LitStack Review: Child of a Hidden Sea by A. M. Dellamonica

by Sharon Browning
Child of a Hidden SeaChild of a Hidden Sea
A. M. Dellamonica
Tor Books
Release Date:  June 24, 2014
ISBN 978-0-7653-3449-7

Twenty-four year old Sophie Hansa just wants to learn about her biological mother.  That’s why she had been hanging outside her mother’s place in San Francisco, trying to be inconspicuous.  Their initial introduction had not really gone as Sophie had planned – something about “get away from me, you viper” didn’t exactly exude motherly love – but Sophie hadn’t given up, just gone incognito.  Well, if you call staking out your mom’s place from your car incognito.

But then there was the attack.  In the alley.  She saw her aunt – she assumed an aunt, there was a strong family resemblance – getting jumped in the alley by two guys dressed in scrubs, and Sophie had waded into the fray, swinging the only thing she had on her – a camera case.  Then suddenly there had been this incredible burst of wind and it had carried her up and up – and then just as suddenly it was gone and she was plunging down, free-falling, until she hit the water.

And that’s when things get weird – and there were no rabbit holes and no looking glasses to explain what the heck was going on.

Child of a Hidden Sea is a rollicking fun story of a land that exists hidden from ours, known of by only a privileged few, and transversed by even fewer.  Whereas our world is one of technology, this other world is full of magic.  We have cars and computers and smart phones; they have inscriptions – spells – that can imbue folks with the ability to understand different languages, can cause ships to sail faster, can make a person forgettable, or even conjure up storms and lightning.  It’s a world that may seem primitive to ours but the longer one spends time in Stormwrack, the more it becomes clear that the there are advantages to this parallel world on a scale that we who inhabit Erstwhile (their name for our aspect of the world) can barely imagine.

This new world comes with a pretty steep learning curve for Sophie, who has little to guide her in the first few days.  She’s managed to save her aunt, but the woman is gravely injured and unconscious.  Sophie exists in a kind of willing suspension of disbelief until some key information becomes known to her and the pieces start to fit.  But it’s the piece where her very existence is upsetting the balance of power in Stormwrack that she finds hardest to comprehend, as well as learning that her best of intentions may end up hurting those closest to her.  She’s an unexpected game piece in a high stakes game of politics and power, and its darned hard to play that game when she doesn’t know the rules – or whom to trust.

But that’s not going to keep Sophie from trying.

A. M. Dellamonica has created an engaging and eminently plausible fantasy story of worlds inhabiting the same space but hidden from each other.  Not too much time is spent in trying to explain just how this is possible, which is good because those kinds of silly details would just bog down the story, but she is able to use Sophie’s curiosity and wide ranging knowledge to continually keep us grounded by drawing strong parallels between worlds without making scientific (or or metaphysical) conclusions.  Some species of flora and fauna are familiar, some are not; the geography is completely foreign, but the stars and the moon match.  The laws of physics may be deviated from in imaginative and fascinating ways, but the laws themselves exist, unmolested.  The people are still, well, human – except in the few times where they are not.  And the more fanciful parts of the world are imaginative and beautifully drawn.

Sophie is a very engaging heroine, determined yet full of self-doubt.  She is keenly sensitive about being given up for adoption, yet acknowledges that her adopted family is loving and supportive (indeed, her step-brother, Bram, is a key player in the book); she is inquisitive and adaptable and yet feels unsteady because she has not been so good at achieving long term goals in her life (such as college degrees, relationships or careers).  She is constantly questioning herself, and yet she moves ahead, regardless.  She is impatient with grooming and yet has a loveliness to her of which she seems unaware.  She is a wonderful heroine, one that we can identify with.  And she’s cheeky, something that brought me great joy.  I thoroughly enjoyed her, on par with Kelsea in The Queen of Tearling and Devi in Fortune’s Pawn.

Oh, and did I mention that there were pirates?

Sometimes the story is a little unevenly paced and there were places where momentarily I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on but except for those small glitches, Child of a Hidden Sea was an extremely fun read, and the parallel-world setting lends itself to hopefully many more stories to come.  I’ve read other books by Ms. Dellamonica, and while I’ve admired her imagination, I’ve been a bit frustrated with her storytelling.  No problems with that here!  Child of a Hidden Sea hits all the right notes – and I’m looking forward to experiencing more of Sophie, Bram and Stormwrack in the months to come.

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