Fray

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 23 Aug 2019

Member Reviews

Fray returns to the world of Galitha, dropping us directly into the brewing conflicts that haven’t left the busy streets. What starts as a hopeful story quickly turns into another devious plot to wrest the kingdom from those who would see change brought to their way of life. Through it all, we see Sophie and her Prince become bastions of the good fight as they put themselves in constant danger to protect the land they love. It’s a strong narrative that deftly continues where we left off.

In keeping with the previous entry in the series, the novel is multilayered in its focus. First, we have the continued political discussions between the commoners and the nobility. Fray focuses primarily on the nobility side of the fight, revealing the deep hatred many have for the proposed reforms. Constant meddling can be heard behind every corner and bush, leading to a steady stream of intrigue and thrills as we dive deeper into the brewing conflicts. There are plenty of characters to hate in this story, and we have yet to see them get what they deserve. The Crown Prince takes a surprising turn by amplifying his voice for the people’s demands. In the first book, he was supportive of Sophie, though remained at a distance from the goings-on of the revolution. In the second, he finds himself firmly in the middle, now considered a prominent voice for the people and their best hope for political reform. We see the possibility for change, and that adds a deep sense of hope to the story.

Second, we get a much deeper understanding of the magic Sophie wields. What seemed to be a simple parlor trick used to sell marked up dresses is actually a more complicated form of magic. She struggles throughout to balance the charm versus curse forces and, as she continues to learn with the help of others, we see just how powerful her skills can be. We get to see a fascinating, albeit villainous, usage of the magic through music, lending further mystery to this ancient practice. The end promises an extremely magical third book.

Overall, Fray has shifted its roots from altered fairy tale to full revolutionary thriller. The story continues to be compelling, and that shift makes for a more serious progression of events. The unrest has been amplified tenfold, giving way to what I’m sure will be an explosive final book in this series.
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Sewing is a bit arcane for people, like myself, who aren’t particularly good at it. I can sew badges onto a Girl Scout uniform and hem pants if pressed, but create a whole new article of clothing? It’s beyond me. 

There are plenty of wizards in my social circle who have this skillset, and it always strikes me as magic, so when I encountered Torn by Rowenna Miller last year, I thought it was absolutely appropriate to have the main character as a seamstress who casts charms through her stitching. Since then, two more #stitchwitchery books have hit the shelves: Fray, the second in Miller’s "Unraveled Kingdom" series, and Spin the Dawn, an #OwnVoices series launcher by Elizabeth Lim that adds a Mulan flavor to an original fairy tale.

[excerpted for only the section on Fray; full article linked below]

In Fray, Sophie begins a new chapter of her life as she accepts Theodor’s proposal, the two of them trying to create a symbol for their torn nation: there can be unity between the nobility and the commoners. At the social events Sophie is required to attend as Theodor's betrothed, she works to bring the voice of the common people, whom she once refused to represent, to the ears of nobles who might be bent toward listening.

In the book, Theodor is presenting a Reform Bill that will address the grievances of the common people, because he believes that the duty of the nobility is to serve the nation and her people. But the nobility are hard to move, and even after the Bill passes—something Theodor believes will keep the nobility in line, because who would break the law?—the nation continues to fracture into violence.

Sophie’s magic is tantalizing with its potential—something seen by both her allies and her enemies. While early on, she has only ever cast charms, drawing golden positive light along her stitches to embed particular types of goodwill into her creations, over the course of Torn, she learns to cast curses. Presented as a duality in Torn, Sophie learns in Fray that curses and charms aren’t necessarily opposing forces, but two sides of the same energy, existing in balance with each other.

Sophie is the only person in the narrative who can channel those energies through her sewing, but the way she plays with the magic, weaving it when it is produced by others, drawing it to her as though threading a needle, is always through the lens of her gifts as a seamstress. Even her analogies about the nation are centered around the way that fabric rips, and can be mended. Fray leaves Sophie’s country still unraveling, and the third volume in the series will hopefully chronicle the new cloth emerging from the tattered remnants of an old society.
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I am ridiculously in love with this book. I've been gnawing at fantasies like a fiend lately and FINALLY I found this one which is a) unique, and b) feministic, and c) incredibly adorable and charming and heart warming. WELL. Apart from the moments when my heart was breaking. This author does NOT spare her characters. AHHH. WHERE EVEN TO BEGIN?!!

Fray is the sequel to Thorn. It's an incredible rich fantasy world, which was gorgeous to eat. One of those truly engrossing fantasy novels that get it all right. It's not that it's very original, but that it does great things with classic fantasy tropes. The one thing that does make it stand out on its own is the heroine and side characters. I need more Rowenna Miller books in my life because her writing is like butter and she never ceases to surprise me with plot intrigue and raising the stakes when needed.
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I was ambivalent about Fray's predecessor, Torn by Rowenna Miller. and I continue to be ambivalent. I do think that Sophie is in an interesting position in the novel. As a small business owner who has pulled herself out of poverty and now is betrothed to the crown prince, she's more than capable of rubbing elbows with all manner of folk, if not comfortably, than at least credibly. But I'm less enamored by Sophie's burgher judginess and almost willful naivete when it comes to effecting change in the brutally unfair government she lives under. She continues to evince a sort of conservative (lower case c) cowardice that I find distasteful. 

