Author: A. M. Dellamonica
Genre: Portal Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Published: June 24th 2014
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Blurb (taken from Goodreads): One minute, twenty-four-year-old Sophie Hansa is in a San Francisco alley trying to save the life of the aunt she has never known. The next, she finds herself flung into the warm and salty waters of an unfamiliar world. Glowing moths fall to the waves around her, and the sleek bodies of unseen fish glide against her submerged ankles.
The world is Stormwrack, a series of island nations with a variety of cultures and economies—and a language different from any Sophie has heard.
Sophie doesn't know it yet, but she has just stepped into the middle of a political firestorm, and a conspiracy that could destroy a world she has just discovered… her world, where everyone seems to know who she is, and where she is forbidden to stay.
But Sophie is stubborn, and smart, and refuses to be cast adrift by people who don't know her and yet wish her gone. With the help of a sister she has never known, and a ship captain who would rather she had never arrived, she must navigate the shoals of the highly charged politics of Stormwrack, and win the right to decide for herself whether she stays in this wondrous world... or is doomed to exile.
Why I read it:I love portal fantasies and anything nautical, so this looked right up my alley.
My thoughts:There was so much I loved about this book: the characters, the nautical setting, the irreverent tone...
I’m going to discuss the characters first, because they were what I enjoyed most about this novel. The main character was Sophie, a thrill-seeking American biologist in her mid-twenties. Adopted at birth, she finally tracks down her biomom – and then gets accidentally transported into the world of Stormwreck for her troubles. (As her brother Bran later comments, “It’s not enough to go looking for a few biological relatives, you mad overachiever? You have to find a whole birth planet.”) For a middle-class girl from San Francisco, Sophie’s skillset is remarkably apt for this alternative archipelago world - she can dive, climb, sail, and is handy with a camera – but she never comes off as a Mary Sue. Although she’s calm under pressure when she’s doing something she’s been trained in, there’s a lot that happens in Stormwreck that she was completely unequipped to deal with. Watching her work through that made her a very interesting character.
But Sophie wasn’t the only character I loved. This book is very much about Sophie’s two families – both real and birth – so her brother Bran, half-sister Verena, and other relatives play central parts. Captain Parrish & First Mate Tobias, sailors on her aunt’s ship Nightjar, were also key players. Bran was probably one of my favourites. He spends much of the novel conducting an intellectual quest to determine the origins of Stormwreck, picking up the local language (although his stupendous ability in Fleetspeak seemed unrealistic to me. I’m sorry, but nobody learns languages that fast) and bantering with Sophie. The only thing that disappointed me was Bran’s single status – after he acknowledged that “Captain Tasty” was a suitable nickname for Parrish, I wanted a shipboard romance between the pair SO MUCH.
One thing I also liked (and will thus comment on, because I always seem to) is that there is a lot of diversity here. Firstly – gay people exist, yay! Both Bran and Tobias are queer, as well as a random few others throughout in the novel. We find out about their sexuality because it’s (somewhat) relevant to the plot, and Dellamonica later confirms that the rest of the Fleet doesn’t give a toss about your sexuality. There are some religious zealots who think homosexuality is sinful, but they are looked down on by the main characters for it. Secondly, the world isn’t entirely Caucasian. Parrish is probably the most notable PoC – I think he's meant to be the guy crouched on the cover with Sophie.
I also really enjoyed the world. Both the magic system and intricacies of government protocol seemed really interesting, although we saw less of them then I’d like. I really like having the nuts and bolts of a magic system laid out clearly (perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Brandson Sanderson here!) but Dellamonica keeps most details on how inscriptions function under wraps. This does make sense as Sophie doesn’t understand magic in any depth either, but I hope it gets expanded it later novels. The multiple islands and cultures also mean there is still a lot of explore. Gah. Can you tell I want the sequel?!
My one criticism is the lack of a map - given how much time Bran and Sophie spend pouring over charts and children’s drawings of Stormwreak, I was surprised the novel didn’t come complete with one. Dellamonica has explained this was excluded because Stormwreak is the size of Earth and predominately ocean, so a global map wouldn’t be that interesting. However, my inner cartographer would like to point out that included maps could always be on a large scale rather than a small one, or feature winds & currents instead of just ocean. I also think that showing just part of the world would link nicely to a lot of characters’ ignorance about the location of the outlying islands. But I suppose this has more to do with the packaging of the book than the book itself.
Basically, this is a brilliant novel: light in tone and cleverly plotted. I’d recommend it in a heartbeat.