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The Weavers of Saramyr
Chris Wooding
Gollancz, 375 pages

The Weavers of Saramyr
Chris Wooding
Chris Wooding was born and raised in Coalville, Leicester, and has been a full-time writer since leaving Sheffield University where he studied English Literature. He's the author of ten novels for young adults, including the award-winning The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, soon to be a film. The Weavers of Saramyr is his first novel for the adult market.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Prolific young adult author Chris Wooding turns his hand to adult-market fiction in this, the first installment of The Braided Path trilogy.

In a single night of violence, young noblewoman Kaiku tu Makaima loses everything: home, family, her place in the world. Fleeing from the terrifying shin-shin demons that have attacked her family's estates, Kaiku takes refuge in the forest, together with her handmaiden Asara, who has saved her life. But Asara isn't the loyal servant she pretends to be, and has reasons other than altruism for rescuing Kaiku -- as Kaiku discovers when a hitherto unsuspected power wakes in her, manifesting itself as a blast of fire that incinerates all around her... including, apparently, Asara. Devastated, Kaiku wanders the woods until she is found by Tane, a young priest who brings her to his monastery and nurses her back to health. But Kaiku can think only of revenge for what happened to her family. She's certain their deaths are somehow connected to the strange, forbidding mask her father recently brought back from his travels. As soon as she's well enough she slips away, bound for Axekami, Saramyr's capital, to seek help from her clever and wealthy friend Mishani.

But trouble is brewing in Axekami. For eight years Anais, Blood Empress of Saramyr, has kept her only child and Heir hidden from the eyes of the court -- for little Lucia is an Aberrant, born with strange extrasensory powers. Aberrants are feared and hated by the people of Saramyr; for two centuries they've been ruthlessly hunted down and killed by the Weavers, a secretive order of magicians who serve as advisers to the nobility, and whose power stems from the witchstone-infused Masks they wear. Now, somehow, the truth about Lucia has been discovered. Saramyr is thrown into turmoil, for neither the nobles nor the common people can tolerate the thought of an Aberrant on the throne. But Anais -- who knows that Lucia isn't the monster of popular imagination but a beautiful child whose mysterious powers appear to be entirely benign -- is determined that her daughter must succeed her.

Divided by the question of succession, Saramyr slips toward civil war. Meanwhile, the amoral and perverted Weavers (who pretend loyalty to their masters but, in reality, serve no masters but themselves) secretly pursue a convoluted political agenda, and a mysterious group of Aberrants, who've managed to elude the Weavers' genocide, plots revolution. And Kaiku, guided by the Mask her father found and assisted by Tane, Mishani, and Asara (who didn't die after all, saved by abilities as strange as Kaiku's own), embarks upon a quest that will carry her to Adderach, the Weavers' secret monastery, and reveal the unimaginable evil that lies behind the extermination of Aberrants.

Wooding spins a fast-paced tale of adventure and intrigue, with convincing plot turns and plenty of action (sometimes a bit too much, as in a scene where Kaiku and her companions come under an anime-style demon attack for no apparent reason other than to place them in jeopardy for a little while). The complex political maneuverings that surround Anais's efforts to win support for Lucia's Heirship are credibly portrayed, as is Saramyr's descent into civil war. The characters, while not always entirely likeable (Asara, whose strange powers set her apart even among Aberrants; Anais, whose love for her daughter doesn't excuse her pigheaded stubbornness), are all distinct individuals with believable strengths and failings, who grow and change as a result of their experiences.

As in some of his young adult fiction, Wooding has created an oriental-themed world, drawing mainly on Japanese influences, with an intricate social structure and an interesting mythology. The magic system is intriguingly unconventional, with the Weavers practicing a sort of extra-dimensional manipulation of reality through their Mask-sourced access to the wondrous Weave, a network of energy that lies behind or beyond the visible world, and binds all living and unliving things together. It's perhaps not totally plausible that the nobles who employ them would tolerate such repulsive creatures, even for the sake of the long-distance communication which is the ostensible reason for their presence -- but perhaps that's the point, for the Weavers can manipulate all kinds of things through the Weave, including human minds, and may well be the authors of their own ubiquity. We learn a lot about the Weavers in this volume, thanks to Kaiku's quest, but much more remains mysterious, including the true purpose behind their desire for political dominance -- presumably an area of exploration for future installments of the trilogy, along with the repercussions of Lucia's Aberrancy and the real nature of the Aberrants themselves.

The Weavers of Saramyr does suffer from uneven writing, especially in the first few chapters, where the author's tendency toward stilted phrasing and excessive description, as well as his jarring habit of switching viewpoints in the middle of a scene, all but overwhelm the narrative. There's also a fair bit of infodumping; and I found the naming annoyingly inconsistent, with Japanese-sounding names like Kaiku mixed randomly with Celtic-sounding names like Adderach and generic-fantasy-sounding names like Saramyr -- and then there's French Anais and Italian Lucia (yes, I know this seems like a nitpick, but part of the point of epic fantasy is elaborate world building, and consistent naming is an important aspect of that). There are also some lapses in character depiction, as toward the end, when Kaiku suffers a traumatic loss but barely seems to think about it afterward.

Overall, though, The Weavers of Saramyr is an entertaining tale, with enough originality in its setting and premise, and enough mystery in its denouement, to make it worth following. I'll be interested to see where Wooding takes his story in upcoming volumes.

Copyright © 2003 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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