My rating: I’d go there again! (4/5)
How to start an adventure and intrigue on the high seas: Take an intrepid young woman, confident in her scuba diving, climbing, and wilderness survival abilities, curious about biology, and self-conscious about her ability to express herself. Have her witness an attack on her aunt while stalking her birth mother. Toss her onto a different Earth, where the sea extends so far that the nations are all island nations, and all the modes of travel on the sea. Add magic, in the form of writing inscriptions using people’s true names. Mix in some truly intriguing characters, including a genius brother, a jealous half-sister, a stiff ship captain, a promiscuous horse and spider breeder, and some villainous pirates and bigots.
I loved Child of a Hidden Sea. It ticked all my favorite boxes, with a strong but vulnerable heroine, a realistic sibling relationship, romance, sailing, adventure, swords(!), monsters and exotic locales, mystery and suspense.
Sophie is a young woman who was adopted into a family of geniuses. Her brother is the kind of prodigy that graduated from high school at age 12. Her family is loving, but she desperately wants to know her biological family. Her search (read: stalking) drops her into a world no one would ever expect existed: Stormwrack, a planet not unlike our Earth, whose societies are built around the oceans that cover the vast majority of the planet. 100 years ago, after brutal wars, the island nations signed a treaty, and now their legal and justice systems revolve around witness statements, character references, and dueling. Sophie has mistakenly appropriated the inheritance of her half-sister, and while trying to resolve that, avoid the villains, keep her brother safe, and solve the mystery of her aunt’s murder, she investigates the flora and fauna of her new surroundings and develops a crush.
The world building is intricate, complex, and realistic, with island nations that have distinct characteristics, a vast international political structure, and a society that deals in magic instead of technology. Descriptions vividly evoke these different cultures without distracting from the story, plot, or character/relationship building. The plot is well-paced, without being too slow or too fast. I found I could savor this one, even though I couldn’t put it down. The adventure consists of traveling, fighting with monsters, battling in a court case, and searching for treasure, so there’s a lot of variation and complexity to enjoy. There’s a bit of humor as well, as Sophie banters with her brother and reacts to the dangers and absurdities of Stormwrack.
In some ways, the characters were predictable and typified – Bram (Sophie’s brother) the kid genius, Sophie the nearly-perfect-with-one-flaw, Parrish, the uptight sea captain, and the villains, who are villains mostly because they are bigoted or pirates (although they do have political motivations). Many of the characters have characteristics that express their nationality – if I were to put characters from column A into nationalities from column B, it would be very straightforward: match the characters’ characteristics to the nations’ characteristics. It would be interesting to see some characters who don’t perfectly represent their home cultures. Sophie’s mother, Beatrice, is the exception to this – and she left Stormwrack years ago to live on Earth. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed following Sophie and Bram on their adventures.
Although the immediate plot line was tied up satisfactorily, several loose ends have been left dangling, and the author comes right out and says there will be more adventures for Sophie and her brother on Stormwrack, and this time I mean it when I say I can’t wait to read the sequel, in which I hope Sophie gets to know her father and a certain ship captain better. Highly recommended for fans of adventure and fantasy.
*Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Slightly darker, but with themes of a young woman (this time a high schooler) with mysterious heritage who unexpectedly travels to parallel Earths and gets mixed up in local politics, is Dreamwalker by C. S. Friedman.
The Other Tree, by D.K. Mok, is a superb adventure story about a young plant biology student who hunts for the Tree of Life to save it from the greedy corporate hands of SinaCorp, a company that specializes in the rare and unusual, and whose CEO is obsessed with immortality. Great humor, exciting adventure and suspense, and a dash of romance.
In Coronets and Steel, Sherwood Smith begins a trilogy about a young modern woman who discovers a world full of ghosts, vampires, and fairy tale creatures when she ventures into her ancestral country, the fictional Dobrenica. Swordplay, magic, and romance abound.
For an alternate universe adventure with action on the water, check out Martha Wells‘ The Fall of Ile-Rien series, which has great characters and complex worldbuilding. Tremaine, a woman from a world that looks and feels like the 1800s in England, accidentally ends up on another, more natural world. There’s too much in this to describe here, so click on the image to find out more!