Brightly Woven - Alexandra Bracken Brightly Woven is the fantasy tale of a young woman swept into great events. it has magic and it has romance, Young Adult style.

for the first half of this novel, i spent a lot of time muttering darkly about Kirkus Reviews and Publisher's Weekly. their glowing reviews are what led me to Brightly Woven in the first place. after having a great time in the Dystopic SciFi YA world (thank you, Hunger Games) and having a less-than-great time in the Paranormal Horror YA world (thanks for not so much, Beautiful Darkness), i decided that it was time for some Fantasy YA. and later i began to curse myself for not choosing Melina Marchetta.

the problems are manifold:

- dialogue that is downright terrible. trite... easy... blundering... all the negative words. at times i felt like i was reading a 14-year old's rough draft of some wet-dream fantasia. ugh.

- a narrative that is herky-jerky in its blindly pell-mell rush to illustrate a world. (wow, "herky-jerky" and "pell-mell" in one sentence: awesome! i'm so proud of myself!) key scenes that are seemingly left out arbitrarily. to say that the narrative is erratic and confusing would be a hilarious understatement.

- a character that is so entirely of the Gale Template from Hunger Games that he is positively painful to read. i tried to skip his appearances, with little success.

- some of the most unimaginative yet still off fantasy names ever. "Arcadia", a place where a bunch of children live... seriously? "Provincia" is a country's capital? really? come on!

- a potentially ingenious scene concerning a young queen's evilly brilliant plan to stop a war is totally ruined by sadly awkward dialogue and some eye-rollingly clumsy twists & turns. such a disappointment.

- our heroine leaves her small town at the beginning of the narrative and spends much time bemoaning that fact. unfortunately, this reader could care less... because her home is barely even described. i got no sense of place. it is almost as if Bracken couldn't even be bothered.

but about halfway through, i started getting some warm feelings. here's why:

- the magic system is blunt and basic... but effective. even exciting - in its primal, elemental way.

- our Mysterious Romantic Hero is very individualistic. he is an 18-year old wizard who downs 4 pints of beer at the first tavern he meets. he smells - badly - of sweat & beer & unwashed socks & i suppose unwashed body. he is low on charm, snarky, and yet strangely sympathetic. and, most happily of all, he doesn't bully our heroine and he is not remotely rapey. he is idiosyncratic without actually being annoying.

- the heroine's Special Powers (at first) appear to be the intriguingly prosaic ability to do some slightly magical weaving. in the second half, we learn much more, we see there are much greater stakes to her rather mindboggling powers - and it has actually been carefully set up since the very beginning. it is surprisingly tragic. and pretty smart writing.

- there is a very emotional chapter where our heroine first takes gentle but firm care of the young wizard (including removing his hair-raisingly smelly socks) and then is struck down herself, needing care in turn from that wizard. this was a wonderful sequence.

- and then there are these straightforward lines, which reminded me - of all things - of a great bit of dialogue from Tennessee Williams' "Night of the Iguana": "No part of you is dark or ugly," I said sharply, squeezing his hand. "Not to me, not ever. Do you understand?" so maybe not all the dialogue is terrible. some of it has a rather lovely purity to it.

so, in sum, i'd love to give this one 3 stars (i.e. I LIKED IT)... but the dialogue was, for the most part, just too atrocious. but i do think that Bracken is capable of much more, if she puts her mind to it. apparently she wrote this during her final semester in college - who knows what she could accomplish now, with the ivory tower behind her.