The Bookweaver’s Daughter // by Malavika Kannan
Pub Day: September 08, 2020
Publisher: Tanglewood Publishing
In the ancient Indian kingdom of Kasmira, stories don’t begin with “once upon a time.”
Instead, Kasmiris start a woman’s story with those who came before her: her parents, grandparents, ancestors. For fourteen-year-old Reya Kandhari, her story always starts the same: with the fabled line of Bookweavers, tracing centuries back to the lost Yogis—the mythical guardians of Kasmiri culture who created the world itself. As a result, Reya’s entire life has been shaped by words. Words of mystique and mythology. Words of magic that allow her father, the Bookweaver, to bring his stories to life. Words of power that make him the target of tyrants who will stop at nothing to destroy magic in Kasmira.
Living in disguise as a peasant in the fields, Reya’s sole focus is protecting the Bookweaver’s secret. But when her father is taken, Reya must flee deep into the jungle, alone with her best friend Nina and one ancient book. Grappling with Reya’s newfound magic, the two girls find themselves in the center of a war of liberation where magic reigns unchecked, and destiny takes a dark turn. As the stakes get higher, Reya realizes that her father’s legacy contains more power than she ever imagined. For Reya Kandhari is more than just a fugitive—she is a symbol of revolution. And that makes her a threat.
In a tale of magic, Indian lore, and radical female friendship, Reya must pass the final test: the Bookweaver’s daughter must weave her own destiny. The fate of Kasmira depends on it.
This is a book that I was really looking forward to and was so excited to receive. I rushed through some other books just to make sure I could read and review this one on time for its release. The description of it just sounded SO interesting and I just knew that I would love it. But sadly I was wrong. While the premise itself is absolutely fantastic and I commend her for her creativity, there were just too many issues with the book overall for me to say that I actually liked it.
I’ve read a few reviews now by people that are more equipped than me to judge the accuracy of the references to the culture that this book is based on (see links to two of them towards the end of this post). I have no issue admitting that I know next to nothing about that culture and will therefore refrain from passing judgement on that. I did however have thoughts about the writing and plot that I will lay out below.
As I said above, the plot ideas themselves were not terrible. The execution of them though were not very elegant to put it lightly. The entire story felt like it was one climax after another and as a reader I felt like I never got a break. There were hardly any slower scenes to catch your breath and to bring beautiful little details to the story. This rushing through events also made it seem as if things were just too easy for the main characters to really make sense. An untrained girl beats a young but supposedly well-trained commander of the imperial army before she even learns to use her magic? And she keeps getting herself out of situations that grown resistance fighters with years of experience cannot escape from? A lot of the scenes just did not really make sense to me whether it was due to lack of details, unexplained talent or lack of talent of certain characters, or the timing of things just being…. off.
While I generally love first person narrations, I honestly found myself wishing it would switch to somebody else sometimes. I know the narrator was a young girl but her constantly erupting emotions just really threw me off sometimes. This story was supposed to be built on the foundation of a strong relationship between Reya and Nina, yet from the start I struggled to understand what their relationship really was. It seemed to constantly teeter between best friends for years and then not knowing each other all that way after all, even denying the existence of her best friend completely at one point by lamenting the fact that she was so lonely and had nobody in the world that could ground her enough to master her magic. It was confusing to say the least.
But this weird relationship also extends to other parts of the book as well. I struggle to understand how she feels so bonded to people that she hardly knows. Of course, tragedy and struggles like those in the book can bind people together a lot, but there just was not any focus on building relationships with others at all. They were simply assumed each time. On the other hand, a character she had maybe met three times at this point and that was intent on killing her, she all of a sudden knew well enough to notice emotions that those people who knew him his whole life would not notice?
Overall to avoid going into too many details, many of the characters seemed overly emotional and unprofessional to hold the roles they have in this book. There were phrases, such as “rookie” and “what the hell,” that just seemed really off-putting and unnatural for the setting, and the Latin-based magical words felt out of place in an Indian-inspired book as well.
So to close this out, this is the debut novel of a teenage writer. I did not know that until I did some research after finishing the book. I probably would’ve judged it a little less harshly during my reading if I had known that ahead of time. She does seem to have a lot of creativity and I appreciate how she spoke about the importance of books and reading in the story itself. Hopefully with more practice and experience, she will improve her writing and research skills over the next years and come out with some great works.
About the Author:
Malavika Kannan is a 19-year-old author and advocate for girls changing the world.
She’s written about politics, identity and culture for HuffPost, Washington Post, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, NYLON, Harper’s Bazaar, Vice, Buzzfeed News, and The Stanford Daily. Her writing has won accolades from Scholastic Art & Writing, YoungArts, the Library of Congress, and the Stanford Boothe Prize.
Beyond the page, Malavika is an advocate for girls of color. In high school, she founded Homegirl Project, a youth-led organization that trains girls of color in political organizing. She’s organized with the Women’s March, March For Our Lives, and Giffords, including Slam Gun Violence, a viral poetry campaign released by Refinery29. She was recognized as a 2018 HerLead Fellow, 2019 US Senate Youth Delegate, and 2019 Cameron Impact Scholar.
When she’s not writing, Malavika enjoys beaching, snacking, thrifting, reading, and calling her representatives. You can keep up with her on Instagram and her newsletter.
About Home Girl Project:
Homegirl Project is a youth-led organization that empowers the next generation of girls and non-binary youth of color to become political leaders in our communities. We don’t just want a seat at the table where decisions are made — we want to build our own table, one that’s big enough for us all.
Our mission is simple: Homegirl Project provides girls of color with accessible political resources so that they’re amplified, mentored, and prepared to lead change. In doing so, we disrupt harmful narratives around girls of color, foster intergenerational solidarity, and develop girls’ capacity for long-term leadership. Because by ourselves, we’re a one-person show. But with our Homegirls? We’re a movement.
About the Publisher:
Tanglewood is a small, independent-minded publishing company that publishes books kids will love to read.
If you would like to read two posts that include the cultural aspect of this book, check out these two!
Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.