This story is definitely a niche one, but none the less compelling for it! It’s by Emma Newman, the queen of short stories and generally excellent writing, following on from the first book in her Industrial Magic series, Brother’s Ruin.
The era is the 1800’s, a Victorian England with magic and magi who hold the country in almost a death grip. Charlotte Gunn, our heroine from the first story, heads to Manchester to meet up with her brother Ben, an apprentice Mage who has been put to work overseeing one of the mills. But something odd is going on: the looms are being destroyed by what looks like a dangerous Latent mage, and Charlotte, herself a Latent, agrees to go undercover and investigate for Ben. But before long it looks like she might be caught instead…
I loved the detail that Newman managed to cram into this very short book, which picks up very neatly from where the last one left off. The Victorian era is really brought to life, from the journeys by steam train to the mills- not something I’ve really seen addressed much beyond Elizabeth Gaskell- and is integrated very neatly with the magical elements to the story: the Royal Society, and the ways in which rich and essentially corrupt Mages hold sway in London and in Parliament. It feels like a living, breathing world… which is why it’s so frustrating that Newman doesn’t worldbuild a little more and explore the consequences of Charlotte’s actions in evading the Royal Society, the details of her training and perhaps a more fearsome nemesis than some grouchy factory hands and only the vaguest mention of the Big Bad from the first book.
As it is, the vast bulk of the story is about life in a cotton gin, which is fine. Newman packs the book full of plot: she really knows how to craft an interesting, well-written story, and it had me gripped for the whole time it took me to read it. Though quickly sketched, the characters like Mags well-drawn and instantly likeable, and Ben’s slow but steady slide towards some pretty murky morality that comes with being a Mage was also well done. Charlotte does come across as rather naïve sometimes- and the love triangle with her mentor is also a tad heavy-handed- though I suppose that’s unavoidable when you have so few pages to work with.
All in all, Weaver’s Lament is a self-contained, fun little read that drops some intriguing hints about where the story’s going to go next whilst offering a satisfying read in itself. More please!
Book cover taken from Goodreads.