Review: Hidden Sea Tales #1-2 by A. M. Dellamonica

Published Tor Books

I have many thoughts about this series but first, the premise:

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.

That is the synopsis of the first novel and works to whet the reader’s appetite about the story the book tells. Or it whet my appetite anyway. I was pleasantly surprised by Child of a Hidden Sea because Sophie is just so very different from other high fantasy heroines in that she’s very…hm…nerdy. Or if I’m being nicer, she is a lot more academically inclined than any other protagonist I have read. She is curious about the world, the biology of it, the science in it and is always getting samples, making hypotheses and just being a scholar even when she’s in a different world that contains magic and hot captains and you know, cats.

The worldbuilding is amazing in both these books. Details of the flora and fauna and the differences in the peoples populating this place that feels like earth but isn’t. Sophie’s curiousity about this place and her desire (insistence I would call it but more on this later) to find out more about it was refreshing in the first book.

The relationships portrayed in both books is complex and I particularly liked the internal conflict where Sophie battles with guilt for the desire to know her biological family when her adopted family is loving. Sophie’s relationship to her biological father was a bit frustrating though, especially in the second book. Actually, Sophie in the second book annoyed me a lot than in the first book though I warmed to her by the end.

I liked the romance and I felt that Dellamonica gave it just the right amount of attention. The politics of Stormwrack is fascinating and large portions of both books are spent unraveling the bureaucratic details that dog any actions Sophie and her companions might need to make. Do?

The books are action oriented so though there is much introspection and truncated discussion about the worlds, things happen and often with pointy swords involved in the happenings. The side characters are wonderfully diverse and bring a whole lot of colour to the narrative. The landscape created by Dellamonica are just as brilliant and I was struck by the details. The plot always makes sense and do not make far-flung tangents that are difficult to believe.

The only problem I had with the second book, in particular, was Sophie’s insistence on researching the Stormwrack even after she has been explicitly told not to. I understand that it is her nature to be curious and find out about the world she inhabits (or is currently inhabiting) but, and perhaps this is in context of my own history as a POC, I felt that her insistence upon research and her observations of Stormwrack veered, for a while, too close to that of a colonizer’s. Still, as I said, this was early on in A Daughter of No Nation and I shared her outrage at some of the things she finds out in Stormwrack so the book made me think quite a bit which is always a good thing.

I realize that the above does not evaluate both books with as much detail as I usually do in my reviews but I feel that if you read high fantasy with any regularity and are well versed in the tropes common to the genre, you will find The Hidden Sea Tales a pleasant departure from the usual wizard-tale. The books are clever and never underestimate the intelligence of the reader. The romance is toe-curling, the adventures are thrilling, and the world fascinating. I don’t know what else you could need, honestly. I recommend these titles for older teens.