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.
After reading so many reviews effusively praising Brightly Woven I found myself curious about this book and I decided to read it even though the description didn’t particularly grab me. But about a quarter way into it I went back to check if I had gotten the correct title because this book did not seem to merit all the wonderful things I had read about it. Since it was a relatively easy read I decided to complete the book and suspend my judgment until I finished, but even after doing so my opinion remained unchanged.
At first I was easily drawn into the story by the engaging narrative and the interesting scene that the story opens up to, of a town receiving rain for the first time after a long drought. Soon afterwards the narrator, Sydelle, runs into a wizard who has suddenly appeared in the town and who seems to have been the cause of the much-needed rain. Sydelle’s parents are so grateful to the wizard, Wayland North, that they offer him a reward and he chooses their daughter. Sydelle is horrified when she discovers that her parents have given her to the wizard, although North promises her that after they complete the journey on which has is embarked, she may chose to leave him if she wishes to. And so Sydelle and North leave behind the village and head towards the city of Provincea in order to meet with the head sorceress and try to avert the forthcoming war.
Up until this point I was enjoying the story very much and looking forward to discovering more about the two main characters, North and Sydelle, who I had already come to like. But instead of getting to follow the two on their journey out of the village the next chapter finds North and Sydelle at a pub, a week later, and the dynamic between the two characters has changed. Sydelle still appears to hate North for dragging from her home against her will, but she has also softened towards him somewhat. North has started calling Sydelle by nicknames and teasing terms of endearment, and occasionally gives her hair an affectionate tug. At this point the interactions between the two suggest that their relationship has changed based on experiences shared over the past week which the reader was not privy to, and this really irritated me. From this point on the relationship between the two is clearly moving towards an eventual romance, which turns out to be a central element of the story, but for me the romance feels contrived because I didn’t really see it develop. Sydelle quickly goes from hating North to loving him, without a satisfactory transitional stage in between. While North seems to have liked Sydelle all along I didn’t really catch when it is exactly that he fell in love with her, or why. Because their romance was a main part of the story the whole story fell flat for me because of my dissatisfaction with the way it was presented.
The main story line didn’t really do much for me either. I didn’t find North and Sydelle’s journey, or the little side trips that they took, to be particularly interesting and I had a hard time following the political crisis that was taking place. The author also didn't do much world building so I had no sense of what all the places that North and Sydelle passed through were like, so the outside world ended up feeling rather colorless.
The one thing I could say that I liked about Brightly Woven is the character of North, who strongly reminds me of one of my favorite book wizards, Howl from Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle. He is appealingly roguish and charming but also cocky and vain, though these qualities often mask the vulnerabilities which he tries so hard to hide. And even though he is a powerful wizard, North is hopeless when is comes to directions and would constantly be getting lost if not for Sydelle, which added to his appeal.
But one likable protagonist is not enough to salvage this book for me and overall I found Brightly Woven to be a disappointment, nothing like the brilliant debut novel I had been expecting. It was not memorable or magical and even those elements that had a bit of spark ended up falling flat because they were not developed properly, such as Sydelle and North’s romance. Considering all of the raving reviews that had read I must suppose that there are many reads who quite enjoyed this book, but I am certainly not one of them.