Threadneedle by Cari Thomas (The Language of Magic #1)

Author: Cari Thomas
Release date: 27th May 2021
Publisher:  HarperVoyager
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy, Paranormal, Coming of Age
Goodreads: Here 

Within the boroughs of London, nestled among its streets, hides another city filled with magic.

Ever since Anna can remember, her aunt has warned her of the dangers of magic. She has taught her to fear how it twists and knots and turns into something dark and deadly.

It was, after all, magic that killed her parents and left her in her aunt’s care. It’s why she has been protected from the magical world and, in one year’s time, what little magic she has will be bound. She will join her aunt alongside the other Binders who believe magic is a sin not to be used, but denied. Only one more year and she will be free of the curse of magic, her aunt’s teachings and the disappointment of the little she is capable of.

Nothing – and no one – could change her mind before then. Could it?


Happy New Year, everyone! How’s 2021 been so far? I know it’s super early to tell, but I’m hoping that if vibes are good for the first few days, it’ll go on for the rest and beyond — most likely a pipe dream to hope it’ll go beyond the rest of 2021, but wishing for a good year is a good start!

If any of you follow me on Twitter, I think you would know that Threadneedle is one of my most anticipated reads of 2021! This upcoming series is set in contemporary London where magic exists on the fringes. Vintage shops that sell memories, underground libraries where librarians feed off words, and most of all, clubs where revellers get high on spells! That last bit, was the one push this book needed for me to get on board, as I am extremely curious of how that would work neurochemistry-wise (this is what being a recent Psychology graduate who took Neuropsychology courses does to yours truly).

Did I get the answer to that question? Was this book worth the hype its publisher built for it?

Stay tuned to find out ^^

Review

I’m not going to lie, I came into Threadneedle expecting a more mature story given that it was classified as General Adult fiction — so imagine my surprise when I found this story to lean a little more heavily towards Young Adult than I would have normally liked with its extensive focus on high-school drama. Threadneedle, however, had about enough to keep me hooked. The intimidating length between Threadneedle‘s slow-burn pages packs lots of character building and drama amongst the magic and the mystery that ultimately come together in an unexpected yet gripping way.

Thomas starts Threadneedle right off the bat with a horrific scene of seven witches hung to death in the Elizabeth Tower of London. Even as it switches to Anna’s grim life with her Aunt, there remains a dark, incredibly unsettling undercurrent that I just could not shake off. Be it Anna’s abuse and gaslighting by her Aunt’s hands (I felt especially sick reading these certain scenes), the collective paranoia the Binders share on the dangers of magic, and the equally abusive environment the Binders foster — it told me right away that this book will turn grim, one way or another.

Aunt is a frightful character, as cruel as she is powerful but she is also an enigma with secrets and unknown motivations that seem a lot more than just wanting Anna to bind her magic for her own safety. Her fixation on how Anna’s magic is a curse presents her paranoia as one tinged with something else that one just can’t discern, at least not with the right clues. Anna’s powerlessness truly comes across and like her magic, her curiosity is constantly suppressed.

When her long-time family friend Selene arrives with her daughter Effie and ward Attis, Anna finds herself drawn to the “forbidden” magic as Effie draws not just her, but three other witches in their school to form a coven—the Coven of the Dark Moon—and explore the vast potentials of their magic. Now this part, was my favourite in the book: I love the concept of magic and the modern contemporary world intersecting in ways I didn’t always expect, and that there are many different types of magic being practiced – each with their own language. Thomas also takes the opportunity to flex some botanical and chemistry prowess (which I sorely lack) here; and her use of how magical expression translates to a certain language in magic that one may find themselves more attuned to got me hook, line, and sinker. There’s even an underground library where an entity who feeds off words resides, and a vintage store in which its items store the strongest memories of their last owners. Richly imaginative, sumptuous, and entertaining, Thomas’s magical London is one I’m bound to love (and long to explore further).

