Fantasy is probably my favorite fiction genre. There’s something in it beyond escapism (though that is an important consideration and sometimes just what the doctor ordered). It’s usually also epic adventure and an exploration of the unexpected. It’s about roaming the pathways of someone else’s imagination. And fantasy at its best and brightest is an exposition of how far the human mind can go.
There’s something awe-inspiring about that. I mean, I can stand in the middle of a major city anywhere in the world and marvel at the dreams of humankind made manifest in steel and glass, but the stories about beings and worlds beyond the natural that find their way to paper and publisher are equally special, and perhaps even more amazing to me.
I’ve read some spectacular fantasy lately, and some which hints at future splendor. Alex Bracken’s Brightly Woven falls into the latter category.
Sydelle Mirabil is living proof that, with a single drop of rain, a life can be changed forever. Tucked away in the farthest reaches of the kingdom, her dusty village has suffered under the weight of a strangely persistent drought. That is, of course, until a wizard wanders into town and brings the rain with him.
In return for this gift, Wayland North is offered any reward he desires—and no one is more surprised than Sydelle when, without any explanation, he chooses her. Sydelle hardly needs encouragement to find reasons to dislike North. After all, he’s taken her from her home. And along with other vices, North rarely uses the magic he takes such pride in possessing. Yet it’s not long before she realizes there’s something strange about the wizard, who is secretive about a curse, and won’t tell her the reason why earthquakes and wizards are stalking their path.
Sydelle is faced with the growing awareness that these events aren’t as random as she had believed—that no curse, not even that of Wayland North, is quite as terrible as the one she herself may carry.
The world that Bracken has created in Brightly Woven is interesting, multi-faceted and treacherous. The main characters burst into life on the page, and the rapid progress of their adventures make for fast reading and a never-flagging journey. The plot is complex enough to satisfy a true fantasy fan, but the storyline is accessible to those new to the genre. Some of the description was so vivid that I almost felt the yellow desert dust in my throat and underfoot. In other words, this book did a lot of things right.
So what was it about Brightly Woven that didn’t ratchet it up into ‘spectacular fantasy’ territory? I’ve narrowed it down to three main points. First, that description that was sometimes so vivid? It was uneven the rest of the time. If I can picture a scene in my mind’s eye, and then turn a page and can’t figure out what it’s supposed to look like, I get frustrated. Especially when the very next setting is back to really great. I want it all to be stellar! Second, Brightly Woven was full of good ideas. Overfull, actually. There was too little space and not enough time in the book for all of those good things. Instead of building the reader’s sense of tension and peril, sometimes it just felt like a mash-up of event after calamity after event. And that’s due in part to the suddenness of the magic in the book. But the journey just went EVERYWHERE, and at times I felt like I was unwillingly whisked off with it. I was disappointed because otherwise a lot of those plot elements would have totally blown my socks off. And third, the Sydelle’s interactions with other characters confused me. There were points in the story where (what I would consider) a normal human being would feel hate, exasperation, or a loss of trust. Instead, Sydelle felt the stirrings of lust, found things lovable, and was very understanding of avarice. I won’t spoil the plot, but you can see that this might be strange?