CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 18. . . .May 1, 2009
The Broken Thread.
Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2008.
237 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Quests (Expeditions)-Juvenile fiction.
Kings and rulers-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-15.
Review by Lisa Doucet.
"Come here, child."
Alina wrenched her gaze away from the broken threads. Fatima stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by a circle of brown-robed women. They looked exhausted. Perhaps they hadn't eaten either – or slept – since she'd left them. Swallowing, Alina walked toward Fatima.
"We have decided what is to be done. We do not know whether it will repair the pattern, but we must try. We believe it is you who must make the damage right."
"I will do anything I can," Alina whispered.
"This will be hard. And dangerous."
"I will do it." The painful knot in her stomach began to unwind.
"Very well." Fatima was quiet for a moment. "To understand what you must do, you need to understand what happened when you tied the red thread. We believe the thread was the life of a young prince named Ranjan. The son of King Berash of Kazia. But according to the tapestry, this Ranjan died young." Fatima sighed and fell silent again. When she spoke, her voice was soft. "It is sad when a young person dies. I always grieve when the threads are cut too soon. But in this case, perhaps it was for the best. You saw what happened when the thread was not cut."
"The others broke. But I don't see-"
"Ranjan must have grown up to be a harsh and cruel king. So many threads broken, many of them the people closest to him. And later he must have created an army and attacked his neighbours. It seems that thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – died because Ranjan lived."
The cold knot was back. It twisted. Hard. Alina almost threw up. "And he lived...because of me? Because I bound the thread?"
"But how can I change what happened? You said cutting the thread wouldn't help."
There was silence.
"You must go to Kazia and undo the actual event."
Alina Sutter experiences a range of emotions when the women from the Isle of Weaving finally arrive to invite her to go with them to serve in the House of the Weavers. It has long been her most cherished dream to be part of the select group of women who work on the Tapestry whose threads mysteriously weave the intricate patterns that shape and define the lives of all the peoples of the world. Afraid that she might never be called to serve on the Isle, Alina is relieved and delighted and filled with anticipation when the invitation finally comes, even as she feels a pang of sadness at the thought of leaving her little brother and all of her family behind to embark on this exciting adventure.
She soon discovers, however, that serving in the House of the Weavers doesn't mean that one is instantly, magically transformed into a Weaver. Her days become filled with repetitive, seemingly mundane chores and although she finds comfort in the routines of her new life, she remains anxious to at least see the legendary Tapestry. When she is finally given the chance to run an errand to the Hall of Weaving, she is mesmerized by her first glimpse of the Weaving. Then, while the weaver is off in search of a certain thread, Alina's eye is caught by a dangling thread of a brilliant red hue. Troubled by the fact that this particularly vibrant thread has been broken, she is suddenly struck with a burst of inspiration: why not use a strand of her own red hair to connect the thread? Alas, she could not begin to imagine the consequences of that fateful decision, as thousands of other strands begin to snap the moment that she reties the one troublesome strand. Faced with the realization that her thoughtless act has now changed countless lives, Alina agrees to a desperate plan to try to repair the damage she has done. The Weavers send her back in time to the far away town of Kazia where she must kill the arrogant young Prince Ranjan to restore the pattern with which she had interfered.
At first, Alina is filled with determination to accomplish her task and make her way back home. Hired to look after the prince, she discovers him to be a willful, difficult child, and she tries to figure out who else is trying to kill him in order to offer her assistance. However, as she spends more time with Ranjan, a curious thing happens: she begins to see him as a vulnerable, frightened little boy who has been repeatedly betrayed by those whom he had once loved and trusted. And he, in turn, learns many things from Alina who is used to dealing with stubborn little boys and refuses to back down from him. Eventually, after saving the prince's life on several occasions and ultimately bringing to light the identity of those who had been plotting against him, she has to admit that she simply cannot do as she was bidden. She allows herself to be summoned back home to face the fact of her failure¼only to discover that the reality of what she had accomplished was altogether different from what anyone could ever have anticipated!
Much like the mystical Tapestry at the heart of this tale, Linda Smith's story is a finely woven piece of craftsmanship whose separate strands of story have been deftly woven into a unique and absorbing narrative. Her entire cast of characters are well-rounded, vividly-rendered individuals who engage readers from the very beginning. Prince Ranjan is particularly well-realized as Alina slowly starts to see beyond his haughty, spoiled surface. Once Alina unwittingly begins to have a transformative effect on the lonely child, readers may also begin to see how carefully constructed facades can hide the truth that lies within so many, a profound realization both for Alina and readers of any age.
Smith has also devised an intriguing plot that unfolds in a believable though not entirely predictable fashion. The world that she has created is beautifully wrought with all the intrigues and perils of life in the royal court masterfully depicted. The only disappointment that this reviewer experienced was concerning Alina's leaving of her family at the story's beginning, especially the little brother who was so distraught by her departure. The fact that that aspect of the story was not revisited again thereafter felt like a thread left dangling. But that "broken thread" notwithstanding, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, well-constructed tale that would provide food for thought and rich opportunities for classroom discussions.
Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS.
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