“In exile since the civil war that tore the nation of Newfield apart, former spy and turncoat Marta Childress wants nothing more than to quietly live out her remaining days in the West. But then her manipulative brother arrives with one final mission: Transport the daughter of a hated inventor deep into the East. Forced to decide between safely delivering the girl and assassinating the inventor, Marta is torn between ensuring the fragile peace and sparking a second civil war.”
Marta – A member of the wealthy Childress family, and our main PoV character. She is a part of the Cildra clan, who are secretive about their magical abilities and guard them closely. The children of her family are encouraged by her ambitious father to be highly competitive and to believe that affection is weakness.
Carmichael – Marta’s older brother and, to put it delicately, a gigantic dick. He cares little for his siblings and will stop at nothing to gain the approval of his father.
Oleander – Marta’s younger sister, a sweet girl who fears that she will not develop magical abilities and will therefore be shunned by the family.
The Woven Ring is an entertaining flintlock fantasy about civil war, told in a nonlinear narrative. Our main focus is on Marta, a young woman of means who is shaped by her experiences both at war and with her highly ambitious family. The main conflict is between East and West, and much like in the real world, it’s the usual religious/political squabbling that tends to be the catalyst for war. In this case, in our prologue a standoff between the two sides results in the execution of a prisoner, and everything kicks off.
There’s a fair bit of hopping between timelines which could annoy some readers, but for the most part this is executed well and it doesn’t take too long to get your bearings. It’s a nicely paced story that doesn’t drag, and manages to balance a good deal of character development with plenty of action, suspense, and an extremely detailed world and magic system. Fans of magic systems should definitely pick this one up and give it a go – I’m not typically that enamored of them personally, but even I found this one pretty fascinating. It works on the idea that all living things contain breaths, or life force which can be harnessed to different purposes. This includes simple things like light sources, all the way to transport and the magical abilities of various characters – Marta is a Shaper, which means she can fashion her breaths into physical forms such as armor, weaponry, etc. There are several types of magical ability, but I don’t want to go into that too deeply because Presley does such a good job of bringing it all into the story without too much info dumping. It’s all very deeply intertwined with their religion and makes for a very believable culture.
There’s also the culture of Marta’s family. Her father, the clan’s patriarch, is a rather power-hungry, cold and manipulative figure. He has fostered a deep-seated rivalry between his children by conditioning them into a survival-of-the-fittest attitude that pervades everything they do. All of their games and interactions hinge on this sense of competition, of deliberately trying to deceive and generally get one up on one another in order to win his approval. Carmichael takes this the most seriously of the three, disdaining his youngest sister entirely for her apparent lack of magical talent, and barely acknowledging Marta. However, Marta and Oleander have a quiet fondness for one another that comes across as quite sweet given the environment they’re in. It also explains a lot about Marta’s angry nature, which boils over into outright self-loathing and crippling doubt in adulthood. It’s a very strong, believable piece of characterization. Her father continues to be a shadow looming over the entire story, and is never far from her thoughts. As an adult, Marta is a broken human being, tainted by war and barely able to function. Comparing the differences in her character as we switch back and forth between timelines is really interesting and probably the thing I think Presley has pulled off best of all.
Marta’s mission leads her to Luca and Isabelle, an intriguing pair of freebooters/mercenaries who provide an excellent foil for her to play off, while Caddie, a traumatized young girl, gives her some heart. For readers who don’t like Marta (and she can be difficult to like at times), these characters will provide relief. It’s hard to fit their story into a category – while it flirts with grimdark, it’s not completely hopeless. Marta’s loyalties are constantly challenged and tested, and it all gels together and makes for a compelling story with a conclusion that leaves you wanting the next installment.
The prose is generally good, with a little bit of awkward phrasing in places. There were also some inconsistencies in the details that caused me to raise an eyebrow here and there, but it was all relatively minor stuff considering the grand and ambitious nature of the novel. I’d love to have seen Carmichael’s point of view in all this – our lack of his perspective on things, and our view of him only through Marta’s eyes means that he never quite reaches his full potential as the villain of the piece. But I also appreciate that it would have been insanely difficult to attempt this in an already packed novel. I hope there’s a chance we might see that in the sequel now that the foundation has been laid for this world. Great stuff, and I’ll definitely be picking up part 2.
r/Fantasy Bingo 2017 Squares
- Debut Fantasy Novel
- AMA Author
- Self Published