Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken

Brightly Woven
Alexandra Bracken

The Premise:  All Sydelle Mirabel has known her entire life is her village, a place far from the beaten path and suffering under ten years of drought. Then one day a rogue wizard named Wayland North arrives in her desert, bringing with him rain and warnings. Sydelle’s village is caught on the cusp of a war, and Wayland has to return to the capital to prevent their country being drawn into needless fighting. When asked for what he wants in return for ending their drought, Wayland chooses Sydelle. Before she knows it, Sydelle is traversing the country with the somewhat disreputable and secretive wizard and trying to dodge the efforts of Wayland’s enemy. Despite a rocky start, Sydelle begins to discover all of Wayland’s secrets, including the ones about herself, and she’s not just the simple weaver she thought she was.

My Thoughts: I went into this book expecting a fantasy story with adventure and perhaps romance and while this is enjoyable and has these elements, it doesn’t quite meet my expectations. But before I go into what didn’t work for me, let me go into what did. The world building was of your typical fantasy fare (and a very wholesome one at that), but the magic systems and beliefs of Palmarta and its neighbors were nice ideas. It liked discovering how magic worked alongside Sydelle as Wayland use his different colored capes to cast spells. It was interesting to have Sydelle’s perspective – that magic is a gift from their goddess, clash with Wayland’s, who doesn’t pray or think that his gift is for defeating wicked things. I also liked the idea of ranking amongst wizards and how the wizards they met upon their journey would more often than not pompously declare their ranking number. The non-ranked, hedge witches who came into existence because women were not allowed to be ranked was another thoughtful detail, as was Sydelle’s own connection with magic.

The big problem was that although I found the story enjoyable, it always felt a little superficial – like I was catching glimpses of what the story could be, but wasn’t. It just didn’t feel like the execution matched the promise.  Maybe part of that is the pacing of the story – Wayland and Sydelle are on a journey and have little time on their pit stops to their final destination. Instead we get a blurry impression of places before their goal or their pursuer pushes them to rush to the next place. Still, I should expect to feel a connection to Wayland and Sydelle from following them on their journey, and I don’t. I got the impression that Wayland is supposed to be something of a mischievous charmer, but instead he came off as just young and irresponsible. Yes he can do magic and is trying to prevent a war, but he also gets drunk at the drop of a hat (in the middle of his mission), can’t be straight with Sydelle about what’s going on, gets sullen when confronted with his mother and goes off to sulk when Sydelle hugs another man. When Wayland’s secrets are revealed in the story, for me, they didn’t quite explain away his behavior. For her part, Sydelle tries to be Wayland’s conscience and proves to be a heroine who acts bravely in bad situations, but she also get upset in ways that felt more than the situation warranted. She got annoyed at Wayland at one point and ran into the rain by herself in a strange town. I should understand why she is so upset and feel a connection to her feelings when she is going through this, but I don’t. Instead I feel like she’s overreacting because it seems to happen out of the blue. Maybe she’s only sixteen and Wayland is just eighteen and it shows, but I don’t think that it’s just that I’m too old to relate to them. I think there just isn’t enough there to relate to.

While I found Wayland and Sydelle difficult to connect to, the secondary characters were just one dimensional. There’s the jolly friend, the evil (and physically scarred) bad guy, the young queen, some throw-away side characters. I felt like they were mostly there for convenience to carry to story forward and none left me with much of an impression.  I wanted more there, especially Wayland’s mother, who I think could have an interesting back story is just as cardboard – horrible one minute, then having a convenient change of attitude the next.

The romance felt like it lacked that initial spark. I think that I’m supposed to infer some attraction when Wayland swoops into Sydelle’s life and whisks her away within his cape, but it felt like his magic was magical to her, not his presence.  When Sydelle gets angry at Wayland, it is not the banter of two people falling in love. It is a scared, half-hysterical girl redirecting her anger at only person she can. Still not romantic. Then suddenly,  Sydelle likes Wayland, and Wayland is touching her hair and getting possessive. I wished I could have seen more behind this relationship, but if I put that aside, there are sweet moments, and the story does end on a nice romantic note. I just (again) wished for more there.

Typing out this review, I feel more critical of the book now than when I was actually reading it. While I was in the middle of Brightly Woven, I found it a pleasant read even though I wasn’t connecting to the characters. The writing is good and there’s a lot of promise. It’s not there yet, but the bones are. I liked the concepts and what there was, I just wanted more.

Overall: This is a young adult fantasy that is a light and a pleasant diversion, but it didn’t fully meet my expectations. While enjoyable, it felt underdeveloped in many ways and I felt a lack of connection to the main characters. That said, there are a lot of people that loved this one, and I do see enough in this book that I liked to understand why.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Karissa’s Reading Review – 4/5 stars
The Crooked Shelf – loved it
Sophistikatied – positive
christina_reads – “not bad, but it’s not great either”
The Allure of Books – loved it
Debbie’s World of Books – “disappointed”
SFF chat – “a disappointment”
The Hiding Spot – B
Books and Other Thoughts – “enchanting”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “satisfying fantasy read”
The Book Harbinger – “a fun and light YA fantasy”
Brooke Reviews – “really fun read”
Angieville – “a lovely surprise of a story”

3 thoughts on “Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken

  1. While I was in the middle of Brightly Woven, I found it a pleasant read even though I wasn’t connecting to the characters. -> THIS! I felt the same way when I was reading the book. I remember enjoying it but going through your review, it looks like I’ve forgotten most of the details in it. Also, I’ve passed on my copy to a friend, further proof that I wasn’t wowed by it.

    • Yeah, and after I thought about the book I found all these things I wanted more from it, and then I just hemmed and hawed over my review being nitpicky because I DID enjoy it while reading, but I did feel like my issues with it were real issues..

      *nod*. This one didn’t fully win us over. I wonder if I would have loved this more when I was younger.

      • I have a feeling I would have loved this more when I was younger! Or if I haven’t read so many wonderful YA fantasy novels. I felt like it didn’t measure up to some of my favorites like Robin McKinley or Diana Wynne Jones.

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