Torn by Rowenna Miller

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I received a free copy of this through Orbit/Net Galley – thanks!!!

This book immediately caught my attention because I love to knit, cross stitch and sew – the magic system in this book works through sewing! Yes please, I’ve never seen this done before. I had high hopes, and although the Victorian setting with a romance is NOT usually my thing, I still really enjoyed myself, and not just because of the magic system.


Plot:

Sophie’s parents were immigrants from an island country, Pellia, which is known for its “backwater charms” and “superstitions”, most Gallation people don’t approve or believe in charms or magic. However, that doesn’t stop them from seeking them out from time to time, especially when it’s rumored there’s a young seamstress that weaves charms into dresses, handkerchiefs, and other things for a fee.

Sophie has worked incredibly hard to keep her and her brother afloat after the deaths of both her parents, her father died when they were young, and her mother recently passed away from a fever that spread through the city.

In order to keep a business running, you have to get an annual renewal contract, to do that, you have to prove that you’re a viable business that earns decent money and has a good reputation. If the Lord of Coin decides you’re not worthy, you could lose your entire livelihood. Sophie has been scraping her way up the ladder of customers from the common to the highest of nobility.

Things really turn around when she gets one of the highest nobles in the city, Lady Snowmont, as a customer. But, she turns into much more than just a customer, Lady Snowmont is obsessed with progress and art, she surrounds herself with people from all classes and professions looking for the best and the brightest. She’s picked Sophie as one of her favorites, and through this plotline you get to see how the nobles are reacting to the continued dissatisfied public.

On the other side of this coin, Sophie has to placate her brother and try to keep him grounded and out of harm’s way – because he wants to start a rebellion and make demands of the nobility to make the common citizen’s life better. The commoners are tired of the Lord of Coin deciding if they have a right to their own shop, they’re tired of the social structure, they’re basically tired of everything.

What I really loved about this rebellion/war plotline is that it’s over more mundane and practical reasons. Usually when I read about an upcoming war or civil unrest it’s due to very dramatic circumstances, an heir has been murdered, people are being enslaved, there’s a dark evil overlord etc etc. Not with this book, this reads much closer to actual history than most things I’ve read, and I found it absolutely fascinating.

Final Score: 15/15 

I was completely engaged, there were no plot holes or “huh?” moments, and everything felt much more natural and realistic than the vast majority of things I’ve read in a long time.


Characters:

Sophie is our main character, and everything is seen through her eyes – but you get to see SO much because she’s involved in three layers of this world, the Pellians who are sort of at the poverty level of society, the merchant class, and the upper class. The way the story was woven together let you see so much through just one person. The way she had to handle herself in each of these scenarios was different, and she moved through it gracefully. I think what’s most fascinating is how gender played a big part in this book, but it did not feel like it was beating you over the head with it. It was nuanced and realistic. Sophie is 26 and unmarried, but not because she never had anyone interested – it’s because all of her possessions and wealth would belong to her husband the moment she got married. The reason why more men were involved in the Red Caps (rebels) wasn’t that they were more content with their lives, or weren’t unhappy with the situation, it’s because logistically they can’t. Many women are caregivers for both their parents and their children or other members of their family like Sophie’s brother. Single men do manual day labor, the job changes week to week and they have the freedom of caring just for themselves. When you don’t have to worry about your shop being closed down which would leave your family hungry, (like many bakers, seamstresses, or innkeepers), you can risk more. Sophie gets so upset with her brother constantly trying to drag her into a rebellion that could close her shop, or get her arrested. Meanwhile, her brother, Kristos, thinks that she’s choosing the nobilities side in the war. It’s a pretty fascinating character interaction.

When I read that she didn’t want to get married and gave really good reasons why, I thought I had hit a Victorian book without a romance. But, no … there is a romance, and he’s a noble who’s good-hearted. At first, I was like “oh dear god no”, I don’t typically like the noble who doesn’t want to be a noble and just wants to be a good Samaritan because it feels kind of forced. However, this botanist wanna be did eventually charm me… a bit. I didn’t dislike him by the end of it, I would imagine that people who really like romance would love this. It’s a slower burn, he’s a decent person from the start, so it’s not bad-guy-turned-nice-guy-cuz-love, I absolutely hate that.

Final Score: 13/15 

Sophie’s motivations were complex, but also clear – and she had a very distinct and strong voice. I found her incredibly easy to relate to and root for, reading about her was truly awesome.


World Building:

I’ve talked a lot about the world building just through the plot and character bits, so I’ll keep this section briefer.

This sort of feels like France in the 1700s-ish, history isn’t my strong suit so if this was based in a slightly different place or time period, my apologies. The way women couldn’t own their own things, how the city was set up, and now the royalty functioned all gave me sort of a Victorian feel, but some of the names and terms sounded kind of French.

The politics and philosophy in this book were really a highlight, the dialogue between characters with opposing views was a GREAT way to explore the world building. It didn’t come off as info-dumpy, it came across as natural debate dialogue. Fantastic.

The nobility in this book aren’t painted as the bad guys either, you come to know and care about her love interest and Lady Snowmont. They seem to be listening, and want to try and make things work – but politics is tricky and getting everyone to agree on something almost never works.

The magic in this world is very subtle, and most people don’t think it exists. The Pellian’s are the most prominent as far as spell casters. When Sophie wants to weave a charm into cloth, she focuses on the emotions she wants to put into the spell, the thread starts to glow as if there’s an inner light in the fabric, and the more stitches she puts into it, the stronger the charm. The magic isn’t limited to thread, other people can cast onto clay tablets or use different herbs – but since Sophie is a seamstress that’s the most common form of magic we see.

Final Score: 13/15 


Writing:

This was completely clean, as to be expected since this was traditionally published and received many different editing passes.

I actually loved the prose as well, it was descriptive but not overly so, and it focused a lot on clothing. This usually bothers me, but since she’s a seamstress it flowed with the character and I really got into it.

The dialogue was the highlight for me though, the debates between characters and the hesitant romance were both really great.

Final Score: 13/15 


Pacing:

The flow was nice and even and built up towards the end, I would say the first third was the slower part because it was introducing you to the world and characters – but once the rebellion really started to kick into full swing it was fast paced from there

Final Score: 13/15 


Originality:

I can’t say I’ve read any magic system like this before, the character was fresh and well developed and the interactions between her and the multilayered society was awesome. The writing style was immersive and different, and it helped the world building along through dialogue.

Final Score: 12/15 


Personal Enjoyment:

I truly enjoyed basically all of this, my only detraction is the romance – but that’s totally a me thing. If I make it through a book and didn’t completely loathe the romance that’s a success in my book.

Final Score: 8.5/10 


Final Score: 87.5/100

Damn good book, even that cover is stunning.

 

2 comments

  1. Going off your overall score you cleary enjoyed this. I’m also not keen on reading romance but providing it’s not the focus of the story I can handle it. I have seen this sort of magic system before – strangely enough in my finalist for last year’s SPFBO – McKinstry wrote magic where one of the characters seemed to create magic when knitting and sewing and the like. She knitted up a snow storm when she was deeply sad. Usually she seemed to fill her items with magic so if she knit a jacket it would always feel warm. It felt very unique.
    Lynn 😀

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