Avielle of Rhia, by Dia Calhoun (a textile fantasy)

After reading Brightly Woven a while back, I set off on the trial of other textile fantasies--stories in which weaving, or other textile arts, are an integral part of the story (because I like books where people do things with their hands, and make beautiful things). A list of the textile fantasies I've looked at so far is at the end of the post; but now, on to Avielle of Rhia.

Avielle of Rhia, by Dia Calhoun (2006, Marshall Cavendish, YA, 397 pages). Avielle is a princess in a land where it is thought that the traits of the ancestors become manifest again in their descendants. And Avielle bears an uncanny resemblance to the most cursed queen of all, Dolvoka, whose dark magic drove the birds away from Rhia. Dolvoka came from Dredonia long ago, an unwilling bride sealing a peace treaty, and Avielle has inherited the silver skin and silver hair of the Dredonia. Many, including Avielle herself, fear that she has inherited Dolvoka's dark magic as well...

Avielle grew up on the outskirts of royal life, facing prejudice and distrust, finding solace in her weaving, and in her love for her little brother. But that life comes to a crashing halt when the Brethren of the Black Cloaks, who have come to power in Dredonia, make their move against Rhia. In a hideous whirlwind, the king's castle is destroyed, killing almost all inside. By chance Avielle was in town, visiting Gamalda, the most skilled weaver in the kingdom, and so she survived.

Her family is dead, and her kingdom in jeopardy. But Avielle refuses to come forward, to face the fear and suspicion of her people--instead, she becomes Gamalda's apprentice. Gradually she learns to let her own magic come to her as she weaves dream-fraught cloth, inspired by the goddess, and gradually this leads her closer to the wisdom that will guide her as she faces her destiny. But for the most part, her days are filled with life on a busy street of crafters and printers and magic users. From her new neighbors, Avielle learns lessons of friendship, and trust, and the bonds that bring ordinary people together. It is these lessons, as well as her own magic, that will let Avielle defeat her own demons, and those of her country.

It's a rather lovely book, in its collection of diverse characters all busy with their lives, the magic that is part of life, and the textiles--lovely textiles of great metaphoric import...And it's worth reading for this aspect of it alone. As part of her plan to help Avielle gain wisdom, Gamalda sends Avielle into the lives of all the neighbors--the magical sock maker, the book-seller, with his whimsical system of organization, the silversmith and glass makers, lovely artisans both, and more. Fascinatingly detailed descriptions bring all of these characters, and their shops, to life.

Avielle's own story--one of coming to terms with prejudice, grief, and self-doubt--is compelling also, but it was not subtle. I felt that things were underlined a tad too much--the reader is not give a heck of a lot of credit. And I found this to be the case with the world building as well--falling just short of excellent because the points were driven home a tad too hard.

That being said, this is a lovely one, I think, for the 12 or 13 year old girl, for whom reading fantasy is her path toward learning about the world, for thinking about things in our world through the mirror of magical places.

And the textiles are lovely...

Thanks, Natalie, for the recommendation! I enjoyed this one.

(note on age: I put this one in both mg and ya--I think it's definitely a tween. There's no sex, but it is very much a teenage girl growing up. There's violence, but not enough to make it upper middle grade unfriendly)

Other textile fantasies I've reviewed:

The Spellcoats, by Diana Wynne Jones
Tom Ass, by Ann Laurence
Brightly Woven, by Alexandra Bracken
Silksinger, by Laini Taylor

Other textile fantasies that I haven't:

A Curse Dark as Gold, by Elizabeth Bunce
Weaveworld, by Clive Barker
Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry
Dragon Slippers, by Jessica Day George

Any more recommendations?


  1. Glad you liked it. As I was struggling to show character development in my own story, I found this book helpful. I enjoy Dia Calhoun's books.

  2. Could Laini Taylor's Tales of Dreamdark series be thought of as a textile fantasy? Magpie is always weaving stuff in and out of Marguwen's tapestry of existence . . .

    For that matter, the subplot about "The Weaver" from China Mieville's "Perdido Street Station" might scooch that book into your list, too.

  3. I just finished "A Curse Dark As Gold" and I LOVED every moment of it. You must check that out!

    I think there is something very true-to-life about textile fantasies. I mean, when you think about it, during "the olden days" (which account for most fantasy settings), people's lives did indeed revolve around the work of their hands.

    Rachel Heston Davis

  4. I put Silksinger in, because Whisper actually works with real textiles; I think Magpie's tapestry is rather too, um, bigger than anything in the real world to count!

    I've read Curse, Rachel, but never reviewed it...someday!

    And I think that's a good point about the importance of the work of the hands--it makes people in books so much more real to me, when they are doing things!

  5. I loved this one; Dia Calhoun is a favorite author.

    I recommend Tamora Pierce's Emelan books. One of the main characters (Sandry) has a magical talent with thread. Daja also has a crafty talent, but hers is with metal. The first book is SANDRY'S BOOK, appropriately enough.

  6. Thanks, Liviana--I still haven't read any Tamora Pierce, and Sandry's Book sounds like a good place to start....


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