrait that can change certain things about a person, and making general improvement. He can’t paint complex subjects and make them appear. If he can’t see the complexities, then no matter how good of an artist he is, it will not function properly. Why he does not address Josephine’s deformities is one of the very touching moments of the book.

“ “If you want me to paint your portrait without scars, I’ll do it. But, Josephine,” I said, pressing my cheek against her head, “it won’t be an improvement. Your beautiful and memorable. Without the scars, you’ll still be beautiful.”
She craned her neck to look at me, a strange look on her face.
A tear spilled from her eye.”
Jami Fairleigh, Oil and Dust

The pacing and prose were excellent. The novel was told in the first-person narrative of Matthew. I felt this was an excellent choice since for quite a bit of time, Matthew does travel alone. While he travels, this type of narrative allows the reader to get “inside” his head and know what he is thinking as he encounters other people and faces the elements as he travels with his horse, dog, and donkey. The narrative continues this way even after meeting those characters who become like family to him. I loved how the story unfolded and was certainly surprised at many points. This story was certainly not predictable. While it was a slow burn building up to one amazing ending, there was never a time where I felt nothing was happening. Everything was necessary to understand what the story was building up too.

Overall Thoughts

Oil and Dust was an immensely enjoyable fantasy. The unique twist on the typical dystopian world and exceptionally unique magic system were exceptionally points in the novel. The characters were relatable and well developed. Matthew, the main protagonist, is a charming and lovable character. He is focused on what he wants, but he is endearing when he misses cues about how others feel. He genuinely loves and cares for his friends, but being raised in an abbey has left him somewhat blind to reading cues in people’s behavior. The other characters, as we see them through Matthew’s narrative, complement him and care for him as well. He forms a strong family bond with them. There is also LBGTQ representation in the love of Nora and Kami, two healers in Brookfield. Representation in fantasy is very important, and I always find it positive when there is representation. As an Elemental Artist, Matthew can, through painting, make improvements to just about anything. This was the very creative and unique magic system in the book. In addition, the dystopian factor is almost hard to miss because the world is not a desolate nuclear wasteland. Civilization, the Before, was destroyed through politics, greed, religion, money, and power. As our group travels through New England, the lush forests remain as do some remnants of the time Before.  This was also a very strong point in the novel, as it was so creative and imaginative. The pacing and prose were extremely well done in the first-person narrative of Matthew. It was a slow burn to an epic ending, but throughout the novel, it was exciting and everything was woven together to lead to that point. Oil and Dust was fantastic read from start to finish. I highly recommend it and I look forward to readingthe next installment.

Summary (from Escapist Tours)

When all has been lost, we find ourselves…

Out of the ashes of destruction, a new world has arisen. The plagues of the past—the worship of greed and pursuit of power—are gone. Now, the communities that remain in this post-apocalyptic world focus on creating connections, on forging futures filled with family and love. And all with the help of hard work, hope… and a little bit of magic.

Artist Matthew Sugiyama knows this well. Traveling the countryside in search of the family he lost as a child, he trades his art for supplies—and uses his honed magic to re-draw the boundaries of reality, to fashion a world that is better for those he meets.

Following glimpses of visions half-seen, Matthew—and the friends he encounters along the way—will travel a path from light to darkness and back again. A road where things lost in the past can only be found in the love of the present, and the hope for the future.

And he will travel this path wherever it leads. From joy to sorrow, from tears to laughter. Because Matthew is the Elemental Artist, and he knows that though dangers arise, humanity will always triumph… in a world he has painted in shades of Oil and Dust.

Author Jami Farleigh invites you to meet a rich tapestry of characters, and to travel through a world that blends fantasy, laughter, coming of age, and evocative literary stylings to create a perfect escape. Fans of The Goblin Emperor, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, The Language of Flowers, and Quarter Share will delight in this tale of humor, humanity, and the power of hope.

Find out more about Jami Fairleigh on her website: https://jamifairleigh.com/
Purchase Oil and Dust on Amazon

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