Of Sea & Shadow (The Elder Empire: Sea Book 1)
I first encountered Will Wight’s work in his City of Light series. In that series I was blown away by how he completely changed the dynamic of yet another young hero that needs to fulfill a prophecy. He decided to instead focus not on the hero of the prophecy but one of his lesser known friends who turned out to be a hell of a lot more interesting than the two dimensional ‘hero’. In Of Sea & Shadow, Wight continues to experiment. He released two books at the same time Of Sea & Shadow and its companion Of Shadow & Sea. He warns that these two books tell essentially the same story but from a different character’s point of view. This reminds me of Card’s novel Shadow of the Hegemon which retold the Ender’s Game story from Bean’s point of view. Sounded boring at first blush but turned out to be brilliant.
I’ve only just begun the companion novel, Of Shadow & Sea, so this review will focus solely on the lighter side. Wight respects the intelligence of the reader by asking a lot from them. His world building tosses the reader right into the mix without introducing any of the terms or concepts that are meant to be commonplace in the prose and then slowly filling these terms in as the plot progresses. This has always been an enjoyable way to ease into a new world, almost like learning a new science or programming language. Some elements you have to take on faith early on that you will understand later as you gain more experience in the world.
This one has a little extra challenge associated with it due to the grand experiment Will Wight has taken on. The extra challenge is that you know that you are not going to get any of the extra tidbits until you start reading the companion novel. Just reading one of the books is almost like doing a Sudoku puzzle without using any 4s or 7s. You know that there are going to be gaps but is it still enjoyable?
Luckily, it is. Wight always does a great job of characterization, you end up really caring about what happens to his characters, and when you’re done you feel like these folks could have been a part of your past. I did struggle a little bit more with these characters than with previous novels due to some of the gaps but I found myself looking forward to seeing how they would be filled in deeper in the next novel. I also had a good time guessing who would be the main character in the next novel.
On to the plot. The novel introduces you quickly to the swashbuckling protagonist, Calder Marten. Calder is the captain of a large ship with a very small crew. The reason for the small crew is that Calder is a Reader that is intimately linked to his ship. The ship is an extension of his mind and he can control sails and rigging like just another appendage. Wasn’t super clear on how the crew sailed the ship when he was sleeping but little details like that don’t take away from the enjoyment of the book.
The world is run by Guilds that each have some level of mystical prowess. Calder is part of the Navigator’s guild but he was raised as part of the Blackwatch. The Blackwatch monitor Elder activity. The Elders are the supernatural beings that populate the depths of the world. You don’t want to run into these guys on a vacation because you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a bad time. The world itself is an Empire run by an Emperor who has recently passed on. The ambient power struggles that Calder finds himself in are around the Guilds trying to decide who should take on the burden of leadership left by the void of the recently deceased Emperor.
Calder takes on a couple of passengers that belong to the Watchers guild against the warnings of his first mate. These passengers end up being somewhat dickish both in personality and in the fact that they are assassination targets of the Consultants. The Consultants are a deadly Guild with a shit list. Calder’s passengers are on it.
Most of the novel is around understanding the motivation behind these passengers as they move from one threat to the next. Throughout each of these threats we get regular flashbacks to Calder growing up. This is where most of the world building happens.
Overall, it was thoroughly entertaining and as I’m now about a third of the way through it’s companion novel, I’m really enjoying watching yin slowly fit into yang. Should be a good series.