The Woven Ring is the latest name to add to this ever-expanding flintlock catalogue of titles, and it makes for good company to powder mages and Mistborn alike. In fact, before I get any further with this review, I must point out that author M. D. Presley shares with McLellan and Sanderson a deep love for a complex and carefully thought-out (or hard) magic system. The magic in “The Woven Ring” intrigues and fascinates, after a fashion. But more on that later.
This is the first book in “Sol’s Harvest” series, and as such has a lot of ground to cover. Not only does Presley have to introduce a fully realized world, but he also tackles a dual narrative, first introducing protagonist Marta Childress as a gaunt husk of a woman in the present, and then pulling the reader back in time in order to witness the full tragedy behind this young woman’s fall from grace. The horrors of surviving through a bloody Civil War during which Marta is seen as traitor both to the East and West have turned her into a bitter woman and a pariah who wishes for nothing but to earn enough for the bare necessities and move on from one small town to the next before she is recognized. The brand on her forehead, hidden only by a raggedy hat, does little to help.
But the Childress clan requests its elder daughter and middle child to return to the fold by performing a dangerous feat that, if Marta proves successful, will restart this bloody conflict. But to return to her family’s good graces, Marta is more than willing to follow through on the task at hand: reunite a traumatized child, Caddie, with her father, a scientist whose brilliance armed the West with the deadly weapons used to decimate the East. But will Marta stop there, or will she kill the man she blames for the worst part of the past conflict?
This is but one of the leading clashes in this story. The overarching conflict behind the Civil War is caused by the different ideologies of two types of magic users or people Blessed with a fourth Breath; the East’s Weavers can twist Breath (think souls) to create deadly “festations” and send them off to cause horrific destruction; Renders, meanwhile, can literally pull the Breath out of living things and cut it. They also look on Weavers as abominations, considering their Eastern counterparts to be working against the will of the god Sol, who blessed all living things with Breaths – but especially the Blessed.
Marta is a Shaper, herself, but we meet many more types of Blessed who use their Breaths in interesting and cool ways. The companions Marta finds herself burdened with in the present are a talkative Listener(mind-reader) and a mysterious mute woman. Fun banter there, despite Marta’s continued game of “How can I best kill and/or run away from these two ‘Freebooters’ and get away with Caddie while avoiding a deadly array of other horrors whom I’ve avoided by the hair of my chin?” Living life as Marta is not easy; neither in the past nor in the present. What past Martha does for close to half the novel is learn to be a spy for her clan; when she’s inevitably pulled deeper into the overarching conflict, she has to learn a number of other, less subverting skills.
My major complaint has to do with a beginning that, I felt, was too heavy-handed in its introduction to the magic system. Reading the first 20-25% of The Woven Ring took me longer than finishing the rest; at the end of the day, I don’t regret reading it, since all those explanations on the magic world and system were well and truly worth it in the end, but someone less invested and interested than I am might find the info dumping overwhelming.
With the introduction of Lucas and his silent companion Isabella, the plot in the present moved more fluidly. Dialogue was wittier and lighter – which, in hindsight, was sorely needed. As for the past, if anything, the pacing was a little bit too rushed; but then again, there could easily be a novella’s worth in-between most of the chapters in Marta’s past, and I bet some of them would be interesting to read, too!
And now, let’s move onto scoring; this time around, I’ll attempt to give a short explanation as to why I score each of the elements below.
Personal Enjoyment: 8/10 Great; The more I read of “The Woven Ring,” the more I enjoyed it; by the last quarter of the book, I was thoroughly hooked, and I’m looking forward to reading the
Dialogue: 7/10 Good; Some conversations now and then didn’t quite ring with authenticity, but for the most part, this novel offers an entertaining and good dialogue.
Magic: 10/10 Masterpiece; The magic system is one area which I can’t find any faults with, and you know what? I don’t want to, either.
Prose: 7 /10 Good; Despite some pacing issues and the info dump in the first quarter of the book, the prose makes for an easy read with vivid descriptions in which characters come alive.
The Rest: 8.5 Great; I wasn’t sure whether to put Character Development or Conflicts in this last slot, since I think they play off one another but Marta goes through changes in this novel, even if it’s a slow, subtle kind; and the conflicts between her and members of her family, a powerful Render, and the overarching conflict between East and West all make for an excellent read.
My recommendation? Read “The Woven Ring.” It’s well worth it if you like flintlock fantasy, tales of a country tearing itself apart, dual narratives in different time-periods, angry and deadly female protagonists, one of the finest magic systems I’ve come across in recent months, and more! Prob’ly.
I’ve divined the final score of “The Woven Ring” by preparing a concoction of gunpowder, powdered bits of bird bone, and a single drop of rum with some almond extract! And the Score is… 4 out of 5 Stars on Goodreads! With all the world-building out of the way, I expect sequel novel “The Imbued Lockblade” to fare even better under my strict criteria and lead-poisoned brain!
This book was kindly handed me over by M. D. Presley in return for an honest review!