Threading the Needle
by Joshua Palmatier
Review by Sam Lubell
DAW Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780756411756
Date: 05 July 2016 List Price $27.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
I enjoyed Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier (reviewed here two years ago), the first book in the Ley Trilogy. I found the first book interesting for the way it subverted the usual fantasy clichés. Unfortunately, I felt a bit disappointed in the second book. While it works as an action story, the novel succumbs to the frequent problem of middle books in a trilogy--the stall.
In the classic trilogy, the first book sets up the situation and the third book resolves it; but there is no real role for the second book. Authors can have the characters try and fail to solve the problem, make the problem worse, introduce a subplot, or simply stall. To varying degrees Threading the Needle tries all of these tactics; but, for most the book, the characters' efforts to fix the shattered Ley are on hold as they cope with survival amid attacks from various enemies.
Threading the Needle opens several months after the first book ended. Some unknown catastrophe has shattered the Nexus, a magical system that harnessed the power of ley lines, used by the city of Erenthrall to maintain their civilization the way we use the electric power grid. Mysterious Ley distortions now block much of the city, leaving people (and vital supplies) frozen in time. Gangs of survivors roam the city and nearby areas as do Wolves, transformed humans who retain some of their intelligence in their deadly wolf forms.
Kara, one of the former Wielders of the magic of the Ley, and the other members of her band of University and Wielder refugees have adjusted to life in the more primitive rural Hollow. She still plans to somehow repair the Nexis, heal the distortions, and restore the city, but this has taken second place to finding food, beating off violent groups of other survivors, avoiding the half-human Wolves, and coping with earthquakes caused by the shattered Ley system. Kara is now living with her old friend Cory, a former university scholar. Allan, the former Dog (city guardsman), leads foraging trips to Erenthrall for supplies, using his strange ability to negate the Ley to travel inside the distortion shards.
After a supply wagon is attacked, the Hollow decides to send a team of Wielders, including Kara, their most powerful Wielder, to Erenthrall to heal some of the shards and take any food and medicine they find in them. Meanwhile, the Hollow will train more of its people militarily and build up its defenses. Kara hopes that working to heal a few shards would give them a way to cure the whole distortion.
But once in the city, the Hollow team find themselves caught in a war between two survivalist gangs--the Tunnelers and the young River Rats. Meanwhile, the Hollow itself comes under attack by raiders. So much of the book is filled with action scenes of fighting and chasing. Ultimately, Kara's team comes into conflict with the White Cloaks whose Wielders have established their own unstable Nexis, with the assistance of Kara's former mentor and lover Marcus.
In a subplot, Morrell, Allan's daughter, discovers she has magical healing abilities; she can even turn Wolves human again. She worries this will cause her trouble in the Hollow, as many of its residents dislike anything to do with the Ley.
Characterization mostly relies on the personalities established in the first book, with the exception of Morrell, who grows into her abilities. There are a few scenes where Kara's behavior seems influenced by her old ties to Marcus, but this does not lead to character development as Kara does not even consider its implications for her current relationship with Cory. There is some development of Cory, as he discovers a way to use the Ley as a weapon.
Despite suffering from middle book syndrome--failing to advance the trilogy's plot thread of fixing the Ley system--Threading the Needle is an exciting adventure story with lots of action. Hopefully, the third book will sew everything up nicely.