Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Sevenfold Spell by Tia Nevitt

I'm a little diffident about writing this review, since the author, Tia Nevitt, is a fellow book blogger whose reviews have introduced me to lots of lovely books over the last couple of years. I almost decided to not review her book at all--but that seems like a cop-out, and particularly unfair to her since it's not like I didn't like the book.

So I'm reviewing The Sevenfold Spell, which was released this week as an ebook. Many (if not most) of my problems with the book have nothing to do with the writing--which is good--and everything to do with how it's marketed. The publisher has it listed as fantasy. It's actually a romance, which is not a genre I read very often and not one I enjoy particularly. As my sister-in-law says about my mom's habit of tossing candy in with her movie popcorn, "Ugh, think popcorn, get Junior Mint." I expected a fantasy and was disappointed. But that's not the author's fault.

The Sevenfold Spell is about Talia, a plain young woman who lives with her mother. They're spinsters--in the original meaning, that is, since they spin fiber into thread for a living. Talia knows she's plain, but she doesn't mind too much since her homely friend William has already asked her to marry him. Unfortunately, the newborn princess of the realm has been cursed by a fairy: when she reaches 16, she'll prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a hundred years of sleep. All the spinning wheels in the realm are destroyed, which ruins Talia's future. Her dowry goes to buy food now that her mother has no income, and William's father ships him off to a monastery to become a monk.

This is a fascinating opening, and I was eager to find out how the lack of spinning wheels would affect the world. In two words: it doesn't. This book (novella, rather--it's pretty short) is not a fantasy, so the fantasy world is only a vehicle for the romance between Talia and William. That's fine, if you reached into the popcorn bag expecting to get a Junior Mint. I was left hungry for worldbuilding which didn't come.

My main problem, though, was with Talia. The only time she showed any gumption was when she wanted to seduce a man, which she did a lot. (I liked her mother, who decides to build a spinning wheel in secret and sell the resulting thread as an expensive 'import.') Talia's entire existence is wrapped up in men: William, who is lost to her; the older man she seduces; the affairs she has over the years. I found her shallow, passive, and remarkably empty emotionally. I couldn't root for her because there was nothing there to root for.

I've read over what I've written so far, and I see that this review is coming off as really negative. I was afraid of that. I just can't evaluate a genre of book I don't read. Again, the writing is solid, and the plot is interesting (despite some motivational issues that felt like plot holes to me, since I'm intensely plot-driven). I liked the ending--especially what Talia's mother does, which almost had me cheering out loud.

One last gripe, though, and this one I can't blame on the genre. The author does not know anything about spinning. I've been a spinner myself for something like 15 years now, and every single time spinning came up in the story, it was handled wrong. First problem: 'modern' spinning wheels--you know, the ones without sharp spindles--were invented in something like the 12th century, although they remained in common use up to the industrial revolution. They're usually called walking wheels or great wheels and they are very big. Talia describes the wheel itself as being about two feet across, which is about half the size of a walking wheel but a common size for a modern wheel--again, the ones without sharp spindles. Second problem: Talia's mother and one other woman on their street are the only spinners in the area, and competed originally since the town wasn't really big enough for two spinners. *boggle* Before the industrial revolution, every single household had a spinning wheel. Spinning is a time-consuming, laborious process. For every hour a weaver works on a piece of cloth, spinners have put in approximately 30 hours of work making the thread the weaver uses. Third problem: If you don't have a spinning wheel of any kind, out of necessity people will go back to the older methods of spinning, which are varied but simple. All you need is a stick (not sharpened!) with a weight on one end and a notch in the other, and you can spin all day long without worrying about any princesses getting hurt. Fourth problem: Spinning wheels are not noisy. They make a soft whirring sound and can squeak a little, but it's never very loud--certainly not loud enough to be heard outside a house unless the wheel is right next to an open window and it's a very quiet day, and even then you'd have to be really close.

Okay, sorry, I'm done preaching about my hobby. If you like romance at all, definitely give this one a try. It's a charming little story with an interesting setting. I definitely hope Tia Nevitt writes a fantasy with romantic elements (instead of the other way around) next, because I'd love to see what she does with it.

link to publisher Carina Press

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