[Review] Torn – Fabric Swatches and Revolutions

Torn


Title:
Torn (The Unraveled Kingdom 1)
Author: Rowenna Miller
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: March 20th, 2018
Genre(s): Fantasy
Page Count: 480 pages
Goodreads

Rating: 6.0/10

 

 

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.

Most Anticipated Scifi & Fantasy: Feb-April 2018

Most-Anticipated-Scifi-Fantasy-logo-slightly-smaller

2018 has some incredible books coming out, and since I can’t narrow the list down to a reasonable number (and since you don’t want to spend days scrolling through a blog post), I’m dividing them into chunks! Three months per genre, starting with Scifi and Fantasy. And yes, I’m lumping them into one.

FEBRUARY

The Armored Saint by Myke Cole

The Armored Saint
First of a trilogy, The Armored Saint is Myke Cole’s first foray into epic fantasy. I haven’t had a chance to read his Shadow Ops series, but I’ve heard many good things about it, so I figure this would be a good introduction to his writing.

The story features Heloise, a young village girl fighting oppression in a land of machines and magic. It sounds dark, gritty, and the themes are right up alley.

Releases February 20th

MARCH

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone

This YA fantasy debut has been receiving early accolatdes left and right, and no wonder. The cover is phenomenal, the worldbuilding sounds complex, and it’s already been nabbed by Fox for movie development. It’s yet another story revolving around oppression and revolution.

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Releases March 6th

Imposter Syndrome by Mishell Baker

Imposter Syndrome
Borderlines, the first book in The Arcadia Project series, is one of my favourite urban fantasy books and it introduced me to Millie Roper, who is, hands down, my favourite urban fantasy protagonist ever. Mishell Baker draws from her own experiences and seamlessly incorporates Millie’s BPD and disability into the story without letting it define her character. She’s clever, funny, and when she fucks up, she really fucks up.

I can’t wait to read more of her.

Releases March 13th

Master Assassins by Robert V.S. Redick

Master AssassinsIt’s been blurbed by Pat Rothfuss and given a rave review by Mark Lawrence–what more can I say? The generic title belies a summary that’s chock full of excitement and teases a dark adventure in a non-medieval setting. Most importantly, it promises something that I want to see more of in epic fantasy: sibling relationships. Plus, the cover features a saber cat and a lady whose arm appears to be on fire, which is always a cool combination.

Releases March 20th

 

Torn by Rowenna Miller

Torn
The first of the Unraveled Kingdom Series, Torn proposes a protagonist with a unique talent: magical dressmaking. I’m always on the lookout for fantasy stories that feature women in traditionally “domestic” roles, so this caught my eye immediately. Plus, it seems to have a bit of everything I love: revolutions, political intrigue, fancy balls, and romance.

Releases March 20th

 

Anna Undreaming by Thomas Welsh

Anna UndreamingAnna Undreaming is the first of the Metiks Fade trilogy. It’s an urban fantasy with a super fascinating premise–artists who can literally create new realities.

[Anna] finds herself hunted by Dreamers—artists, both good and evil, who construct new worlds—within a complex community that threatens to undermine reality itself. When Anna learns that she’s an Undreamer with powers she cannot yet comprehend, she must travel through their strange and treacherous creations to discover that there’s as much beauty in life as there is darkness. As her existence spirals into wonder and danger, Anna must look deep within herself and face the horrors of her own past, to save her old world as well as her new one.

Releases March 20th

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

The Queens of INnis Lear
Three Queens. One crown. All out war.

Tessa Gratton’s adult debut is a retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear with a feminist bent.

I’m very interested to see what changes, if any, are made to the original plot, and how the fantasy elements are woven in.

Releases March 27th

 

APRIL

Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Grey Ssiter

I swear Mark Lawrence gets better with every book he writes. Red Sister was his best one yet, full of intricate magics, violence, and exploration of female relationships, all woven with lush prose.

If he continues on in this trend, I have no doubt Grey Sister will be my new favourite Lawrence book.

Releases April 3rd

 

 

Space Opera by Catherynne Valente

Space Opera

Catherynne Valente has a talent for weaving magic and poetry into the strangest concepts. And Space Opera looks to be the strangest of them all:

Once every cycle, the civilizations gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix—part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. Instead of competing in orbital combat, the powerful species that survived face off in a competition of song, dance, or whatever can be physically performed in an intergalactic talent show. The stakes are high for this new game, and everyone is forced to compete.

It’s basically Eurovision in space. And I am not missing that for anything.

Releases April 3rd

Fire Dance by Ilana C. Meyer

Fire Dance
I sound like a broken record at this point, BUT JUST LOOK AT THIS COVER. It’s probably my favourite of the batch, which says a lot. Ilana Meyer’s debut, Last Song Before Night, was one of my top ten reads of 2015, and if this book is anything like the first, the quality of the cover will be a direct reflection of the content. Meyer has a deft hand for character development and atmospheric worldbuilding, and Fire Dance looks to continue Lin’s tale from where the first left off.

Though it’s technically a standalone, I highly recommend reading the first beforehand.

Releases April 10th

 From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris

From Unseen Fire.jpg

The Dictator is dead; long live the Republic.

But whose Republic will it be? Senators, generals, and elemental mages vie for the power to shape the future of the city of Aven. Latona of the Vitelliae, a mage of Spirit and Fire, has suppressed her phenomenal talents for fear they would draw unwanted attention from unscrupulous men. Now that the Dictator who threatened her family is gone, she may have an opportunity to seize a greater destiny as a protector of the people—if only she can find the courage to try.

There are three more paragraphs to the summary, and I get stupidly excited every time I read through them. Set to be the first in the Aven Cycle, From Unseen Fire is a mesh of alternate history and fantasy that I needed yesterday.

Releases April 17th

Time Was by Ian McDonald

Time Was

In the heart of World War II, Tom and Ben became lovers. Brought together by a secret project designed to hide British targets from German radar, the two founded a love that could not be revealed. When the project went wrong, Tom and Ben vanished into nothingness, presumed dead. Their bodies were never found.

Now the two are lost in time, hunting each other across decades, leaving clues in books of poetry and trying to make their desperate timelines overlap.

Yet another blend of history and SFF, I’m intrigued by the unique concept and its potential to break my heart in two.

Releases April 24th