Weaver’s Lament, Emma Newman
160 pages| Publisher: Tor.com| Genre: Fantasy/ Science Fiction/ Historical Fiction
The digest: the second instalment in the Industrial Magic series of novellas manages to entertain despite its episodic nature and rough continuity. Newman’s storyworld is still intriguing, but more effort needs to be put into developing the characters and exploring the themes presented to us.
This review contains spoilers for Brother’s Ruin.
Blurb copied from Goodreads:
“Charlotte is learning to control her emerging magical prowess under the secret tutelage of Magus Hopkins. Her first covert mission takes her to a textile mill where the disgruntled workers are apparently in revolt.
But it isn’t the workers causing the trouble. The real culprits are far more extranormal in nature.
And they have a grudge to settle.”
As the blurb says, the sequel follows on some months after the finale of Brother’s Ruin, with little explanation as to what actually has happened in that time. A new house has been bought for the family, the debtors are nowhere to be seen and Charlotte has somehow been training with Hopkins. The time jump is the first issue I had with this novella – what has Hopkins been teaching Charlotte? We do not know. How? We do not know. What is she capable of? We do not know. How have they kept it secret? We do not know. There is frustration in this – an extra chapter or two could easily have explained this in a satisfactory way. The book is only 160 pages long (30 pages shorter than its predecessor), and I can’t help but think that the story was rushed to completion – why else would such basic questions go unanswered?
The next issue was (as with Brother’s Ruin) the novella’s episodic nature. It is similar to a TV show with a ‘monster of the week’ (think Supernatural, Arrow, The Flash etc) with hints of a larger story arc happening in the back ground. It just feels like such a waste. The magic system is almost entirely unexplained, the characters are not terribly well developed (more on that below), and the plot’s stakes weren’t high enough for true excitement for the most part. I will say that there were a couple of passages which were exciting, especially towards the book’s conclusion. As this is only book two in a series, we can assume that the protagonist survives the climax, but this just means that the text should spend more time explaining other interesting parts. For example, I would have loved to see more depth in the explanation of the ‘abnormal’ elements, and I feel like this would have benefitted the story greatly.
Objectively speaking, the novella is low-cost entertainment, and we should not necessarily expect a finely tuned, well-crafted piece of literature. But there are hints throughout of a much more interesting story waiting to break through and be told. I hope that the next book will focus more on this than on another ‘episode’ of relatively meaningless back story.
The characters are more developed here than in Brother’s Ruin, but not massively so. Hopkins is still little more than a functioning excuse for a poorly thought out love triangle. From what little we know of Charlotte’s fiancé, George, he seems like the usual suspect in a simple dilemma: a rather predictable, dull, hard-working sort who is honest as they come. Newman struggles to explain the reasoning for Charlotte’s infatuation beyond her tutor’s appearance and charming nature: those are not enough to make somebody doubt their fidelity in well thought out fiction. This part of the story is more frustrating than anything else – as we do not spend enough time with either Hopkins or George to develop a strong positive attachment to either. Additionally, Ben is now suddenly a less-than-perfect character morally, which was a bit of a shock. It is Ben who has the most growth between the two books currently in the Industrial Magic universe, but I hope that in the future he does not simply switch from the ill, honest young man from the first to a malicious (even if only through compliance) one in later entries.
The good parts? As I have hinted at, there is enough new information (some of it quite unpredictable for new readers) to keep me interested in the series going forwards, and the short length of the novella means I don’t feel as if I had wasted my time. Had this book been twice as long but still have the issues I have pointed out above, I would have DNF’d it within 50 pages. I can’t talk too much about the interesting parts as it would spoil the story – but be aware that some backstory for old characters is explored, as well as socio-economic issues that can be expected to arise from 19th Century mills. I think that Newman excellently worked the ideas of capitalism and women’s rights into the story, and I hope she continues to do so in sequential stories – there is most definitely a space for them in this fiction and Charlotte seems to be interested in exploring it further.
For all of its faults, Weaver’s Lament did successfully entertain me enough to justify the price of admission and I hope that my comments have put anyone off too much; I would rather readers go into the experience knowing how the work is flawed, but also how it excels. I will be continuing with the series when it is released and will review it when I do.