Review: Whitley: Torn

Book Cover
title: Torn
author: Rowenna Miller

pages: 480
format:eARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: DNF

Sophie is a dressmaker who has managed to open her own shop and lift herself and her brother, Kristos, out of poverty. Her reputation for beautiful ball gowns and discreetly-embroidered charms for luck, love, and protection secures her a commission from the royal family itself -- and the commission earns her the attentions of a dashing but entirely unattainable duke.

Meanwhile, Kristos rises to prominence in the growing anti-monarchist movement. Their worlds collide when the revolution's shadow leader takes him hostage and demands that Sophie place a curse on the queen's Midwinter costume -- or Kristos will die at their hand.

As the proletariat uprising comes to a violent climax, Sophie is torn: between her brother and the community of her birth, and her lover and the life she's striven to build.

I was so excited to get my hands on this book. So ready to get me some rebellious seamstresses and revolutions and magical garments. Wooooo, bring it on!

And then I got the book, and....slowed down real fast.

It's a really plodding, ponderous book that's dense with politics talk. It required a pretty immediate shift in my expectations, but once I did that, I thought we'd still get along. There was a lot of worldbuilding and a lot of background to the rebellion, which can be interesting if handled well, and I loved the quasi-Regency-era world. Sophie's magic was far more sedate than I would have preferred, the kind of magic that could be mistaken for 'coincidence' because it's not overtly visible. M'kay, still rolling with it.

But it was so sloooooooooow. And I just wasn't feeling Sophie as a main character. I can get behind the concept of a character dragged into things against her intentions, that's find and can make some decent drama, but...maybe not when 33% into the book and you're just starting to maybe even start to get dragged? Her brother was massively more interesting and active and involved, while Sophie was just plugging her ears and making nice with the ruling class. Sophie would have made a great character for a cozy mystery, or maybe a contemplative character-driven novel, but in a revolution-fantasy? Meh.

I hated the way this book handled class, and it's the thing that made me ultimately put the book down. Sophie is positioned in a way to potentially show a lot of conflict. She's one of the few people who makes the system work, so she's largely concerned with keeping the status quo because she's comfortable and any upset the system risks putting her out of work. Now, that's a terrible attitude when people are dying and shit, but as a starting point that she can grow away from, it's got potential. Only she doesn't. She stubbornly clings to that whole 'I got to cozy up to the ruling class' attitude and digs in hard. And then develops a romance with a duke. And, just, I, uh... people are dying? I know the duke is hot, but still?

And maybe she shifts away from that later in the book, but considering the summary paints the revolutionaries as the bad guys, I'm pretty sure it would be more of a 'both sides have some bad to them' thing.

The last thing, which pushed me over the edge, was the way the book tried to flatten all problems onto the same level. Sophie starts talking with her duke friend, and he goes "ah, but woe is the aristocrat, who has all these responsibilities!" Fuck the what, boy?

He literally says that because peers inherit responsibilities to their land and can't just bugger off, that's exactly the same as the poor being deliberately prevented from engaging in business and forced into permanent underclass status.

(Also, shitty peers who don't meet their responsibilities exist and guess who suffers for that because it's not the peer.)

And our lead character? "Aw, uwu, I didn't think of that way, you poor hot man, let me cuddle your sadness away."

Pffffft. No thanks.

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