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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

SPFBO Semifinalist: The Woven Ring by M.D. Presley (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order The Woven Ring HERE 

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Born and raised in Texas, Matthew D. Presley spent several years on the East Coast and now lives in California with his wife. His favorite words include defenestrate, callipygian, and Algonquin. The fact that monosyllabic is such a long word keeps him up at night. He’s also worked as a professional Hollywood screenwriter who has written for Chinese TV serials as well. When not writing, he also makes jewelry for fun. This is his debut book.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A fantasy re-imagining of the American Civil War, The Woven Ring pits muskets against magic, massive war machines against mind readers, and glass sabers against soldiers in psychic exoskeletons.

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.

Aided by an untrustworthy Dobra and his mysterious mute companion, Marta soon discovers that dark forces, human and perhaps the devil herself, seek to end her quest into the East.

CLASSIFICATION: Think Mark Lawrence's edgy characters mixed in with Brandon Sanderson's excellent world-building skills and you will have an exact answer to what awaits within this amazing debut.

 FORMAT/INFO: The Woven Ring is 292 pages long divided over thirty-four chapters and a prologue. Narration is in the third person via Marta Childress mostly and a few others. This is the first volume of the Sol’s Harvest series.

July 10, 2016 marked the e-book & paperback publication of The Woven Ring and it was self-published by the author. Cover art and design is provided by Amit Dutta.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Woven Ring is M. D. Presley's debut book and a glorious introduction to the world of Soltera. This title is another one that I was lucky enough to be graced with in this year’s SPFBO. This book was one that stood out to my mind based on its blurb and the fact that it was a fantasy reimagining of the American civil war in a secondary fantasy world. I dove in with a lot of expectations and was rewarded immensely. It was an easy semifinalist pick along with The Songweaver's Vow.

The story begins in two timelines in the world of Soltera. The first track starts nineteen years ago as we meet Marta our protagonist a six year old girl who faces a terrible situation. The first line of the book sets up the scene wonderfully “Marta was mad. Carmichael had lied to her. Again!” While this line & scene might not seem particularly vicious, we soon learn what truly has happened and how much of a twat Carmichael is. The second timeline opens up nearly nineteen years later, Marta is no longer a fresh-eyed girl. She’s a veteran of the civil war that has shaken their nation and left her scarred emotionally & physically. She however is tasked by her elder sibling Carmichael to hunt down a person whom she hates more than her brother. Thus begin the two timelines as we see Marta’s painful evolution into the person that we meet in the second timeline.

Very few titles capture the reader’s interest by offering more than one surprise. This debut book not only has spectacular world building but it also manages dual storylines very coherently. Let’s talk about what captivated me so strongly about this book. Talking about the world & magic system mentioned within. I have to note when it comes to books that have spectacular world-building, often times the book’s plot and characters aren’t quite that up to the mark. On the flip side, often when characters/plot are focused upon then the world-building might conversely suffer. It’s rare for a book to ace both factors, fewer books especially debuts do these things so smoothly. A few examples who fall into this unique category are:

- Scott Lynch’s The Lies Of Locke Lamora,

- Mark Lawrence’s Prince Of Thorns,

- Anthony Ryan's Blood Song

All of these debuts won readers over and have created legacies that most debut authors would love to emulate. With this title by MD Presley, I believe we have another debut which while different from the aforementioned titles, will set its own path. The author has to be lauded for creating a world that while mirroring the American civil war but creates its own legacy. Let’s talk about the world, what the author has so wonderfully done is that while he doesn’t focus on the slavery angle, he builds up a religious conflict which is centered on a magic system. The magic system while being simplistic is quite fascinating. The author builds upon the concept of breath which plants have one (body), animals have two (body, mind) & humans have three (body, mind, soul). With some human beings have four and depending on the location of the fourth breath. The magic users could be classified as a:

- Shaper (body)

- Listener (mind)

- Whisperer (mind)

- Render (soul)

- Weaver (soul)

The conflict that builds up in the nation of Newfield is due to the theological & philosophical clash that occurs between Renders & Weavers and the eastern and western halves of the nation of Newfield. I loved how the author made this an eastern vs western one (holding a mirror but yet changing events a bit). There’s also the Pseudo-European lands called the Auld lands from whose descendants the nation of Newfield is founded by. There’s also the Myna nations and Ingios territories who are similes’ foe the Native American tribes. I loved how the author managed to weave the travails of the land with the religio-political squabbles that cause all the tension within the story. The author also manages to showcase the science within the story by making the magic system logical and making it a tad boring. What I mean by this is that the magic in this story isn’t the unknown arcane power. It is studied, and harnessed. There are vehicles which are utilized by tapping into the Ley lines of the land. There are ways of communication invented. All of this following the magic system and the powers that can be. All of this is very logically presented & from a world-building perspective is just so damned fine to read.

There’s also characters and this is where I want to talk about Marta. The Marta we meet in the past and the Marta we see in the present timeline are two completely different people. The beauty of the story and the author’s writing is we get to see her first see as a bright & energetic six year old but who then slowly transforms into the twenty five year old, scarred veteran that we meet immediately in the start of the story. While much of the plot is narrated from Marta’s POV, we do get a few POVs from other characters but majorly it’s Marta who shows us the world. I also want to highlight the fact that she’s clearly an anti-hero but perhaps by showing how she became that way, the readers will be able to sympathize with her actions and understand her way of thinking. Like I mentioned previously Marta was a character whom I both admired & disliked. I look forward to what reactions she creates among other readers. There’s also the other characters we meet via Marta, and like Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song, we seem them as flesh & blood ones with dreams, plans & aspirations of their own. I very much enjoyed the greyness of most characters as they are caught in this conflict which makes everyone a puppet of other folks. Not to say that there aren’t villainous characters, there are but the true fun is reading morally ambiguous folks who are defined by their circumstances rather than personal choices.

The mythology of the land, plus the presence of certain magical creatures is very well ensconced within the story and doesn’t feel like an infodump and this was truly an outstanding feature. Because in a world this rich, it might be all too easy to have characters go on soliloquys explaining different facets of the world, religion, etc. Credit to the author he explains a lot without making it all too complex or boring. For a cartophile like me, there’s also three maps provided which further enriched my read.

Lastly I can think of only two drawback in this story, firstly we truly never get a viewpoint into Carmichael Childress and this was disappointing. One of the major conflicts of the story is this sibling rivalry between Marta & Carmichael and to never get a different side to it was slightly off putting. But since this only volume one of the entire story I’m willing to wait and see how the story unfolds. There’s also the plot pace which is a bit slow in the start of both story lines however within the first two-three chapters of each timepoint it picks up rapidly and from that point onwards, it just surges forward slowly and surely building up to a dual climax in the past and present. For some readers though this might not be the pace they are used to expect.

CONCLUSION: The Woven Ring is an understated effort however it’s not an underwhelming one. M. D. Presley has given the readers a story that touches the elegant writings of Mark Lawrence in creating wholly realized, unlikeable anti-heroes whom you cannot ignore. Plus the scale & depth of world-building is definitely on par with some of Brandon Sanderson’s finest efforts. All of this is a debut which heralds a rich future for Matt D. Presley and I for one will have a very, very hard time in deciding who will be our ultimate finalist based on all the four semifinalist selected so far.



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