Now I mentioned earlier that there is a scene set on clubs where revellers get high on spells! I was extremely curious of how that would work neurochemistry-wise and that was my main reason to picking up this book. Now did I get what I sought for? Unfortunately no, as the writing made it seem like it was a club where witches get themselves neck-deep in hedonism. I may have set myself up for failure here, since I had been expecting an elaborate spell-casting and the process of getting high so I could figure out how it works. While my quest was a failure, I am definitely willing to chalk this up to the spell having the effect of generating more activity in the dopaminergic system.

I also wish that some aspects of magic had been as detailed, namely how the magical force came to be known as “hira.” I’m definitely interested in the origin of this specific terminology in linguistic and cultural terms. In addition, I’m a little bit concerned since this could be treading dangerous waters as Hira in our world is a term for a mythical monster known among the Songhai people of West Africa. Here’s hoping we’ll get more explanation as the Language of Magic series goes on.

The truly compelling portrayal of magic in this book, however, is rooted in Anna’s compulsive knotting (as her magic is prone to be emotionally-charged) and her fascination to magic. Whenever her magic comes to life, it bursts at the seams and this comes to a climax in a certain scene where her magic soars as she plays the piano in a recital. Her magic is rooted in the concept of embroidery and reading the scene where it blends beautifully with the language of music tugged at my heartstrings, as if I was also spell-bound.

It isn’t all roses and sweet tunes, however, as the Coven of the Dark Moon’s adventures grow more reckless courtesy of Effie’s influence. The high school drama comes to a climax as their clash with the school’s resident bullies come to a head and the coven decides to seek revenge on their terms. With frequent mentions of the dangers of magic, Effie’s recklessness, the strange circumstances of Anna’s magic, and Aunt’s paranoia, it felt like something could go wrong any second. When Anna senses that something is going horribly wrong after the spell, it also spelt Threadneedle‘s shift to darker territory, where Anna’s story was no longer a coming-of-age story. Thanks to a combination of terrible luck, more extensive abuse, and teen recklessness, the coven’s revenge plot took a sinister turn where the secrets between Anna’s parents’ deaths and her curse begin to come to light; and Anna has to, in turn, confront both those secrets and the enigma that is her Aunt.

I had a feeling that Threadneedle was bound to devolve to something more sinister, and I was proven horribly right as Thomas pulls together her character work, Anna’s abuse, her chilling encounters with dark magic, and the lingering warnings of the dangers of magic to deliver a plot twist so unnerving it reminded me of how I felt about Mirrorland‘s (funnily enough, another title under a HarperCollins UK imprint) plot twist. It was a breathtaking turn I did not expect, and one that saw Anna’s suppressed inner turmoil unfurling as she is pushed to the brink.

Threadneedle ends with a mostly-resolved storyline, but some mysteries remain to be explored and consequences are yet to be paid in full. The Binders’ paranoia of witch hunters and the deaths of the seven witches come full circle as Thomas escalates the stakes of her series in her ending with one last intersection between the magical and the contemporary: the news, and conspiracy theories bound to attract attention to London’s magical scene. Thomas promises chaos in the next installment of The Language of Magic series, and I cannot wait to see how things further unfold. Clearly, there are dark forces at work but I have a feeling Thomas is biding her time to introduce them to us.

Concluding Thoughts

Threadneedle was a bewitching debut with strongly imaginative, seductive prose, richly drawn characters, sumptuous magic, splendid villains. I can see why this book was hyped up in social media, and I can say that the hype is certainly justified. The Language of Magic‘s first installment suggests that it’ll be a strong series and that we can expect more enticing magic in its following installments, so I have strong hopes Thomas keeps that promise.

Of course, I also had a wish list of things that could be improved in the next installment, but they’re mostly nitpicks. For specifics, I wanted more detail on magic in this series (more emphasis on magic in general, in fact), faster pacing, and a more mature feel in the next books.

Still, Cari Thomas’s Threadneedle was enthralling enough to bind me in its spell. With so many good things under its belt, how could it not?

Threadneedle is currently available for pre-order, set for official release on 27th May 2021

Acknowledgements

Thank you, HarperVoyager UK, for giving me an advance review copy of Threadneedle! I am grateful to have been provided a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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