Alexandra Bracken's debut novel Brightly Woven. The cover caught my eye back in October and, really, it is at once so attractive and nicely representative of both the book and the character. I then read several pretty exciting reviews and was delighted to win an ARC in a giveaway hosted by the generous Anastasia Hopcus. I eagerly awaited its arrival in the mail and cracked it open the day it came.
Sydelle Mirabel has always lived in a small, dusty town in a small, dusty corner of her country. An accomplished weaver, Sydelle lives a quiet life completing her chores, helping her hardworking parents, and sneaking what moments she can to roam on the hills with her childhood friend and his little brothers. Then one day an unusual person walks into town, bringing storms in his wake. In exchange for this miracle, Wayland North is given his choice of rewards. He chooses Sydelle. And before she can manage to question why or say goodbye, North whisks her away under the tattered folds of his many cloaks. Sydelle soon discovers the world is not the way she imagined it to be. And neither is North. With his capricious nature and tendency to overindulge, this unlikely wizard may hold the fate of the war and weather-torn nation in his rough hands and Sydelle is not at all sure he is up to the task. At least not on his own.
Brightly Woven is a lovely surprise of a story. In many ways it's reminiscent of a few ubiquitous YA fantasy authors, particularly Diana Wynne Jones and Sherwood Smith. North is quite an offbeat (and profligate) hero and I wasn't sure at first if he would win me over. He starts off mysterious and interesting with his swirling cloaks, his dark gloves, and his refusal to explain anything. As we, along with Sydelle, get to know him better he reminded me more and more of the infamous Howl from Howl's Moving Castle. As I don't number myself among Howl's fans (I know, I know), I was worried this would detract from my enjoyment of the story. Such was happily not the case. Alexandra Bracken manages to strike the perfect note between the humorous and the dire, the ridiculous and the heart wrenching. Sydelle is a strong character from the start. Forthright and sensible, she puts up with only as much of North's nonsense as she absolutely must to survive and, despite his vagueness and his secrecy, her focus never wavers from saving her country and her home from those who would see it destroyed. The relationship between the two of them slowly strengthens and takes on an appreciable gravity and closeness across the course of their many wild dashes hither and yon across the land. The world building matches the characters in both quirk and charm so that it was a pleasure to track their chaotic progress. I liked how North is in turn hapless and fierce, how he can never find his way but stalks off to fight a dragon or a duel at the drop of a hat. I believed in him and in Sydelle. And, in the end, what more can you ask of a read? Brightly Woven is due out March 23rd.
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