Review: Torn by Rowenna Miller

Torn by Rowenna Miller (The Unraveled Kingdom #1)

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy

Publisher: Orbit on March 20, 2018

Source: Publisher

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

Torn is the first book in an enchanting debut fantasy series featuring a seamstress who stitches magic into clothing, and the mounting political uprising that forces her to choose between her family and her ambitions.

  

Sophie Balstrade is an accomplished seamstress, shop owner, and charm caster. She creates beautiful garments for the nobility…many of which are sewn with good luck charms. But when her brother Kristos becomes embroiled with the Labourers League, a revolutionary group advocating democratic governance, Sophie must decide where her true loyalties lie: with her clientele, her brother, or her country.

There’s a lot of really strong world building in TORN, ranging from the political and social lives of those living in Galitha City to the magic system. Sophie’s ability to cast charms is stronger than the average caster’s, which she attributes to the rigorous training she received at her mother’s knee. Charms are not well-respected by most Galithian people; by combining her charms with haute couture, Sophie disassociates her wares from the “backwater” nation Pellia thus making them fashionable for the Galithian nobility. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot going on under the surface in TORN: classism, racism, and sexism all figure prominently in the story.

Sophie’s dedication to her craft is admirable, and I was impressed with her tenacity in starting and keeping her business afloat. One of the things I like best about the politics in TORN is the acknowledgement that labourers may all belong to one oppressed class, but working women face very distinct threats from their male counterparts. If Sophie were to marry, she would have to relinquish control over her business and its income. In terms of her business life, Sophie really makes things happen. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for pretty much every other quarter of her life.

My major gripe with TORN is Sophie’s passive nature: the revolution happens around her and she’s backed into a corner by its proponents. She’s primarily a reactive character, which is especially clear in the central conflict in the story, as she’s faced with the decision whether to support the Labourers League or the nobility. Both sides have good arguments, although it quickly becomes plain that a revolution of some sort is inevitable. I think most people will relate to Sophie’s conundrum, and they’ll find her sympathetic — up to a point. A character can only be “torn” for so long before the reader (or this reader, at least) starts to become impatient with their lack of decisiveness. Particularly when it lasts two thirds of the book!

Thankfully in the final third of the book circumstances force Sophie into high gear, and she starts to wrest back control of her life. She learns a lot about her magical abilities, which was really cool to read about, and has the epiphany that her power can be used for more than just beautiful clothes (duh). I just wish all this action had happened earlier in the story. Personally, I rejoiced when Sophie finally confronted the men seeking to manipulate and control her. Y’all already know that there’s nothing I love more than seeing traditional “women’s work” weaponized against villainous, sexist male characters!

And these guys really seem to abound in TORN, ranging from the truly despicable to the casually sexist. Unfortunately, that’s a pretty realistic representation of what it means to be an ambitious woman: there’s always some random guy trying to bring you down. Even Theodor, the Duke that Sophie falls in love with, is problematic in his own way. Thankfully there are some awesome women in the cast of secondary characters to make up for it: the women who work in Sophie’s shop and the noble women she meets as her shop’s profile rises are equally interesting.

Rowenna Miller’s TORN is an ambitious debut, and while it didn’t always work for me, the final chapters have certainly convinced me to return for the second book.

Do you plan to read TORN? What do you think about stories featuring women’s work and class politics? Let me know in the comments!

26 thoughts on “Review: Torn by Rowenna Miller

  1. It can be tough to enjoy a book when the main character remains so passive for most of the book. I’m glad her character does turn around though and begins to take control of her life. But yikes though! Problematic love interests!

    1. Right? There were more than a few times when I just wanted to shake some sense into
      Sophie, haha. I know…I get that her LI is just “normal sexist” i.e. a man of the times, but still. Sophie notices it and so did I. Boy, bye!

  2. I still have a copy of this to read, and I hope to get to it at some point. It sounds like a layered story that has some rough spots, but good to know you liked it well enough to want to read the next book😊

  3. I have a copy of this but have been (I’m so sorry) torn about picking it up. hahahaha I may have to give it a whirl but it’s not a priority. Fantastic review. 🙂

  4. Reviews I’ve seen for this one have been really mixed. I still want to read it, but my enthusiasm has cooled somewhat, with many bloggers I follow giving this a lukewarm rating. Maybe if I have time this month 🙂

    1. Honestly, that makes sense…it’s a “mixed feelings” kind of book. I think this may be another case of a book that I expected to love that didn’t quite live up to its premise for me. Hopefully you like this one if you end up giving it a go!

  5. I’ve seen some mixed reviews for TORN… I’m not sure if I’ll be reading it, I just don’t really have the time for meh books anymore so I’m trying to only read things that I know I’ll love. Excellent review anyway though, it’s a shame it wasn’t really your thing.

    1. I hear you on meh books Lara, who really has the time? Personally I think some of the most disappointing books are the ones you feel you *should* have loved because of the premise, but they just didn’t live up to it. Such a bummer!

  6. What is it about books where you’re left questioning it until the very end where it redeems itself and gets you interested in reading the next one? This one obviously had its flaws, which sucks, but it does sound like it had redeeming elements to it. I might hold off for the sequel to happen for this one and see what the reception to that one is before picking this up. Just in case.

    1. Girl, I don’t know but it’s frustrating! Haha. I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be finishing this book let alone be into reading the sequel, but then things took a turn and my feelings changed. I’ll definitely be reading/reviewing the sequel, so I’ll let you know what I think of it!

  7. The premise for this is super unique, and it does sound like it had some really well-thought out and well-written politics and world-building. I can see why you’d get frustrated with her character not really making a decision or taking much part in things though. At least it ended stronger!

    1. I absolutely adore the premise, loved the world building, and I was quite impressed with Miller’s writing as well. But for me, characters are the most important piece…so I was pretty “torn” (lol) about this one. Yeah, the ending turned things around for me, for sure!

  8. This sounds like such a wonderful book! I’m a sucker for good world building and strong female leads! However, I’m bit wary of it taking SO DARN long for her to make up her dang mind. I think that would drive me absolutely insane.

    1. Based on that, I think you’ll really enjoy this book Jessamine! Knowing about Sophie’s reluctance to make a choice in advance will make it less annoying, I think. I hope you like TORN if you end up picking it up! 😊

  9. Yikes, a passive heroine? I don’t mind “soft”, gentle heroines, but the ones with quiet strength. Not the passive ones with no strength whatsoever. It sounds like this book has a lot of topic issues addressed – can be a good thing, can be too much. If you read more by this author, I hope you enjoy!

    Have a great day, Danya. =)

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

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