In the fall I wrote about the restorative power of literature, and on that theme, I recently had the pleasure of reading Rowenna Miller’s Torn, the first book in a series called The Unravelled Kingdom.
Torn has all the elements of a perfect escape read: a fantasy world, magic, a love story, sociopolitical upheaval (ok, well that’s escapism for a poli-sci junkie)! And for me, it delivers.
The main character, Sophie Balstrade, is a seamstress with a useful hook for her business: she can sew charms into her clothing, bestowing upon the wearer luck, good fortune, or protection, among other things. As a business woman and a “charm caster,” she follows a strict, self-imposed code of ethics. Her professionalism and work ethic have put her on the brink of real success and given her exposure to some of her city’s upper society.
But the promise of her business is threatened when political unrest begins to shake the order of things. The strict class system has become untenable for the lower classes in the society, and Sophie’s own brother is at the forefront of the movement to change the system. As all of these elements converge, Sophie finds herself stuck in the middle–of a changing world and the people she loves.
I love Sophie as a conflicted character. She’s a pragmatist. While understanding (and dealing with) the frustrations of the system, she nevertheless has managed to carve out success for herself and she doesn’t want things to change. I suspect Sophie may be forced into more action in the future. But at the start of the series, a character who wavers, who is reactionary rather than flawlessly heroic, is more true to life and therefore much more interesting.
From a feminist perspective, I also find Sophie to be a highly satisfying character. She’s strong, self-made, and I love that the story elevates occupations typically seen as “women’s work”–sewing, and spell casting, for that matter! Sophie feels very modern, while also paying homage to the past, and that is a nice balance.
Torn’s villain character does come off a bit thin for me, but I can forgive this as I think the real antagonist in the story is the political system itself, rather than a particular person. He’s a symptom of the larger issue and a tool for the plot.
If you are a seamstress, knitter, quilter, etc, there is plenty of “sewing porn” in Torn to thrill. If all of your stitches fall out (like mine do), or if you don’t even own a pincushion, not to worry–the sewing talk is totally accessible. The same can be said for the political line of the story–it’s complex enough to not be superficial, but will not bore a less interested reader.
Another delightful aspect of this work is the magic itself. In the world of The Unravelled Kingdom, the magic that Sophie possesses is a secondary fact of life–little understood or appreciated. That Sophie’s supernatural ability is somewhat mysterious even to her creates some compelling tension.
The greatest strength of Miller’s work is her writing. She handles descriptions deftly, providing just enough imagery to create rich scenes and emotions without overdoing it. In particular, I love her descriptions of Sophie’s magic–how she connects to it and captures it in her work–as well as the magical abilities of other characters:
A faint glow bloomed around her as she sang, but very faint, and sporadic. Only a charm caster could see it, and only if she was trained, had learned to look for the light that slipped from the air and collides around a charm.
I look forward to how this element may become more prominent in the subsequent books in the series, and how Sophie may be forced into more action in the upheaval of her world. In the meantime, Torn creates an exciting base for the rest of the saga. A very enjoyable read!
Now for the really exciting part! [Full disclosure: I know Rowenna! We became internet mom friends when we were pregnant with our first kids.] As a follow-up to this review, I will be posting a Q&A with Rowenna this Thursday and doing my first ever self-styled life giveaway! So stay tuned for how to get your hands on a signed copy of Torn!
If you can’t wait, check your local bookstore–you can always ask in case they don’t have it in stock, although I had no problem finding in Toronto (or find Torn on Amazon). Connect with Rowenna on her website or Twitter (@RowennaM).
[And further disclosure: although I do know Rowenna, the opinions expressed her are my own entirely, and I was not paid or compensated for this review.]
**Featured image by Broo_am (Andy B) on Flickr (Attribution: CC ND-BY 2.0)**