LitStack Review: A Daughter of No Nation by A. M. Dellamonica

by Sharon Browning

A Daughter of No NationA Daughter of No Nation
A. M. Dellamonica
Tor Books
Release Date:  December 1, 2015
ISBN 978-0-7653-3450-3

A follow-up to her 2014 novel, Child of a Hidden Sea, author A. M. Dellamonica returns us to realm of Stormwrack to continue the story of Sophie Hansa, a young woman from modern day San Francisco who learns that she actually was born of another world.  After being exiled from Stormwrack at the end of Child of a Hidden Sea, and forbidden to speak of her experiences while in her own world, Sophie finds herself suddenly summoned back to this other land to help facilitate the release of her birth mother, Beatrice, who has been confined to one of the sea-faring ships of the Fleet on charges of fraud, breach of contract and bigamy – all due to Sophie’s now public birth.

The hope is that Sophie can influence her birth father – dashing negotiator and Duelist-Advocate Clydon Banning – to find a way to legally divorce her mother, in effect freeing Beatrice from her imprisonment.  While Stormwrack politics are prickly – as is Cly’s sense of justice as well as his wounded ego – there might be a way to circumvent procedure if Sophie is officially named as Cly’s daughter.

Sophie also desperately wants to understand the mystery of Stormwrack  The stars are the same as on Earth, the climates and physics very similar, as well as much of the flora and fauna.   But the land masses are far different, and the cultures, governments and developments vastly divergent.  Plus, Stormwrack is full of magic; magic plays a part in every aspect of life there, while technology languishes.

Are Stormwrack and Earth parallel worlds?  Is Stormwrack Earth’s future?  Although she has been forbidden from doing research for fear of exposing Stormwrack to meddling and possibly disastrous factions on Earth, Sophie cannot quell her curiosity, and refuses to refrain from documenting her observations within the parameters dictated to her.  With the help of her adoptive brother, Bram, back in San Francisco, Sophie is bound and determined to solve the riddle of Stormwrack’s existence, and her place in both worlds.

The setting of A Daughter of No Nation is a compelling one, with sea-faring vessels and court cases settled by dueling swords, magical inscriptions wielding incredible powers, imaginative creatures and debonair ship captains.  Sophie’s backstory is both imaginative and beautifully complex, deftly balancing her between two very different lives even as she strives to remain true to herself in both.  The premise of her plight is unique.  And it is refreshing to have a heroine who has very real strengths and weaknesses, who, for instance, knows herself to be worthless in a fight, who jumps to conclusions and then has to eat humble pie when proven rash, yet who refuses to back down when her core beliefs are challenged.  This book has a lot going for it.

Unfortunately, it also has some major weaknesses.  While issues between the two worlds that require a healthy suspension of disbelief are handled well, there is simply too much naive coincidence that surrounds Sophie to allow Stormwrack to become a well fleshed out world in its own right.  It’s not that we are led to believe that the fate of that world hinges on her, but too much energy is utilized for situations skewed in her direction for no other reason than to involve her in a family squabble.  Powerful families, possibly, but still not all that far reaching.  The whole situation feels inordinately melodramatic.

And Sophie herself proves to be far more reactionary than what feels plausible, especially when we as readers are assumed to share her abject sensibilities, as if her seeing things in black and white precludes the possibility of any shade of gray.  The overwhelming sense is that she is supposed to have the higher moral ground, but in reality it feels that she is simply being a petulant child, stamping her foot in a fit of anger rather than having a more balanced reaction such as working within a system to improve it.  Had Sophie more nuance, and more maturity, she could have been an exceptional character.  Instead, she comes off as facile even as the opportunities for her to be so much more are so richly drawn.

That being said, A Daughter of No Nation is indeed a pleasant read, good for a few fanciful afternoons.  And sometimes, that’s just fine.  After all, the world would be a far less entertaining place if every book was striving to win a Pulitzer.  Sometimes escaping into a different world, with debonair ship captains and well defined moral dilemmas, is exactly what is needed.

~ Sharon Browning

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