After the street violence of Torn, Fray opens on the eve of a reform vote. The government of Galitha seems to be a sort of constitutional monarchy, but more in line with 19th Century Russians than 18th Century English. (I don't say 19th Century English, because Galitha is maybe only at the very beginning of an Industrial Revolution.) By which I mean, the nobility, who make up the governing body, are bloody brutal bastards. A labyrinthine bureaucracy has a stranglehold on most commerce, and both city workers and farm laborers are kept right on the edge of the most abject poverty. The country is a tinderbox, and the ruling class does not comprehend just how much danger there is of the whole thing erupting into very serious violence despite being given a taste of the edge of that anger. 

Sophie herself is in a precarious position. Though she began a love affair with the crown prince at the end of Torn. and they are engaged to be married, his family largely ignores her due to her ignoble birth and wrong ethnicity. (Sophie is a member of a persecuted minority, but this mostly feels like window dressing to me.) Though I did credit her several panic attacks about what marrying into the royal family will do to his standing -- she is the type to offload her true anxieties onto other people -- I had a hard time believing the royal family of this backwards country would do anything but work him over until he married someone "respectable". I'm fairly sure that's what happened between Charles and Diana, and that monarchy is only a figurehead. 

Add in the fact that a distaff relative -- who happens to be in a committed relationship with another woman -- is being severely pressured to marry a man for political reasons, and the world begins to look like its bending to either the needs of the plot, or Sophie, or both. I am always willing to give some latitude for the sake of the story, so this isn't a cardinal sin, but it could become one with time. Because the other problem is that Sophie regularly and almost compulsively puts the desires of her wealthy friends over her family, her people, and her neighborhood. Her brother -- one of the leaders of the resistance -- was denied entrance to the university due to class and race, and he has since poured his prodigious talent into tract-writing and rabble-rousing. He's absolutely not wrong about anything he says about the injustice of the world. 

Even though Sophie ostensibly understands what a raw deal he and most of people like them have been given, she's constantly frustrated by his disquiet. When violence flairs up in the streets, she blames her brother despite the fact that social inequity is *everywhere* and that anger is "inevitable*. When the reform bill passes, and then Sophie and the crown prince slowly come to the realization that the nobility is slow-walking any true reformation, I was like, oh my god, OF COURSE that's what they're doing. Why is this a surprise? Your brother has always and ever been right, you just refuse to hear anything he has to say. Her middle of the road whataboutism is infuriating. Sure, maybe your boyfriend is a good guy, but its clear to me, and everyone else in the country, that the ruling classes are ripe for having their heads separated from their necks. 

But! Then the book will mess with Sophie her bougie preconceptions, so I end up being on the hook for more. I keep hoping for a big SYKE turns out Sophie is a revolutionary moment, but then the alternative might be more interesting: a portrait of someone, who, like the rest of us, worries about the news of babies in cages and hopes for incremental change, but can't be arsed to actually do anything but worry.  Shudder.
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Fray is another enjoyable book in the Unraveled Kingdom. Political unrest and revolution have created an uncertain path and future for the empire, and Sophie finds herself at the center of the conflicts. Engaged to the Crown-prince, but also rooted in the community that is looking for change, she has loved ones and friends on both sides of the conflict. She’s a strong protagonist who fights her battles using intelligence and using her relationships. It also helps she can use a bit of magic here and there through the use of her charms.

I did really enjoy this one, however I also think it suffers a bit from second book syndrome. I think for me, this just seemed to be a slower book and much of what I found myself excited about in the first book has all been established I know Torn wasn’t particularly fast paced, but whenever you are meeting new characters I think it feels like more is happening. Everything and everyone was new and exciting.

The first book had us learning about Sophie’s magic, watching her build her business and relationships with the higher class clientele, and then there was Sophie’s developing relationship with the Crown Prince. Not to mention the entire Red Cap uprising, and her own brother’s role in that.

There is plenty going on in this book as well, there is major unrest in the city and Sophie is suddenly struggling to control and use her magic, adding extra pressure and stress as she relies on her magic both as part of her business, but also as way to lend protection or luck to those people and causes that she cares about. Her shop is doing very well, but with her upcoming marriage, thanks to the sexist laws that claim married women can’t be business owners, she has to face passing it on. On top of this, there is some serious scheming and betrayal going on. So obviously, I don’t want to imply that nothing happens, Fray just seemed to have a slower pace than Torn and I suspect some of that is since this is not an action oriented series, the fresh introduction of everything in the first book helped give it an edge.

There is nothing wrong with that, and I certainly don’t mean that there wasn’t anything exciting in this book. It just was probably more focused on the politics, that may have been quite important in the first book as well, but they were not the only component of the book that drew me in during the first book, but I think with so many of the other elements established, this one focused more heavily on it. But I did enjoy it and I am really curious to find out what is in store for us readers with the next book.

If you enjoyed Torn, I absolutely recommend reading Fray as well, and I am looking forward to the next installment.
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