The Braided Path & Skein of Lament – Weavers of Saramyr 1 & 2 – Chris Wooding

The Braided Path & Skein of Lament – Weavers of Saramyr 1 & 2 – Chris Wooding
TLDR: These are pretty OK and have aspirations to being better. If you have nothing else better to read, they’re fine. But not great.
Brief note: It’s common knowledge that you need to have a good or great hook for your readers in the first page and hopefully the first paragraph. In this case, it’s because the book opens with an attack on the household by the demonic shin-shin on a minor nobleman’s household from the perspective of two young woman in nightgowns…and then one of them grabs a rifle and calmly starts the “Come with me (and shut up the blubbering) if you want to live” program. Stilt-walking spider demons and rifles was intriguing enough to keep me reading for 1.34 books. I’m not going to bother with book 3 (it’s not in the ebook bundle), but these were pretty decent.
Plot (spoilers for books 1&2): Kaiku and her mysterious maidservant, Asara, are the only survivors of the massacre of the household. Kaiku’s family was actually targeted for her scholar father’s discovery of the forbidden secret behind the Weavers’ masks and their connection to the mysterious blight that is poisoning the land, shortening the harvests, and bringing the threat of famine and death ever closer. Oh, and Kaiku is also actually an Aberrant, a female with forbidden magical powers, feared and hated, and slated for instant death at the behest of the Weavers. So is Asara, but never mind.
The Weavers are a cult of male wizards who wear masks made of witchstone (this is a plot point which becomes important later) and are monsters to the extent that it’s difficult to see how they have established the foothold they do. Like, they are necrophilic, coprophagic, rape children to start the day off, flay people alive and taxidermy their skins into objects–and so forth–and yet somehow were tolerated for their unmatched utility. At….sending long-distance messages and….being monsters, apparently. Right, sure, ok.
Anyhow, Saramyr is ruled by an Empress and controlled by various houses (somewhat confusingly, referred to as Bloods: Blood Kerestyn, Blood Ikati, etc.)–but the real powers behind every throne are that domain’s Weaver. Aberrants are a threat to the Weavers–not to mention most of them are genuinely weird and dangerous–and thus have been for many centuries ruthlessly suppressed. Unfortunately for the characters, but fortunately for the requirements of the plot: the Empress Anais has borne an Aberrant child–whom she insists will take the throne after her. Anais pays no heed to the fact that: she lacks support among the Blood houses, among her own advisors, and among the people themselves. However, there is clandestine support from organized surviving Aberrants….it’s just not going to be a politically-useful kind of support.
On the political B-plot, variations on the theme of civil war, coups, attempted coups, and flat-out betrayals occur. On the A-plot, Kaiku, Asara, and disposable sidekicks have adventures and discover plot-relevant secrets. Hint: the Weavers are behind it all….but what is behind the Weavers?
Book one wraps up with the Empress and most of her Blood dead, and Lucia spirited away by her supporters to a secret location, where she can Live a Normal Life with people who care about her (but also plan to use her as a figurehead for their rebellion which will reshape society and life as it is known).
Book two continues after a six-year timeskip, answering the second question from above. Basically, it’s the god of Evil, who got flung to Earth and is waking up as more blood sacrifices are offered to him. Meanwhile, I continue to ask the question: why the hell does anybody utilize, trust, or even allow the Weavers to exist, let alone become an integral part of society? They are literally bestial mounds of rotting flesh and obscene urges, and they aren’t even all that useful.
So, anyhow, this book ends with a couple of epic battles, the heroes winning on a couple of points (more info, Hidden Elf Village remains safe), but the overall situation deteriorating: open civil war, ties between characters strained or entirely broken, Weavers still in a position of strength, and the blight still increasing.
The most interesting part of book two is the shifting focus: on a new character–a barbarian forest guy from the next continent (I forgot his name), who has an outsider’s view on the overly complex Saramyr civilization–and more info about Asara. (She can shapeshift, including full sex-changes, but her powers run off of absorbing other people’s lives. Also she has identity issues.)
Overall Pros/Cons: Low to middling worldbuilding–a decently-constructed fantasy realm without any particularly expert flourishes. The characters as designed are interesting, but somewhat flattened in actual practice–not enough to make them poorly done, but enough to make it annoying that their full potential is not being met.
Rated: I wanted something to turn my brain off and be lost in for a while, and I got it.