Canadian Literature Review - The Broken Thread
Reviewed by: Rick Gooding
Pity adolescent fiction's fourteen-year-old protagonists, with their angsty self-consciousness and inability to recognize romantic attractions in themselves and others. Readers who are sixteen likely feel too sophisticated to sympathize with their childish concerns, while their eleven-year-old brothers and sisters may wonder what all the fuss is about. The authors of adolescent fiction have it hard, too, as they try to connect with young teens in prose that challenges without overwhelming. Shane Peacock, Linda Smith, and Alison Acheson have written novels featuring protagonists who are fourteen or fifteen, and they all strive to establish that elusive state where young readers both get what's going on and still care. In one sense, all three play it safe, steering clear of the kind of controversial territory that has occasionally landed such writers as Deborah Ellis in trouble, yet to varying degrees each of their novels risks alienating young readers by asking too much or too little.
In Linda Smith's posthumous The Broken Thread, an apprentice to a group of wise women who weave the fates of humanity into tapestries accidentally cuts short thousands of lives when she mends the broken life-thread of the despotic Prince Ranjan. To rectify her mistake, the weavers magically transport the young woman, Alina, to the distant kingdom of Kazia, ostensibly to kill Ranjan, who is still a child. The borad trajectory of the narrative is predictable (my twelve-year-old immediately saw where the tale was headed) as Alina first defies the spoiled prince and then nurtures the positive qualities he will need to rule justly. In greater doubt is the question of who has been trying to assassinate Ranjan, and Alina's investigations give the plot a measure of mystery and suspense.
The Broken Thread will likely appeal to younger readers than The Secret Friend. Less detailed and narratively complex than Peacock's novel, Smith's tale succeeds because of its handling of personal interactions, which are informed by a Romantic sensibility. As Alina moves from a matriarchal culture that respects nature to the militaristic and patriarchal kingdom of Kazia, she must quell her instinctive assertiveness, though her only partial success is what makes it possible for her to tame the prince. Her task is complicated by her growing affection for Ranjan's bodyguard, Daris, whose attentions Alina struggles to understand. The gradual softening of Ranjan's character is also noteworthy, for his development is as much about his need to recover a childhood that has been trammelled by fear of assassination as it is about acquiring the qualities of a just ruler.