Summary: As soon as Sophie Hansa returned to our world, she is anxious to once again go back to Stormwrack. Unable to discuss the wondrous sights she has seen, and unable to tell anyone what happened to her in her time away, Sophie is in a holding pattern, focused entirely on her eventual chance to return.
With the sudden arrival of Garland Parrish, Sophie is once again gone. This time, she has been called back to Stormwrack in order to spend time with her father, a Duelist-Adjudicator, who is an unrivaled combatant and fearsome negotiator. But is he driven by his commitment to seeing justice prevail, or is he a sociopath? Soon, she discovers something repellent about him that makes her reject him, and everything he is offering.
Adrift again, she discovers that her time spent with her father is not without advantages, however, for Sophie has discovered there is nothing to stop her from setting up a forensic institute in Stormwrack, investigating cases that have been bogged down in the courts, sometimes for years. Her fresh look into a long-standing case between two of the islands turns up new information that could get her, and her friends, pulled into something bold and daring, which changes the entire way she approaches this strange new world…
Review: I have every reason to have loved Child of a Hidden Sea when I read it in 2014. Circumstances conspired to have me read it at the same time that things were going well in life, and I was at a bit of a happy high. It was, as I called it, “pure indulgent fantasy,” the concept reminiscent of many old daydreams that used to entertain me when I was younger. And it was written by A M Dellamonica, an author I’d previously established was a damn good writer and who had great talent for writing phenomenal characters that I want to spend time with. It was set up for success in my mind.
So unsurprisingly, I was excited to be able to read the sequel, and I had very high hopes for it.
The book starts with Sophie doing her level best to prepare for an eventual return to Stormwrack. She’s taking self-defense lessons, learning what she can about nautical navigation, trying to find a way to make sure she can take full advantage of everything when she returns to that other world. But when she does return, all her preparations seem pointless when she’s expressly forbidden to actively learn anything. No access to books, people aren’t to give her too much information about science or geography or the like, and Sophie’s frustration is pretty understandable when put up against people who want to keep her in the dark about the world she’s determined to be a part of.
On top of that, her biological father wants to reconnect, and Sophie’s not at all averse to this idea, especially when it seems that he’ll actually encourage her in learning about Stormwrack rather than stymie her.
I have to say that A Daughter of No Nation wasn’t quite what I was expecting. While the previous book in the series did heavily feature exploration and discovery, it was better mixed with action and tension than this one. Here, most of the story is just about Sophie learning, getting into arguments with people, and trying to solve a couple of mysteries that present themselves along the way, one of which she latches onto like a dog with a bone despite having little reason to beyond a hunch. Turns out it was a bigger deal than everyone else thought, and it seemed like many of them followed leads just to indulge her, so that subplot felt a bit forced and incidental than necessary. It would pop up from time to time, a small new revelation would occur, then the story would go back to the main focus.
I’m no expert, but I suspect I’d have been more interested in developments had that all been conveyed more actively than passively. Other people did the investigation, out of sight, while Sophie did other things, and so it felt very divorced from, well, just about everything. It had its purpose, but it was nearly all background stuff until it came to a head, so it came across rather like a small series of unimportant things that suddenly became huge, out of nowhere. Despite Sophie wanting it investigated, and despite other characters investigating and updating her. It was easy to ignore because it was sidelined so often, only to rear its head half a dozen chapters later for maybe a few paragraphs.
But enough of that. What about the rest of the book?
If you’re looking for an action-packed tale of adventure on the high seas, you won’t really find too much of it here. Rather, this is more of Sophie discovering who she is and where she fits into a world that she’s only recently discovered but still has many ties to. It’s like a combination coming-of-age story, a political debate, and a crime drama, rolled into one and set in a fantasy world. As such, while it definitely appealed to me (and will thus probably appeal similarly to those who really enjoy some good solid culture-building), it won’t appeal to everybody, and I suspect some readers will be left rather bored at the lack of development in much other than Sophie’s personal life.
But Dellamonica’s presentation of multiple different culture clashes gave me plenty of food for thought. Is it better to allow a lesser evil if it means a greater evil can’t endure, or is it better to hold true to shared ideals and to fight against what you see as immoral rather than embracing it with concessions? How much of your own morals might you sacrifice in the pursuit of something you hold dear? Sophie and Parrish’s love life was a bit of an echo of Fleet politics: in some ways they hold different opinions on certain matters but are still willing to make a go of being a couple. This is generally see as a good and healthy thing, the willingness to make compromises, but this being something of a mirror of how the Fleet views different nations (and Sophie finding some concessions abhorrent), I found it interesting that what we praise as individuals we often frown on when presented politically.
I also love how we get a much deeper understanding of what Stormwrack really is. In my previous review I speculated that it was an alternate world, since there were elements of shared mythology. And this isn’t an issue that Sophie overlooks; through her research she speculates that most likely Stormwrack is the world of the future, or at least A future, which which massive climate changed caused equally massive flooding over the whole planet. Add to that her investigations into evolution, and some of the book starts to look an awful lot like science-fiction, although a kind that isn’t particularly common since it has its strongest roots in fantasy. Sci-fi that looks like fantasy tends to get a lot of criticism unless it’s game-changing for both genres, but really, I rather like it. It’s in the same way that I enjoy the way authors establish firm rules for how their fantasy worlds work, not just in geography and a few different cultures but in how magic happens and affects things and how technology develops and all of little aspects of life that can get taken for granted in a lot of fantasy novels. Approaching fantasy in a scientific manner has always fascinated me, so I loved that I got to see more of how it all works behind the scenes. Sophie’s inquisitive mind and determination to learn more about things works extremely well to convey all this to the reader, and we discover it exactly as she does, lending another connection between reader and protagonist.
So while this book isn’t heavy on action, or real forward motion in terms of a over-arching series plot, it was still a good book that has its appeal to certain audiences, and I still enjoyed reading it. I love Dellamonica’s writing style, and the way she writes people as wonderful flawed complex creatures will never cease to entertain me. For those who enjoyed the first book in the series, depending on which parts of it you liked best, then I recommend continuing on with A Daughter of No Nation. Others may find its lack of active tension a major drawback, however. But for my part, the world intrigues me, the characters fascinate me, and I’ll be continuing my journey of discovery right alongside Sophie in any future novels Dellamonica writes.
(Received for review from the publisher.)