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A Fragile Enchantment by Alison Saft

A Fragile Enchantment is a gentle, cozy fantasy romance (I refuse to use the word romantasy–you can’t make me), and it’s perfect for anyone looking for a romance that’s got a solid conflict, but isn’t angsty. I loved this book. This book is like being wrapped up in a blanket that just came out of the dryer. This book is like drinking the perfect cup of tea while watching it snow outside, knowing you don’t have to leave the house.

This is a historical fantasy, and it’s loosely based on Ireland and England after The Great Famine. 

Niamh is a Machlish seamstress with the ability to sew enchantments into her work. She’s so talented she’s been invited to make the wedding clothes for Prince Kit Carmine of Avaland. For Niamh this is the opportunity of a lifetime, but it’s bittersweet. Machland suffered a blight that led to famine and its eventual separation from Avaland. Poverty has driven many of the Machlish to Avaland to look for work, but there’s still a great deal of bitterness that Avaland (and its royal family) essentially abandoned the Machlish to starvation when their own policies led to the blight.

Niamh doesn’t want to leave her home, but her success in creating the wardrobe for the prince could give her the money to open a shop in Avaland and support her mother and grandmother.

When Naimh arrives at the palace she finds Kit to be insufferable. He’s clearly going along with his marriage to appease his older brother, the king, and he’s being a brooding child about the entire thing. He insults Niamh’s abilities and without thinking, she tells him off. Instead of being fired, she finds herself earning his grudging respect. 

This is a Grumpy/Sunshine book in which Kit is obvious the grumpy one. That said, Niamh isn’t a Pollyanna; she’s got some real stuff going on in her life, but she refuses to take it out on anyone else.

There’s a lot happening in this book, but it all blends together wonderfully. Kit and Niamh start to fall in love, but there’s no chance of them being together because she’s so significantly below him in status and his marriage is needed for a political alliance. One of the things that solidifies their love story is that they both recognize in each other a person healing from generational trauma. Kit’s father was an abusive monster, and his brother has learned to cope by inertia. He just doesn’t deal with any issues that are presented to him. Niamh loves her mother and grandmother deeply, but her entire life has been about ensuring their survival:

Gran and Ma had never asked for her devotion, and yet she had given it to them without thinking. What else could she have done? For years, she’d watched them ration their meals, even when their garden produced a good yield. She’d learned to be helpful, to shape herself around the edges of their dark moods in the harvest season. She’d endured every prick of the needle and every sharp word of criticism while Gran taught her to perfect that family’s craft, a magic the Avlish had nearly eradicated. Sometimes, it felt as though she’d threaded all her family’s wounds onto a string and hung them around her own neck.

Any other oldest daughter’s feel that in their soul?

For Niamh and Kit, loving each other is the first selfish thing they’ve really allowed themselves to do.

I also loved the world building and magic system. This is a low-magic fantasy where only some people have magical abilities and those are relatively limited. Kit’s magic would be considered on the more powerful side, and it’s limited to an affinity with plants that allows them to grow and thrive. In one scene he’s very upset and barbed vines close around him like a cage, but he can’t do more than that.

Niamh’s ability to imbue her creations with magic was so cool and as a I knitter I really appreciated the concept:

Whatever she sewed possessed a subtle compulsion. No one could quite describe it, other than this: when you saw someone in a Niamh Ó Conchobhair piece, you felt something. Niamh had transformed a young widow into the very picture of sorrow. She had allowed wallflowers to vanish into the recesses of a ballroom. 

There’s also some political intrigue in the book with regard to why the king refuses to address any conflict coming his way, why Kit’s marriage is so important, and why there is a continued push by some of the Machlish for reparations.

That’s a lot to put into one story, but it blends together and unfolds seamlessly. The romance here is gentle and tender, with Kit and Niamh helping each other heal from familial trauma and set out on a path where they are allowed to put their own needs first. Even though the conflict is significant the book never feels dark.

With excellent world building and a fun magic system, plus a really beautiful romance, plus coziness (I love the cozy), I couldn’t find a single flaw in A Fragile Enchantment. This may well be my favorite fantasy romance I’ve read yet. 

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