Kill One, Save Thousands

30 Sep

Linda Smith’s The Broken Thread was published posthumously in 2008. It’s a quick read, but certainly interesting. It tells the story of Alina Sutter, who is selected to join the women of the Isle of Weaving, to help weave a huge tapestry telling the fate of the world. But when she accidentally causes thousands of threads to snap, signaling thousands of lives lost, she is sent across space and time to put things right. But is she willing to pay the cost asked of her?

When Alina instinctively binds together a broken thread in the great tapestry, she stops Ranjan, the crown prince of a distant land, from dying as a young child. Now he will grow up to be a cruel tyrant, and thousands of others will die instead. So Alina is sent to Ranjan’s land, to ensure the young boy dies. She ends up as his assigned companion, tasked with his safety and well-being, while simultaneously searching for a way to kill him. But as she grows to know him, she finds a ten year-old very similar to her own brother, who has been taught to trust no one in a palace of intrigue and lies. Can Alina bring herself to kill a little boy to save thousands of others?

Alina’s struggle is certainly unenviable, but her morals and instincts keep her from being inhuman. She bears the collective guilt of the multitude of snapped threads, but also of her plot to kill the prince while ostensibly tasked to save him. This bites deep, particularly as the prince grows to like and trust her, and she garners the respect of his personal guard. If Ranjan has killed no one yet, is her preventive strike warranted? The life of one for the life of thousands seems to make sense on paper, but Ranjan’s life is not easy and he has yet to become a monster.

This is a quest story where the heroine’s struggle is actually against her own quest, which is rare. She doesn’t dislike her task because she doesn’t want the responsibility or she just wants to go home, she dislikes it because she isn’t sure it’s right. For a while she debates letting one of the numerous assassination attempts made on the young prince succeed – thus killing him without actually having to do it herself – but that still rankles. Many other literary heroes have faced this choice, and every time the have killed one to save a thousand (see Terminator 2, Wanted, etc), but Alina honestly struggles with the brutal face of it every night she tucks Ranjan in to bed, and The Broken Thread is an interesting and honest take on an old quandary.

This book is a quick and relatively easy read, but entertaining on all levels, and I’d recommend it for younger, middle, and upper-grade readers.

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