Welcome to another Book Review Tuesday. I’m delighted to share my review of D. Wallace Peach’s latest release, a gem of a novel that combines seafaring adventure with superb world-building and engaging characters. I love this author’s way with words, her prose both lyrical and gritty.
The merrow rule the sea. Slender creatures, fair of face, with silver scales and the graceful tails of angelfish. Caught in a Brid Clarion net, the daughter of the sea witch perishes in the sunlit air. Her fingers dangle above the swells.
The queen of the sea bares her sharp teeth and, in a fury of wind and waves, cleanses the brine of ships and men. But she spares a boy for his single act of kindness. Callum becomes the Ferryman, and until Brid Clarion pays its debt with royal blood, only his sails may cross the Deep.
Two warring nations, separated by the merrow’s trench, trade infant hostages in a commitment to peace. Now, the time has come for the heirs to return home. The Ferryman alone can undertake the exchange.
Yet, animosities are far from assuaged. While Brid Clarion’s islands bask in prosperity, Haf Killick, a floating city of derelict ships, rots and rusts and sinks into the reefs. Its ruler has other designs.
And the sea witch crafts dark bargains with all sides.
Callum is caught in the breach, with a long-held bargain of his own which, once discovered, will shatter this life.
Yes, this novel is classified as fantasy, but it reads like a nautical adventure wrapped in folklore and myth. Merrows control the sea between Brid Clarion and Haf Killick. After losing her daughter to the nets of Brid Clarion, the Sea Witch, queen of the Merrows, allows none but the ferryman to cross the water between the two kingdoms—one prosperous, the other sinking into ruin. Even then, such crossings of the deep require payment in blood by human sacrifice.
While Callum’s life is tied to the merrows and both kingdoms, the rulers of Brid Clarion and Haf Killick are wary of each other. This sets the stage for political intrigue, plotting and counter-plotting that grows ever more intricate as the story progress. The twists and turns are as slippery as nets cast into the sea. Just when I thought the course steady (and I could catch my breath), another plot thread veered in a direction I didn’t expect.
Characters are skillfully drawn, so that even while despising the actions of the villains, I understood the motives. As with any book by this author, the world is visually and exquisitely depicted. I felt as though I was on the open sea, could taste the salty brine of the deep and feel the roll of Callum’s ship. The writing is both lyrical and gritty—not an easy combination to pull off—bringing every scene to vibrant life.
I was especially fascinated by the merrows. From the Panmar, the Sea Witch, to her fickle, playful, and cunning subjects who craft bargains with men, these are creatures beautiful and deadly. Once again, the author pens descriptions like liquid silver. There were passages I paused to read over for the sheer beauty of the words (sometimes darkly picturesque, sometimes resplendent and dazzling).
Callum’s character and those closest to him each stole my heart (even one that had me waffling on if I should like him or despise him). And when everything came together in the concluding pages, I couldn’t ask for a better ending. Once again, D. Wallace Peach proves her mastery with conflicted characters and fantastical realms. Highly recommended!