The second novel by Finnish author Emmi Itäranta (Memory of Water), begins as a conspiracy thriller set in a dystopian fantasy kingdom, and quickly unfolds into something altogether more. It introduces its real story slowly and subtly, building a world and exploring why it came to be that way, until it eventually transmutes into something surprising. With vivid imagery, subtle menace, and a deeply human message, The Weaver is a deep and twisting tale of lasting power that will reward multiple readings.
Eliana is a member of the Guild of Weavers, the most prestigious on the Island. She’s also one of the few Islanders who can dream, an ability usually punished with imprisonment ostracization. She hides her secrets well, until the day she comes across a young woman injured outside the guild’s house, rendered mute by horrific wounds—and with Eliana’s name tattooed on her palm. As Eliana cares for the young woman, she is drawn into a web of mystery and corruption that bring to light the buried secrets of the Island’s history, and plunge her into danger.
The way Itäranta molds this dystopian setting is subtle. It’s like the she knows readers love to look for cracks in any imagined future, especially one as lush and vibrant as the one offered by the Island. As we discover the traditions and customs of the Island’s various districts, small details begin to crowd our awareness: the mysterious Council that appears at every major ceremony in blood-coral masks. The fact that no one seems to be literate. By the time the plot kicks into high gear, overrun with sadistic guards and bizarre secrets, it’s clear exactly what kind of horrifying oppression the characters face, opening the door to newer and more terrifying plot twists to come.
There’s a nice sense of ambiguity to these events. In much the same way readers are allowed to figure out what kind of oppressive society this is, the book also lets us find our own answers to its questions. If there is a lot of intrigue about a group of determined radicals fighting an oppressive government regime, the rebels actually…don’t sound much better. Not only do they intentionally keep supporters in the dark, the “Dreamers” they’re trying to save are tormented by a shadowy creature out of a gothic painting. It’s also clear the Island is dying, the people quietly panicking over ecological failures they can’t stop, leading to the Council tightening its grip more and more in an effort to do something. It gives the evil a reason, even if there’s not a particularly good one. The “why” of a dystopia should never be easy, and this one’s isn’t.
Above all else, this is that rare ecological disaster novel that carries a message of hope and renewal. Most eco-novels tend to be a warning about how terribly wrong things can go unless humans course correct. The Weaver opts for more optimism, its resolute heroine sure they can find a way to save humanity from its suicidal urges. “We can rebuild” might not be the most uplifting of message to a world facing down rising waters and worsening environmental disasters, and a lot still goes wrong over the course of the narrative, but that measure of hopefulness is a bright spot amidst all the gorgeous melancholy.