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Book: “Ten Thousand Stitches” by Olivia Atwater
Publishing Info: Orbit, July 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!
Book Description: Effie has most inconveniently fallen in love with the dashing Mr Benedict Ashbrooke. There’s only one problem; Effie is a housemaid, and a housemaid cannot marry a gentleman. It seems that Effie is out of luck until she stumbles into the faerie realm of Lord Blackthorn, who is only too eager to help Effie win Mr Ashbrooke’s heart. All he asks in return is that Effie sew ten thousand stitches onto his favourite jacket.
Effie has heard rumours about what happens to those who accept help from faeries, but life as a maid at Hartfield is so awful that she is willing to risk even her immortal soul for a chance at something better. Now, she has one hundred days – and ten thousand stitches – to make Mr Ashbrooke fall in love and propose. . . if Lord Blackthorn doesn’t wreck things by accident, that is. For Effie’s greatest obstacle might well prove to be Lord Blackthorn’s overwhelmingly good intentions.
Previously Reviewed: “Half a Soul”
Review: I really enjoyed “Half a Soul.” I think I read it in maybe two sittings? That made it all the sweeter being able to look ahead to the summer and see two more books of the same style by Atwater coming down the pike. Frankly, it was very difficult to even wait until now to read the second book! Of course, given the highs of the first book, there was a lingering question whether this book could live up to that first outing!
As a housemaid, Effie has resigned herself to a life of invisibility, only noticeable to the very few for her fine embroidery work. But one day, a young man of nobility smiles at her, and she’s lost. As luck would have it, she shortly thereafter runs into a faerie with mission: Lord Blackthorn wants to go forth and do good in the world. However, being a faerie, he’s still restricted to bargain -making and so he offers to help Effie marry her lord if she completes a stitching project for him, one stitch for every minute spent on her lord-marrying plot. Things are going along well (or as well as they can with a bumbling faerie who really doesn’t understand the first thing about humans), but soon enough Effie begins to question whether she’s really after the right man.
So far, we’re two for two! While I think I liked the first book a shade better than this one, it’s such a small distinction that it’s barely worth noting. I’ll get to that reason in a bit. But first, there are many things to praise about this book! For one thing, the author’s blend of fantasy, comedy, and class commentary is still excellent. I loved getting to explore more about the faeries of her world and the land of Faerie itself. We also got to see some familiar faces here, which was excellent. I don’t want to spoil it, but there was a character in the second book who only popped up in the final quarter but stole the show the moment they did. And they were back here in all of their glory!
And, again, the author has done an excellent job of using her magical elements to highlight and explore the injustices present in British society during this time period. The first book explored it from the view of nobility being forced to confront the underbelly of their glittering world. But this book focuses on Effie, a servant, and the constant anger and powerlessness she feels in the face of poor working standards and a lack of bargaining power. Through her experiences, we see how much of a servant’s life is dependent on the chance goodwill of the masters of the house. And in the face of a bad home owner, she sees practically no recourse for improvement. Even leaving the situation is impossible if you can’t get a good letter of recommendation. I also liked how the magical elements weren’t a simple wand-wave to make the conditions better. I won’t spoil how it all worked, but, again, it was a perfect marriage of fantasy alongside very real world dilemmas and solutions.
As someone who embroiders quite a lot myself, I always enjoy fantasy stories that focus on the magic of stitching and sewing. Again, no spoilers, but I was really surprised with the way that Effie’s sewing came into the story. From the description, I thought we were heading down much more of a “Rumpelstiltskin” path with an impossible task, but that really wasn’t the case.
I also really liked Effie and Lord Blackthorn. Effie’s anger and determination were both excellent, however foolish she may have been with falling in “love” with the first nobleman to smile at her. She endures through much, and slowly begins to learn more about herself and the role she wants to play in the world going forward. Lord Blackthorn was everything that is endearing, being a very good-hearted faerie but very ignorant of basic human facts. Their relationship was charismatic and adorable, especially the moments where we begin to see the tingling feelings of suspicion that they may each be barking up the wrong tree in their original arrangement.
However, my one qualm did come down to the romance. While overall I really loved it, it’s a hard balance to have your romantic hero also play the main comedy role. It was just a tough part to fit, with some of his bumbling playing for great laughs and “ah shucks” moments, but then those same aspects of his personality directly conflicted with the more typical romantic hero vibes you may be expecting. However, that’s not to say that all romantic interests must be the same. It was more that some of the more childish aspects of his faerie self played at conflict with the adult romance he was also supposed to be within. But, like I said, I still very much enjoyed this part of the book too, so it definitely wasn’t a deal breaker, just the reason I prefer the first book to this one.
All in all, this was a great second outing! Atwater has a strong writing voice and it meshes perfectly with her light-hearted, but important-issues-focused stories. I’m very excited to check out her third book this August!
Rating 8: While comic relief and romantic hero may be a hard combo, this story was just as sweet and fun as the first book!
“Ten Thousand Stitches” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Stitchwitchery