LitStack Review: The Nature of a Pirate by A. M. Dellamonica

by Sharon Browning

The Nature of a Pirate
A. M. Dellamonica
Tor Books
Release Date:  December 6, 2016
ISBN 978-0-7653-3451-0

In book three of the Hidden Sea Tales trilogy, we are reunited with San Francisco marine videographer Sophie Hansa and her continuing quest to unravel the mystery of Stormwrack, the world that might exist alongside ours, but might also be our future. Stormwrack is a maritime world, full of sailing ships, dueling swords, pirates, and magic.

When Sophie went looking for her birth parents in Child of a Hidden Sea, she discovered that she was the scion of a singular family who could travel between Stormwrack and Ernstwhile (the “Wrackers'” name for Earth). While she navigates the steep learning curve in familiarizing herself with her newly discovered heritage, she also is committed to bringing modern scientific investigative techniques to this primitive – and suspicious – world.

We found out in the second book of the trilogy, A Daughter of No Nation, that the practice of slavery is an understandable sticking point for Sophie (as her biological father is a prominent noble from a country with bonded servants), as it is for a number of countries who are chafing at “the Cessation” – peace accords between those countries that allow slavery and those that don’t. Tension is rising, and espionage is a constant threat, although the question of slavery is often used as camouflage for factions seeking to destabilize Stormwrack for their own personal gain.

In The Nature of a Pirate this espionage ramps up, and becomes personal for Sophie as she finds her friends and family targets of marauding wood frights, creatures of prohibited magic that can pull apart even the sturdiest of ships. Caught up in a web of intrigue both in Ernstwhile and Stormwrack, Sophie must use all the knowledge she can glean from both worlds in an effort to keep Stormwrack from dissolving into political turmoil and chaos.

Author A. M. Dellamonica has crafted an imaginative and deep world in Stormwrack, and has masterfully sidestepped the often pesky question of “convenient magic” that undermines many fantasy series. While the mechanics of processes that allow magic to operate both in Stormwrack and in the interaction between that world and ours is often oblique, the political and cultural strictures on the utilization of those magics gives them a purchase in reality. That Sophie must navigate not only unknown possibilities but also their ramifications in her convoluted family dynamics – both personally and politically – adds an additional layer to the complications of her story that both confounds and draws us in as readers.

The Nature of a Pirate, as with all the books in the Hidden Seas Tales trilogy, does suffer from having a robust world enmeshed with a plot that is often both maddeningly convoluted and somewhat thin. Indeed, Stormwrack is gloriously vibrant, with its sailing ships, its diverse lands (many of which are tiny islands) with their own customs and sensibilities, its wealth of magic but surfeit of scientific curiosity. The aspects of that world which we may consider backwards are nevertheless strongly supported by Ms. Dellamonica’s drafting of the world, and within the confines of Stormwrack itself, they are consistent and believable; the touchstone provided by the occasional visits to our world is a surprisingly deft and welcome twist. Add to that the character of Sophie herself, with her unapologetic rebellious streak, and you have an environment that truly entertains. Simplistic and occasionally confusing story lines are easier to overlook when the trappings surrounding them are this fun to read.

Listen, The Nature of a Pirate and its Hidden Seas Tales companion novels may not be epic fantasy of the same ilk as, say, the also maritime-themed Liveship Trader series by Robin Hobb, but they are still eminently readable, and will serve up a few hours of good, solid enjoyment. And you know, sometimes that’s exactly what we need.

~ Sharon Browning

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