Monday, June 14, 2010

Brightly Woven - Alexandra Bracken

Title: Brightly Woven
Author: Alexandra Bracken
Publisher: Egmont USA, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 354 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: June 12, 2010
Finished: June 14, 2010

From the author's website:
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. Taken from her home, Sydelle hardly needs encouragement to find reasons to dislike North. He drinks too much and bathes too little, and if that isn’t enough to drive her to madness, North rarely even 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 as fiercely protective of her as he is secretive about a curse that turns his limbs a sinister shade of black and leaves him breathless with agony. Unfortunately, there is never a chance for her to seek answers.

Along with the strangely powerful quakes and storms that trace their path across the kingdom, other wizards begin to take an inexplicable interest in her as well, resulting in a series of deadly duels. Against a backdrop of war and uncertainty, 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.

This book has been on my radar for some time and would have read it sooner, but none of the bookstores in my area had it in stock so I had to wait for the library to get it in. As we speak I am ordering my own copy off because I must own it, it's just that good. The summary above from the author's website is the best summary I've found thus far, and is a better summary than I could give, so I won't waste my time on explaining anything plot-wise and get right to the good stuff.

Brightly Woven is high-fantasy (wizards, dragons, medieval-ish far-off places with hard to pronounce place names etc.), compared to the urban fantasy novels that have been dominating the young adult palate lately. High fantasy novels are either a hit or a miss for me depending on how they're written, and this one succeeds because of an almost perfect balance between plot and character development, each is developed just right without sacrificing at the expense of the other. Right off the bat you're introduced to Sydelle (Syd) and North and both develop together as they go on their journey. Sydelle narrates, but you almost forget that because North has a big presence in this novel, which gives readers a more balanced view of the characters, something hard to achieve in a first-person narration. I'm going to gush over the characters for a minute because I just love them. Sydelle (I love her name), is fiery, determined, and just a little naive, a really likable female character. North begins as your typical flawed brute but becomes truly admirable as you see how much he really loves Syd and how committed he is to his task despite how he suffers. Even the secondary characters are great additions, my personal favourite being Owain. The romance between Syd and North is handled wonderfully; gentle and well-paced, the author shows you rather than tells you the point at which their feelings towards each other change. The romance was portrayed with realistic faults, which I liked, it made the relationship that much more believable. My only complaint about this book was that I wish it had been longer, and only because I loved this particular romance so much I wished there was more of it! The book really endears you to it once things start unravelling and everything plot-wise is pieced together, it gives the relationship clarity when viewed in context to the plot. The world-building was very well-done too, I liked how the two nations were shown as revering sister goddesses, each one with a different skill. The plot was so well-done that even though this book is a one-shot, it could easily be made into a series, and this is one of the few books that I've read and actually want to be made into a series, or at least have a sequel. This novel is just beautiful, it actually made me smile as I was reading it, one of my favourite books so far this year.

If you're looking for a fantasy novel with a great plot and a wonderfully portrayed romance, read this! This is one of a very few books that manages plot and character development equally well (always a common complaint of mine while reading high fantasy).

Thoughts on the cover:
For a cover that's just a profile of a character's face, it does it really well. I like the thunder in the background, it brings to mind how the book starts and ends. I like how Syd's skin is so bright (not in terms of colour, more like clarity), and how you can clearly see her red hair (I love red-headed heroines). Lastly, I love the touch of green in the font.

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