Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Review: Child of a Hidden Sea

One minute, twenty-four-year-old Sophie Hansa is in a San Francisco alley trying to save the life of the aunt she has never known. The next, she finds herself flung into the warm and salty waters of an unfamiliar world. Glowing moths fall to the waves around her, and the sleek bodies of unseen fish glide against her submerged ankles.

The world is Stormwrack, a series of island nations with a variety of cultures and economies—and a language different from any Sophie has heard.

Sophie doesn't know it yet, but she has just stepped into the middle of a political firestorm, and a conspiracy that could destroy a world she has just discovered… her world, where everyone seems to know who she is, and where she is forbidden to stay.

But Sophie is stubborn, and smart, and refuses to be cast adrift by people who don't know her and yet wish her gone. With the help of a sister she has never known, and a ship captain who would rather she had never arrived, she must navigate the shoals of the highly charged politics of Stormwrack, and win the right to decide for herself whether she stays in this wondrous world . . . or is doomed to exile.

So what starts out as a simple (all right slightly stalkery) mission to track down her birth mother turns out to be a huge political fiasco that almost lands her birth family's world into total chaos.  Honestly from what I read in the book about Sophie, it makes complete sense that she would nearly cause that.

To lay it out, as a child I absorbed and loved "portal" fantasies (or portal science fiction books, cause hey they exist).  Blame Pamela Dean and Joyce Ballou Gregorian (not oddly CS Lewis, I didn't read the Narnia books until well into my late late teens) as their books in particular sparked my interest (along with the "Unicorn Queen" books).  CHILD OF A HIDDEN SEA fits that love of mine perfectly. 

Granted there was a lot of doublespeak political mumbo-jumbo that occurred, making it sometimes hard to follow the narrative flow easily, but Sophie (and Bram and Verena and Parrish and Tonio...) were so enjoyable to read about.  Sophie and Bram with their insatiable curiosity, Verena with her awkward discomfort of whether she should be happy she has a sister or bitter, Parrish with his tight-lipped honor and slight smiles, Tonio with his resigned attitude that no matter what Sophie is leading him towards angering Parrish.  They were such fun to read about.

Sophie is an easy character to relate to.  Though intelligent, personable and kind hearted a lifetime of wondering 'Why?' in relation to her birth family and the abysmal first meeting with her birth mother left her feeling inadequate.  Add to it that her beloved younger brother is a certified child genius and a general feeling of not quite right, well it makes sense that she's searching desperately for something to ground her.  Something that is hers irrefutably.  Dellamonica doesn't shove into our face that Sophie is clever and quick.  Bram (her brother) says it very often, but Sophie sees connections others didn't.  Some of it is obvious stuff that people so close can't see--she knows so little about "Stormwrack" so for her the obvious connections stand out.

The books covers a lot of plots--the A plot being based around something that Gale knew and that would turn the tide of the Cessation with the biggest subplot being Sophie's birth family.  Amazingly Dellamonica most of them into each other with the resolution solving the majority of the problems at hand.  As mentioned earlier the doublespeak takes a little getting used to.  Near the end it becomes really heavy--as legal concerns are tossed around and such stakes as honor are heaved out.  Its rapid fire, twisty and with Sophie's despairing inner monologue coloring the reader's subjective perception it can feel endless.

Parts of the book felt more exposition happy then others.  Sophie and Bram's curiosity meant they asked a lot of questions and did a lot of research.  While this gave the reader a good idea of the world/culture, it sometimes felt redundant as the society at least was presented organically throughout.  Also for a non-science lover like myself the more technical aspects of Sophie's observations went straight over me and had flashbacks of school running through my head.

Insofar as romance goes its light and doesn't really distract.  Sophie is old enough to understand where flirtations lead and young enough to find it all an adventure.  Though Verena comes off angsty at times, in regards to her object of affection, she's a legit teenager grappling with a whole boatload of issues so that's acceptable.  I found the LGBT characters (there's two out and out gay guys, and an entire race who loves pleasure in any form) to be handled well and the general attitude towards such treated without fanfare.  There's the haters, the indifferent folk and the supporters, and though we get very little background about why certain races felt one way or the other, Dellamonica never makes the discussion the focal point.

The ending can be seen as either an open invitation to more adventures or a satisfying conclusion to Sophie's journey.  There's two short stories set in this world (that predate this novel - one is directly about Gale I believe, and is referenced obliquely by Parrish at one point and the other is more of a set in the same world deal I believe) and I hope to see more in the future.