Brightly Woven, by Alexandra Bracken (Egmont 2010, YA, 368 pp).
Sydelle has lived her life in a dry village, one that's of no particular interest to most anybody else in the kingdom. The year she is sixteen, everything changes. A young wizard arrives in the village, bringing with him rainstorms that end the long drought. But as well as the rain, he brings a warning--an enemy army is half a day away, and war is imminent.
As a reward for ending the drought, the wizard, Wayland North, asks Sydelle's parents for her company on his mission to the Queen's city, where he is headed with information that could end the war.
"Do I have no choice in this?" I cried, as the wizard appeared behind my father. The smile on his face was small, but it was still there.
He thought he was helping me, did he? He thought that he was doing me some sort of favor. A prisoner of my village or a prisoner of a wizard. What was the difference when you could not decide your own path?" (page 24)
So Sydelle and Wayland set out on a desperate (and rather poorly funded) journey, with Sydelle, much as she had dreamed of life beyond her village, understandably put out by her circumstances. Wayland North does not make it easier for her--moody and down right difficult at times, it's not clear exactly what he wants from her. Despite this, she is intrigued...and, not long after, rather fond...as well as confused (North can be annoyingly unforthcoming) and scared (besides the fact of the oncoming war itself, there is an evil magician working against North). And then Sydelle begins to realize that she herself might have magic within her, and that she has to play a part of her own, whether she wants to or not, in the game of Queens, Kings, and Wizards in which she has become entangled. In doing so, she will finally find her own path....
Brightly Woven is an engaging coming of age/romance/fantasy quest story, combining political and magical intrigue with more personal suspense, and a pleasant dash of humor. I particularly liked Sydelle--from an ordinary girl, with ordinary dreams and expectations, she is forced to become a major player on her world's stage, all the while coming to terms with her feelings for Wayland North, and she makes this transition in a convincing and compelling way. Compared to the small experiences of Sydelle's journey and her development as a character, the epic clash of countries paled. In fact this larger plot of the book never seemed quite convincing to me, but that might be my fault as a reader, avidly following the Sydelle/North relationship arc and being less interested in more mundane things like war etc.
One of the things I liked best about Sydelle is that she is a weaver--I am a sucker for books in which the main characters skillfully practice crafts of various kinds. When North whisks her away from home, she insists on bringing her collapsible loom along...and finds time to weave at various points along her journey. But (and this is my main quibble with the book) what she is weaving is a new cloak for North, and, in as much as his cloaks are a part of his own magic, and in as much as Sydelle is able to infuse her work with her magic, I was very disappointed that, once the new cloak was finished, there was no point to it--it was just a nice cloak. Sigh. Maybe there will be a second book (there's still a curse hanging over their heads) and the cloak will come into its own.
I'm happy to recommend Brightly Woven to the younger reader of YA fantasy in particular (it's a somewhat lighter, faster read than, say, Fire, by Kristin Cashore). But because of my cloak quibble, Spellcoats, by Diana Wynne Jones, remains my favorite Textile Fantasy (in that book, the weaving is central to the plot). Anyone else have any other good recomendations of this rather negelcted sub-genre? Or, more broadly, craft-centered fantasies?
Other reviews at Manga Manic Cafe, Lucid Conspiracy, The Book Smugglers, and Angieville
(disclaimer: ARC sent to me from the publisher)