Author: Michael Jensen and David Powers King
Nels lives alone with his overprotective mother, and he generally follows her wishes—until the day he slips off to the Cobblestown festival and sets in motion a chain of events that ends with his death. Now little more than a ghost, he and the insufferable Princess Tyra strike out on a quest to restore him and perhaps save more than they know.
I knew this was going to be a romance from the jacket description, but picked it up anyway, hoping the fantasy aspects would be solid enough to form an actual story beyond “two people who don’t like each other initially fall in love.” And at that the book does pretty well. I felt that the romance and fantasy were balanced, and the fantasy, at least, captured my interest.
Nels is a bit too perfect (and it’s frankly creepy how his mom keeps referring to him as her “perfect son”), but once he dies everything changes. I adore the scenes where he’s haunting Tyra in her castle and making everyone think she’s insane. I think his character arc is a bit jerky. He’s noble and knightly when he’s nothing but a peasant, and then Tyra annoys him enough to act the way any reasonable person would act around her, and then after a certain conversation he determines to be impeccably noble towards her. I’m still honestly not sure why he liked her. She’s pretty and eventually unbends a bit, but the majority of the book takes place in a two week timeframe.
Going along with that, I wasn’t entirely convinced that Tyra would turn as supposedly decent as she became by the end. It seemed she’d been a brat for most of her life, and two weeks didn’t feel like long enough to change that much. I actually really hoped she’d end up with the arrogant jerk she’d set her heart on in the beginning, because the two would have been a perfect storm.
The romance also falls into the “destined to be together” trap. I did like how it wasn’t completely automatic, but I would have preferred if Tyra had conjurer powers or some other reason to explain why she was the only one who could see Nels.
The magic system was interesting, though. As the title implies, one major branch is called Fabrication, and deals with threads of power. I didn’t like how the various terms kept getting italicized, but it was nice how the story brings in things like slip stitches and seam rippers as actual magic. I was curious about the conjurers and diviners, but they feel more like placeholders for a future book.
Other worldbuilding was a bit vague. The kingdom of Avërand is described as prosperous, but ruled by a completely apathetic and useless king. Strangely, the neighboring kingdoms appear to be fine with just leaving them alone. Then there were other places, like Westmine, with interesting bits of history that would have been nice to see more fleshed out.
So I’m a little on the fence about how to rate this one. If the ghost story sounds appealing, and what I described about the romance doesn’t turn you off, then by all means read it. But if these are tropes that you’d rather never see again, then the rest of the story probably won’t be enough to cover that. I rate this book Recommended (with cautions).