By A. M. Dellamonica
One second Sophie is saving a lady from being stabbed to death, and the next she’s in the middle of an unknown ocean. She soon finds that the local fauna is strange and unfamiliar, and the nearby islands don’t correspond to any on Earth’s maps.
She is in Stormwrack, a world different from her own, filled with water and island-nations and odd magic. She doesn’t know it yet, but Stormwrack is her home; and no one wants her there. Yet with the help of a sister she never knew she had, a captain who wishes she had never arrived, and a brother dragged semi-unwillingly from our world, she will be called upon to save Stormwrack from a force that threatens to tear it apart.
She’s armed with a camera. Let’s do this.
I’m really, really happy about this book, guys.
First off, I think this is the first portal fantasy I’ve ever read where the protagonist is older than seventeen. What does that mean? It means Sophie has a job (marine videographer), adult problems (impostor syndrome), a sex life (yes), and a more nuanced understanding of politics than most fantasy heroines. And people also, like, treat her like an adult (most of the time), which is refreshing.
I thought the focus on biology and the science of magic would grate on me when Sophie first started asking questions in that direction – mostly because one of my pet peeves is fantasy stories where magic isn’t allowed to simply exist – but given that this soon shifted to a desire to understand magic rather than disprove it (or turn it into pseudoscience), it didn’t bother me that much. It was actually nice to see such an interest in the flora and fauna of a fantasy world, since that’s an aspect that’s usually left vague.
What is left vague, however, is the cultural aspect of the worldbuilding. We get some anecdotal snippets here and there, and some annoying (though understandable) bureaucracy, but nothing very in-depth. This might be because our protagonist, Sophie, is more attracted to animals and plants than to human cultures, something that is acknowledged by the characters. (“We need to get our parents to adopt another kid, one with an interest in anthropology or sociology, or something,” she tells her brother Bram, who’s more of a physics guy.)
Most plot holes are explained away with the interesting notion that magic makes people fundamentally incurious – after all, if “a wizard did it” is a reasonable explanation for pretty much anything, why look too far into it? This also nicely explains away the fact that Sophie can wander about with no nationality or place of provenance and people just shrug it off. Dellamonica also plays with or points out various common fantasy worldbuildling tropes, such as the real-world-analogue nation, or the fact that instantly recognizable species like horses and dogs often cohabitate with unicorns and dragons, in a way that makes me believe they will become plot-relevant in later books.
Sophie explores this world with a snarky sense of self-awareness that I greatly enjoy. She’s not above making pop-culture references or admitting that her own ethnocentrism is clouding her judgment (the anthropology student in me is pleased that other people know this exist. Yeeeeeesssssssss.) She’s just relatable and fun to be around most of the time.
I’m looking forward to seeing more of her in the sequel!