The Fragile Threads of Power (Threads of Power, 1)
The Fragile Threads of Power opens with a whirlwind of new character introductions, each chapter presenting a new setting and point of view, initially unrelated to the others. Some of the characters even live in different worlds. This novel launches a new series in the world of Schwab’s Darker Shade of Magic trilogy, and although some of the same characters appear in both, The Fragile Threads of Power does not require a reader to be familiar with the original to enjoy it.
The first character to be introduced is the child queen Kosika, who rules White London. (The world of this book consists of four alternate Londons, which only a very few very powerful magic users called Antari can move between.) Kosika begins in poverty, where she steals for a living and is nearly sold into slavery by her mother. When she turns out to be an Antari and is crowned queen, her life changes radically, but so do her problems. Magic in her London has been waning, and she would do anything to restore it. Although Kosika’s storyline never intersects the other characters’ (all of whom live in Red London), her religious fervor to restore her world’s magic seems likely to threaten all of the Londons in later books.
Next, the reader meets Tes, who is the central character of the novel. At 15 years old, she runs a shop in the shal, the most dangerous part of Red London, posing as an apprentice to an imaginary reclusive owner who never shows his face. The shop, called “Once Broken, Soon Repaired” specializes in the repair of magical objects. Tes can fix these objects because “her eyes, for some reason, saw the world not just in shape and color, but in threads.” Tes’s ability to both see the magic around her and to manipulate it with her hands is so rare as to possibly be unique to her. She keeps it secret, knowing that displaying her talent will make her a target to those who crave power. She learned that lesson from both her father and her older sister, Serival, who “looked at everything of worth like it was something to be used, or sold, or taken apart.”
The other major characters live in the sphere of the royal court of Red London: the king, Rhy; his consort, Alucard; his wife the queen; and the Antari magicians Kell and Lila Bard. Their focus is on the group known as the Hand, a terrorist organization bent on assassinating the king. The Hand steals a powerful magical artifact that might accomplish the job, but it is broken in the process of stealing it. Which draws Tes, who can repair anything, into the plot.
Tes’s character is what makes this book come alive, elevating it from a simple tale of magic and attempted royal assassination. She wants nothing more than to live a quiet life in her shop, drinking tea and fixing trinkets and eating dumplings from the stand down the street. Instead, she is caught between two powerful forces. The members of the Hand are clearly villains, threatening her life repeatedly and forcing her to do her bidding, but the king’s companions are not much more appealing from Tes’s perspective, since they also care little about her as a person, wanting only to control and use her for her power.
Tes’s complex mix of power and vulnerability make the reader root for her more than for the king’s companions, caring more about her well-being than the safety of the king. The fact that the characters on the “good” side of the main plot treat her as an object to be used loses them the help they could have had if they’d treated her more kindly.
The ending, although this is the first book of the series, is satisfying, with the major plot points settled. As Tes says, “I know that is a strange and valuable gift, but it doesn’t make me a thing instead of a person. I’m not a piece of magic to be put away, and taken out, whenever you have use, and I’m not going to be put in a cage.” In the final chapters, Tes gets to choose her own ending, which for a character pursued throughout the book to be used by others for her powers, feels like the perfect outcome.