Title: Torn (The Unraveled Kingdom 1)
Author: Rowenna Miller
Release Date: March 20th, 2018
Page Count: 480 pages
This was a bit of a disappointment. While I liked the first 1/4, the rest of the book didn’t quite match up with the expectations I had going in.
Torn tells the story of a dressmaker named Sophie who has the ability to add charms (things like luck, protection, love) to the clothing she makes. She lives with her brother Kristos in Galitha City during a time of rising discontent within the working class. But Sophie isn’t a would-be-revolutionary, handing out pamphlets and giving speeches; that would be her brother. She’s just trying to run her business and keep them out of starvation. Except one day Kristos gets himself kidnapped. And Sophie must comply with the wishes of the kidnapper if he is to survive: make a piece of clothing that would help murder the royal family.
What this book isn’t: a high-stakes political intrigue starring a perky young businesswoman who happens to get mixed up in a revolution.
What this book is: a languid, historical-fictionesque story with lots of political and economical talk, starring a perky young businesswoman whose brother happens to get mixed up in a revolution and she ends up trailing along by accident.
The worldbuilding was more sparse than I would have liked. It felt very much like a historical fiction with a dash of fantasy added, rather than the other way around, which again, was not what I had in mind. Galitha is very similar to 18th-century England, or pre-revolution France, with tensions building between the elite and the working class.
The entire story takes place in Galitha City. For me, a good cityscape in a book feels like a living, breathing entity. There would be lush descriptions of all the mingling smells and sights and all the different districts that compose the organs of the city. There wasn’t much of that in Torn. We were sequestered to Sophie’s shop, a lady’s parlour, a couple of cafes and taverns, and a few other miscellaneous locations that felt isolated from the rest of the city. These places had little character and there was no good sense of what the city as a whole looked like. What’s more, the transitions between the locations felt choppy.
At first, all the political talks, cafe visits, and walks around the city were charming. There was a comforting laziness to it that made it different from any other fantasy I’d read recently. But after a while it got to the point where I was craving something more. More action, more tension, more involvement in the revolution plotline. Because even at the halfway mark, it was still a lot of just sitting around talking about the pending revolution and its players. It felt like there were two plotlines from two different novels: Sophie’s and Kristo’s. The former involved working at the dress shop, debating about politics at the parlour, and being courted by Duke Theodor. And the latter involved all the life-and-death, shaking-the-country’s-foundation stuff. I can’t tell you how many times I thought Kristos was probably having a more fun time than Sophie (and he’s the one who got kidnapped!)
I liked Sophie as a protagonist for the most part. If you’re tired of books that equate “strong” female protagonists with women who hate skirts and housework, then you’ll love Sophie. It’s not often we get a businesswoman–a dressmaker, at that–as a fantasy protagonist and I immediately took to her practical, no-nonsense attitude. I also empathized with her sentiments that, although she’s Pellian (and her parents are Pellian immigrants), she’s grown up in Galitha and thus feels a closer kinship with the country and its people. I’m not a stranger to people of my nationality–and people not of my nationality–saying that I should exhibit more patriotism, more interest towards my home country, so her internal struggles rang a chord with me.
My problem with her? She’s passive. Not so much in terms of character, because she’s obviously a self-sufficient woman who’s unafraid of speaking her mind, but in terms of plot. She waits for things, like the rebellion, to happen to her before doing anything about it. She spends half the book repeating to herself that she doesn’t know which side–the nobility or the common folk–she stands with, without making an effort to find an answer. It was utterly frustrating.
I also wasn’t a fan of the romance between Sophie and Theodor, partly because I felt the author gave it precedence over the revolution plotline, and partly because I found Theodor somewhat bland. He is a pleasant enough character, however, and I did like his laid-back sense of humour:
“How long is dinner?” I chewed my lip. The longer the better.
“Probably four to six courses–not terribly long.”
“That sounds like an eternity,” I replied.
“Not compared to state dinners and wedding feasts. Twelve, fourteen courses–land sakes, you get sick of food.” Theodor stopped himself. “Sometimes I can see why revolutionaries want us dead,” he said ruefully.
He and Sophie have some interesting debates (because this book is full of debates on every possible subject).
My favourite part about the book, and the thing that really makes it stand out, is all the diverse, intrepid women surrounding Sophie.
Three ladies in elegant dishabille convened around a book bound in pink leather. I trained my ear toward them, expecting to hear a rehashing of a romantic novel. Instead, I caught snippets of a lively debate about labor economics.
These include painters, seamstresses, socialites, and history buffs of various nationality and class. The book gives you a little wink and a smile and tells you that there are no specific parameters of being a woman. You can love pretty clothes and makeup and tea parties and also be politically savvy, an artist, an entrepreneur, whatever. The whole story is distinctly feminist, with scenes of women propping up other women, and I loved that.
So if you’re looking for something slow that features interesting female characters and lots and lots of political talk, then give Torn a shot. Alas, it just wasn’t for me, and I don’t know if I’ll be continuing on with the series.
This is an honest review of an ARC provided by Orbit Books and Netgalley.