So, my girls and boys, let’s get straight to it.
I liked this book. A lot. Why?
It’s a smooth read. The sections flow from one to another without any great leaps of narrative or time. The text isn’t cluttered by descriptions, info dumps or thickets of adjectives. The sentences don’t ramble. As a result, it’s easy to read. Also because–
–the story focusses on 2 main characters: Joron Twiner and Lucky Meas. In a genre infamous for extensive casts, often with similar names, it’s refreshing to find a book where the opposite is the case. Joron and Meas are well-balanced, arrive ‘solidly’ and rise from that moment. And, though the obvious character journey is Joron’s, Meas has her own path to tread. One I think we will see more of in coming books.
The other players are teased into the story and there’s plenty of time to get used to who is who. Also: not an apostrophe in sight in any of the names. Not one. Thank you.
Names lead to world building.
The book has a nice balance of the known and unknown. I wasn’t swamped with new races or places that I had to get my head round. There were a few nice twists on English words (sister/ sither, aye/ ey). The Hag and Her lore added a depth to the world. There are dragons both legendary and real. And the matriarchal society with rank based on an ability to birth healthy children was a great idea, one that was made more believable by the grim traditions that underpin it: what happens to the ‘imperfect’ children and the corpse-lights. (Yuck.)
Which takes us to the ships. Those of the Fleet and the Dead (I wonder if that was a deliberate twist on ‘the quick and the dead’?). And not just any ships but vessels made from dragon bones. Where does someone get an idea like that?
I want my own 5-ribber so I can stand on the rump and yell orders at people as we sail the seas.
Which is where I’m heading with this part of the review: the sea. I grew up by it yet, strangely, don’t miss it until I am back by it.* I had a similar feeling with The Bone Ships. It reminded me how much I enjoyed Best Laid Plans (Rob Hayes) and Red Seas under Red Skies (Scott Lynch); it made me realise I like nautical fantasy, despite not knowing much more about ships other than they get wet. And this book combined the sea, dragons and a well-told story. What’s not to like?
(stop groaning at the back)
I did have a few minor issues…
There were two things.
The way Lucky Meas’s old crew wrangle a transfer to the Tide Child felt too convenient. What happened is possible, I guess, but I had a momentary, eyebrow-raised ‘really?’ moment.
The story lacked a foil to Meas and Joron. The characters that were shaping up to be the person you love-to-hate or hate-to-love fell by the wayside. Indyl Karrad was stonebound, I get it. Coughlin looked to be a great villain but switched allegiances after his own betrayal and then kind of vanished. The other potentials (Cwell, Kanvey, Dinyl & Meas’s sister) never really got a chance to sink their teeth or plots into Meas or Joron.
I realise that there are more books in the series and those characters may well come into their own in time (Well, those that are still alive…), but I wanted someone who I could gnash my teeth at whenever they skulked onto the page. And I never really got it.
I realise they are minor points. But in such a good book, they niggled.
SPOILER ALERT OVER!
To sum up, if you like nautical fantasy and rare beasts, you can’t go far wrong with this book.
Like I said, my boys and girls, I like this book. A lot.
* That said, the sea of my childhood wasn’t filled with longthresh. Seriously… Who writes a book about the ships and sailors and then fills their sea with carnivores that have a hankering for human flesh? That’s all kinds of twisted.