Anna’s Aunt has always warned her of the dangers of magic. Its twists. Its knots. Its deadly consequences.
Now Anna counts down the days to the ceremony that will bind her magic forever.
Until she meets Effie and Attis.
They open her eyes to a London she never knew existed. A shop that sells memories. A secret library where the librarian feeds off words. A club where revellers lose themselves in a haze of spells.
But as she is swept deeper into this world, Anna begins to wonder if her Aunt was right all along.
Is her magic a gift… or a curse?
Threadneedle is Cari Thomas’s debut and it’s one that immediately caught my attention for both the blurb and that gorgeous cover. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations although there are definitely positives and elements to it that I did enjoy.
16-year-old Anna lives with her Aunt, although “lives” may not be quite the right word as we come to understand that her Aunt rules with an iron fist. Anna is expected to obey her Aunt at all times, and there are severe punishments when she steps out of line, be it deliberate or otherwise. Even school provides little relief. Anna has intentionally made herself unnoticeable in an attempt to avoid the school bullies, her approach one of keeping her head down and getting on with it, and as such has no friends to confide in. In meeting Effie and Attis, she begins to understand everything that she’s missing out on – freedom, friendship, adventure – and begins a quiet rebellion against her Aunt’s strict nature. Anna is immediately a sympathetic character as we begin to understand what her Aunt puts her through and it’s fantastic to see her attempt to break free even as she finds it challenging – her lifestyle is so ingrained that she finds it difficult at first, although she relishes the freedom that she begins to experience.
One element that Thomas does really well throughout the novel is the world building. I love the idea that a magical world exists out in the open and that non-magical folk (cowans, rather than muggles, in this novel) simply don’t see it. The magic too is different to what we typically see, and goes far beyond wand waving and simple incantations. Rather, witches find a “language” with which they have an affinity. For Anna and her Aunt, it’s knots and cords, the tying of a particular knot, the material used, and the number of knots all having a different effect. For others, it might be plants, or potions – the options seem largely unlimited. It’s a different and unusual system and helps set this novel apart from others.
I also enjoyed the mythology behind the novel and the way in which this ties in with history. The witches don’t seem to have leaders per se, but there are “the seven” who are widely revered as the most powerful witches. There are also “the hunters”, who some believe to be a myth but who others believe want to stop all magical practices. These hunters are the traditional enemy of all witches and have their roots lie in the witch hunter trials of years gone by. These ideas are raised but not fully explored, and this leads me to believe that there may be more novels to come in the series (there is a novella available on Amazon that is set in the same world). The way in which the novel concludes certainly makes additional novels a possibility.
If I had any niggle with the novel it’s that it doesn’t seem to know who its audience is. It has been marketed as adult – as opposed to young adult – fantasy, and yet this is very much a coming-of-age narrative as Anna strives to break free of her Aunt’s clutches and to obtain the freedom to make her own choices. And much of the novel is set at the school where Anna and Effie are sixth formers (16- to 18-year-olds), and teenage angst is rife. I found it a little too much, although I’m sure that readers of a similar age to the protagonist might get more out it. In contrast, the punishments that Aunt dishes out are cruel to the point of brutality and even though there’s no lasting damage, it goes beyond YA fiction in my opinion.
Overall, I enjoyed Threadneedle. It’s an easy read with an original and inventive magic system. For me, it dragged on a little too long as Anna and Effie (mainly Effie) seek to disrupt the status quo and to knock the school bullies off their perch, and has more of a young adult feel than I expected. Would I read another if my speculation about a series is correct? Maybe. The novel is not without its merits, and provided we’ve moved on from school pupil antics, I think there’s a lot of potential here.