A Fragile Enchantment by Allison Saft
Niamh Ó Conchobhair has never let herself long for more. The magic in her blood that lets her stitch emotions and memories into fabric is the same magic that will eventually kill her. Determined to spend the little time she has left guaranteeing a better life for her family, Niamh jumps at the chance to design the wardrobe for a royal wedding in the neighboring kingdom of Avaland.
But Avaland is far from the fairytale that she imagined. While young nobles attend candlelit balls and elegant garden parties, unrest brews amid the working class. The groom himself, Kit Carmine, is prickly, abrasive, and begrudgingly being dragged to the altar as a political pawn. But when Niamh and Kit grow closer, an unlikely friendship blossoms into something more—until an anonymous gossip columnist starts buzzing about their chemistry, promising to leave them alone only if Niamh helps to uncover the royal family’s secrets. The rot at the heart of Avaland runs deep, but exposing it could risk a future she never let herself dream of, and a love she never thought possible.
Transporting readers to a Regency England-inspired fantasy world, A Fragile Enchantment is a sweeping romance threaded with intrigue, unforgettable characters, and a love story for the ages.
PUBLISHER: Wednesday Books
LENGTH: 384 pages
GENRE: Fantasy, Historical, Romance
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Main Character(s), Gay/Achillean Secondary Character(s), Bi/Pan Main Character(s), Closeted Secondary Character(s).
*I received a free review copy in exchange for an honest review of this book.
A FRAGILE ENCHANTMENT is an emotional story of complicated paths to happiness, featuring a seamstress who falls in love with the prince whose wedding clothes she's designing. With much to prove and everything to lose, Niamh tries to hide her feelings in order to not make a volatile political situation even worse by upending the upcoming wedding. But, as they spend more and more time together, her feelings become impossible to hide, and his protectiveness is starting to include her wellbeing.
The worldbuilding is excellent, working with the characterization to set up a fantasy version of regency England (Avaland), complete with a magic-fueled but no less terrible history with fantasy Ireland (Machland), including calling out this fictional version of the potato blight and contributing policies as genocide. One of the core tensions in the book is that Kit's brother and current regent, Jack, is ignoring the frustrated calls for better treatment and redress of concerns from the Machlish. Niamh is a Machlishwoman, invited to Avaland for her magic and skills as a seamstress. She finds herself falling in love with Kit when she's supposed to be making the clothes for his wedding and the formal appearances leading up to the bit event. Rosa, his betrothed (from what I'm pretty sure is fantasy Catalan or perhaps Spain), is as personally uninterested in the wedding as Kit is, but they are both going through with the political union for the sake of others. This leads to a very fun narrative space where Niamh is trying to navigate her feelings for Kit, but isn't automatically breaking someone else's heart in pursuing her own happiness. The mysterious gossip columnist, on the other hand, keeps having something to say about it, driving the threats of scandal even if the parties directly involved don't see it that way.
I love Kit and Niamh's chemistry. I'm a sucker for most variants of grumpy/sunshine, and especially for brooding (masc) characters who get pulled out of their shell, and this one is excellent. As the story unfolds, Kit's initial combativeness and disdain makes much more sense. I laughed and laughed when I got to the part with the very first item Niamh made for Kit. It's such a fantastic bit of characterization and plot, just the idea of that coat as his first real introduction to her skill in a public-facing setting. They've both become used to putting aside their own wants and needs in order to sacrifice for others, but each of them has been going about it in different ways. Kit has been floundering and frustrated because none of his direct attempts make it through to his brother and he's oscillating between desperately trying and abandoning all hope. Niamh is using up her time and body by being reckless with her energy when she has a hereditary chronic illness which will eventually turn terminal. They've both been trading pieces of themselves to help other people, and their relationship is the first positive and selfish thing either of them has attempted in a long while.
I'm very pleased with the ending, it's even better than I could have hoped for and more than any of the characters dared to dream. I'm looking forward to what this author does next.
Moderate CW for cursing, sexual content, xenophobia, homophobia, bullying, drug use, chronic illness, alcohol, blood, injury detail, colonization.
Minor CW for antisemitism, grief, infidelity, lesbophobia, alcoholism, drug abuse, child abuse, vomit, genocide, war, parental death, death.