The City of Woven Streets by Emmi Itäranta

thecityofwovenstreets“Are you certain you don’t know her?”
The question makes no sense. I look at the girl again, just to be certain, although I do not need to. She has closed her eyes and her breathing is turning even. Her muscles twitch slightly. She does not open her eyes.
“Of course I’m certain,” I say.
Weaver stares at me, then at Alva again.
“Why do you ask such a thing?” she says.
Alva steps right next to the girl. She does not react when Alva takes her hand ad gently coaxes open the fingers closed in a loose fist.
“Because of this,” Alva says, and turns the palm upwards. The light from the glow-glass falls on it. Bright marks begin to glow on the skin, the letters forming a word I recognize immediately.
Eliana. My name.

Eliana is one of the lucky ones on the island. She lives and works as a weaver at the top of the central hill in the House of Webs, and the regular floods that plague the lower streets are not her concern. But if anyone were to discover her secret — that she is cursed with the nightmares that everyone fears — her life of privilege would be over and she would be made a slave.

Keeping her head down becomes much harder when a young woman is left for dead near the House of Webs, with her tongue cut out and Eliana’s unusual name tattooed on her hand. Suddenly she is being watched by the city guard, and the girl, Valeria, can’t even tell her why. But when Eliana’s brother discovers an explosive political book, together they begin to uncover the web of lies that rule the island’s society, and the sinister secret that lies at its heart.

This book reminded me a lot of The Chimes by Anna Smaill (another literary dystopian fantasy) in that the setup and the world-building were excellent, but the plot did get a bit muddled towards the end. The City of Woven Streets is incredibly atmospheric, taking place on an isolated island where the basis of technology is water, for example, communications are sent using a hydraulic water-level system, and light comes from a special type of glowing algae kept in a jar. There were even some really clever aspects of the island that play on the ‘weaving’ theme, which I thought were beautifully done. Basically I loved everything about the setting, and the images of it have stayed with me long after I finished the book.

More typical for a fantasy novel, but still fun, was the dystopian society setup, where citizens are constantly watched by the guard, and are subject to a harsh administration — being tattooed every year on their birthday with another mark so that people will know how old they are. There are also the requisite strata of society — the Dreamers are only better than the Tainted, who are plagued with nightmares.

I was enjoying this book so much until the last few chapters, where I felt the ending was a bit rushed — I was still reeling from all the plot twists that had gone before, that I almost couldn’t keep up with the resolution when it came. Nonetheless, what sticks in my mind a week after finishing the book is the atmosphere, and so I can’t wait to see what this author does next.

The City of Woven Streets is available from Amazon.

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