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“The Weavers of Saramyr” by Chris Wooding


In many ways the first novel in the Braided Path trilogy is a fairly standard epic fantasy novel but it does have a few distinctive touches. It isn't the first epic fantasy series to be set in a world largely inspired by feudal Japan, but it's still a nice change from the default medieval European setting. Saramyr is an interesting setting and the world-building is generally convincing, although occasionally some things are a bit under-explained, for example as the series goes on and the plot expands the different provinces of Saramyr become important but the differences between, say, the Southern Prefectures and the Newlands are never really described. The most memorable part of the world-building are the Weavers, officially the only people in the world able to use magic. They have insinuated themselves into every aspect of Saramyr society and stand beside every noble lord because their talents are indispensable. One of the main themes of the series is how much a society is prepared to overlook when there is something to gain, in this case the Weavers' abilities are considered so valuable that the people of Saramyr tolerate the fact that the True Masks they wear which allow them to do magic drive the Weavers insane and cause them to go on rampages of rape, torture and murder. In case we might forget how evil the Weavers are, there is generally a reminder every couple of chapters, it does a good job of building up the Weavers as dangerous and detestable villains but the frequency of their awful deeds does seem a bit unsubtle and gratuitous at times. Despite the lack of subtlety, the complicity of Saramyr society in the atrocities the Weavers commit is one of the more interesting thematic elements of the book.

The Weavers are entirely male (for reasons explained later in the book), on the other hand four of the five main characters in this are women. There is a good variety of characters, Kaiku is a naive young woman with magical abilities which are potentially very powerful but also dangerous to both herself and those around her, her noblewoman friend Mishani has no special powers but is adept at the manipulations and deceptions of Saramyr's nobility, Lucia is the otherworldly and almost angelic heir to the Empire whose abilities must be concealed from her Mother's subjects and Asara is 90-year old shapechanging assassin who is ruthlessly self-centred. The characterisation is generally good, Kaiku is a likeable protagonist despite being excessively foolhardy at times in her quest to avenge herself against the Weavers who killed her family, Mishani probably gets the most character development as she is forced to confront her assumptions and prejudices and Asara is an interesting antihero who finds herself on the 'good' side of the conflict for largely selfish reasons. The interaction between Kaiku and Asara is the most interesting relationship in the novel, they need to work together and they want to like each other but they also can't trust the other. Tane, the main male character in the story, is probably the weakest of the major characters since his motivations often seem to be a puzzle even to himself and the incipient romance between him and Kaiku never feels like more than just teenage infatuation.

Although the world-building is relatively original and some of the character motivations are varied and complex, the novel feels a bit too conventional when it comes to structure. From Kaiku's perspective it is fairly standard coming-of-age story as she deals with an early tragedy and starts to realise some of her potential power. Her attempt to make her way into a hidden Weaver monastery does have some elements of a conventional fantasy quest to it. However, there are enough original elements to avoid it feeling too clichéd as an epic fantasy story.

It is an entertaining read, although perhaps not quite compelling enough to really take its place among the great epic fantasy novels. There's nothing really particularly lacking about it, but there's also not much that really stands out about it and aside from the creepiness of the Weavers nothing is particularly memorable about it.

Rating : 7 / 10

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