Book: “Fray” by Rowenna Miller
Publishing Info: Orbit, June 2019
Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher
Book Description: Open revolt has been thwarted — for now — but unrest still simmers in the kingdom of Galitha. Sophie, despite having built a thriving business on her skill at both dressmaking and magic, has not escaped unscathed from her misadventures in the workers’ rebellion. Her dangerous foray into curse casting has rendered her powers unpredictable, and her increasingly visible romantic entanglement with the Crown Prince makes her a convenient target for threatened nobles and malcontented commoners alike.
With domestic political reform and international alliances — and her own life — at stake, Sophie must discern friend from foe… before her magic grows too dark for her to wield.
Previously Reviewed: “Torn”
Review: I enjoyed the political, magical-sewing, romance story that was “Torn,” so it was a no brainer to request a copy of its sequel. The first book had moved rather slowly, for all that it was introducing new characters and a new world, so I was hopeful that now that that groundwork had been laid, the pace would pick up a bit more here. Unfortunately no.
Sophie’s orderly life of quiet competence as a small business owner is quickly falling apart. Not only does she have a rebel leader for a brother, one whom she was tied closely to in the failed revolt that took place not too long ago, but her growing attachment to the Crown Prince is thrusting her into a completely new part of society, and one that doesn’t look too kindly on the doings of revolutionaries. On top of all this, after she used her magic in new ways in the last book, she has begun to lose control of it. These dueling priorities are often at odds with each other and it’s beginning to look like Sophie is going to have to choose a side eventually.
Many of my opinions from the first book carried over to this one, however, ultimately, I didn’t enjoy it as much. For one thing, the pace of the book is still incredibly slow. I enjoy a political fantasy novel as much as the next person, but much of the slowness here is spent on minute day-to-day details, rather than backroom scheming. Much of what helped the first book manage its slow pace was the fact that it was a first book and was throwing tons of new stuff at the reader simply due to that fact. With a second book, and an established world and main character, the story itself needs to provide the points of interest. Unfortunately, it didn’t really do that and I still feel like the book could have been edited down significantly.
I also still enjoyed the magic system, however. Especially now that it is getting out of Sophie’s control. In the first book, it was made clear that Sophie herself didn’t fully understand her magic, and when she pushed herself into new aspects of charming, she was exploring without much of a guide. Seeing the calm, controlled Sophie that we knew from the first book deal with the unexpectedness that is now her magic was fun to read. It was also interesting having her explore the morality of how she uses her magic and how that ties into the way the magic behaves itself.
The romance was also still fairly bland for my taste. But I did like how the book was tackling the sexist laws of the land that will prevent Sophie from owning her own business once she gets married.
However, the one big strike against this book for me was Sophie herself and the way the brewing revolution seems to be being handled. One of the most compelling aspects of the first book was the honest look at what revolutions look like, the tough places where idealism and practicality meet and explode. The fact that there are good and bad people on both sides. And, even more importantly, there are people in the middle who can understand both sides but just want to get on with life. That was Sophie. Unfortunately, here, in the second novel, much of that nuance and layered exploration is thrown out. Sophie seems almost out of character with how much she sides now with the revolutionaries. And, conveniently, the story itself has molded the two sides to make this choice easier. The common people are fully in the right. The aristocrats are completely evil. It’s a really unfortunate loss, simplifying matters back into the easy good vs. evil conflicts we’ve seen a million times. And with the unoriginal “common folk vs. the evil nobility” theme nonetheless.
In the end, I don’t feel that this book moved the series in the right direction. Some of the flaws from the first one (slow pace, bland romance) carried over to this one. And the interesting additional layers to Sophie’s magic weren’t enough to make up for the fact that the complicated political philosophizing was thrown out the window for a more standard, less interesting, revolution of the good folk against the bad ones. If you enjoyed the romance and the pace of the first book more than me, perhaps this one won’t be as much of a let down. But unfortunately, it was a bit of a dud for me.
Rating 6: Loses its nuance, and with it, its point of interest.
“Fray” is a newer book so isn’t on any Goodreads list but it, like “Torn,” should be on “Crafty Magic.”
Find “Torn” at your library using WorldCat!