Even by the action-oriented standards of the fantasy genre, A.M. Dellamonica’s new novel begins with a bang. Or, rather, a splash. Sophie Hansa is searching for her birth mother when she intervenes in a fight in a San Francisco alley and suddenly feels “a wet fist of concrete between her shoulder blades.” Sophie discovers herself treading water in an unknown sea, having been unwittingly transported to an otherworldly realm known as Stormwrack.
Stormwrack is similar in appearance to 17th-century Earth (or “Erstwhile”), with the added element of magical spells, known as “inscriptions.” Here, honour is everything, status trumps all, and one’s full name must be kept secret lest enemies inscribe in you a hex (or “intention”). Sophie also discovers ample proof that humanity’s worst instincts are not unique to Erstwhile: slavery, religious extremism, and homophobia are rampant among certain island nations of Stormwrack.
As Sophie travels aboard the sailing vessel Nightjar, Dellamonica carefully portions out the workings of this new universe. Elements of Stormwrack politics and philosophy are explained, while a sense of true wonder is kept alive through marvels such as Sophie’s half-ferret/half-snake pet and an eternally swimming “human-shaped collection of lumps” known as the ginger giant.
If there’s a quibble, it’s that even in a genre that demands suspension of disbelief, Sophie’s near-heroic acceptance of her impossible situation is implausible. Her background in science and exploration borders on the way-too-convenient, and while she is an enjoyably gutsy protagonist, she is almost more far-fetched than the novel’s reality- jumping pirates.
This is, however, a minor gripe, one that Dellamonica’s ample skills at world-building easily overcome. A rollicking saga of conspiracy, magic, swordfights, and dysfunctional family wranglings, Child of a Hidden Sea should delight lovers of alternate-reality fantasies.