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Sophie Hansa is a twenty-something videographer living in San Francisco, a much-loved adopted child with a younger (briliant) brother. She’s a child of privilege in that her parents can help her with college and travel; she’s a partially-trained biologist, an all-but-thesis grad student. She’s also been seeking her birth mother, whom she finds, but who wants nothing, at all, ever, to do with her. In the course of finding her mother, she inserts herself into the thick of exactly what her adoption was meant to avoid, when she defends her previously unknown aunt from what appears to be a mugging.
That action sends Sophie to an alternate Earth called Stormwrack, one where her mother is a self-exiled member of a powerful ruling family, thereby allowing Dellamonica to simultaneously subvert two fantasy tropes at once; the portal fantasy and the fairy princess. Sophie is also one of those sorts of heroines that we’re more familiar with from urban fantasy; the unlikeable but yet oddly likable heroine. She is unlikeable in her willingness to manage the lives of others; likable in her desire to make the world better, her insatiable curiosity and fascination with science and nature. Sophie is vulnerable in ways that don’t quite ring true; her self-perception as someone that isn’t and won’t be listened to is more a matter of her own petulance than reality. It’s not an unbearable character flaw, but it is a little disconcerting in terms of her own perceptions of herself and those around her.
The alternate Earth aspect of Child of a Hidden Sea includes the familiar (stars and the moon) and the unfamiliar; new species and the art of scribing, wherein magic is embedded into people or objects in ways slightly reminiscent of the was geasa function in medieval Irish tales. The efficacy of a scribing has to do with the creator’s intent, which is one of the aspects that makes it similar (though quite different) from geasa. Sophie is in someways reminiscent of Miriam, the heroine of Charlie Stross’ Hidden Family series, but where Miriam’s approach to problem solving is via economics and political theory, Sophie focuses on science and deduction (and both use social engineering successfully).
There’s some fine world building here, both in terms of the magic system, and the ecological differences and similarities between this Earth, or Erst While, and Stormwrack. The world building includes some well-done cultural and linguistic foundations. It’s refreshing to see queer characters without a lot of hand-waving or cultural blindness.
A. M. Dellamonica’s Child of a Hidden Sea is the first of a projected Stormwrack series. The second book Daughter of No Nation has just been published, and I’m very much looking forward to reading it. You might want to take advantage of the current ebook $2.99 sale price for Child of a Hidden Sea, at the usual vendors.There’s an excerpt here. A. M. Dellamonica has a website and tweets as @AlyxDellamonica.