Orbit is often kind enough to send me review copies of their releases in exchange for impartial and honest reviews. This is often a great deal for me because their track record with books is astoundingly good and it’s very rare that I need to do a negative review for them. However, this is unfortunately one of those times. Today I will be talking about Torn, by Rowenna Miller, a book that had a lot going for it but fell short in an unpleasantly large number of ways. Full disclosure – I only got 50% of the way through the book, so it’s possible it turned it around in the back half – but I was unwilling to give it any more benefit of the doubt.
Torn is the story of Sophie, a dressmaker with the unique skills to weave charms into the clothes she makes. In Miller’s world, shop owners must compete and prove their right to sell things and earn a livelihood. Sophie’s tale revolves around the strain of running her shop, her relationship with her brother Kristos, who is leading a revolution against the aristocrats’ control of businesses, and a love story with a pure/beautiful nobleman who is a part of the evil aristocracy, but innocently didn’t realize what was happening to the poors in the country (I am a little tired of this trope).
Let me start with the good, the book had a lot of cool original ideas that drew me in. Weaving magic into clothes had me on board and I was ready to see clothes that burst into flames, or turned to steel, or made you super hot (so just like what normal nice clothes do, but with more magic). The conflict in the book also captured my attention as an original take on aristocratic oppression. Unfortunately this is about where my list of positives stops.
Where to start with the negatives? To begin with for a book based on magical clothes, there was surprisingly little magic. Most of the spellweaving seemed to be small passive charms that didn’t have clear effects and were a lot less magical than I was hoping. Instead Miller focused more on the dressmaking aspect of Sophie’s job. This was actually ok with me. I was disappointed in the lack of flashy magic, but I appreciate a good story about a tradesperson making nice things. What I do not appreciate is a character spending pages and pages expositing about how amazing they are at their trade instead of actually showing me. Dear lord is there a lot of exposition in this book. I remember clearly a scene in the first 10% where Sophie is thinking in here head about how she is the best tailor around, and lauding herself with complements, when she is in the middle of a conversation with a customer in the shop. How hard would it be to just make the customer comment on the quality of her wares? It achieves the exact same thing but I wouldn’t think Sophie was an egotistical ass.
Speaking of characters, Sophie was not particularly likable but the entire cast is pretty awful. Her brother Kristos started at offputting and by halfway through the book had solidly cemented his status as hateable. Once I got past the initial exposition dump, I didn’t find Sophie too unpleasant – but she just isn’t interesting. Sophie did not feel like the protagonist of this story (though damned if I know who did). She sits at the center of a whirlwind of events, constantly reacting with the tamest and most conservative response possible. She doesn’t enable actions or plots, but just constantly comments on how she thinks clearly bad ideas are probably bad ideas. While I found her an entirely believable character that I related to, sitting on the moral high ground and just saying “no” does not make a compelling read. The only two characters I liked were Sophie’s assistants, which got criminally short page time.
Finally, the story just wasn’t interesting. The pacing felt extremely slow, with parts often feeling a little repetitive. As I alluded to before, the love story is every aristocrat love story I have ever read. Sophie’s constant hedging and refusal to get involved with the story also sucked me out of the book myself. If she doesn’t want to be a part of anything, why would I? Torn had some good ideas, but needed to work on the execution. If you like the characters and the minutiae of trying to keep a store solvent, you genuinely might enjoy this. For me, the books several problems overwhelmed my interest and I ended up putting it down.
Rating: Torn – 3.5/10 (DNF)