A young woman’s past catches up with her in a magic, recently colonized new world in this historical fantasy from Mahoney (Fellow Mortals, 2013).
When Tom pulls a near-dead Molly out of a river of flowers, she tells him she has amnesia, but neither the tavern owner nor anyone else in the isolated outpost of Root believes her. Her body suggests a recently born child, and she has arrived at a time of heightened anxiety, when lawless mutilators trawl the surrounding forest and cut body parts from travelers. Still, she settles in, befriending locals and learning about Root’s exquisite natural beauty—slow-moving static lightning, inky-black fog, upside-down rain. Braided with Molly’s new life is the story of her old one from across the sea: mother dead from her birth, father harsh and distant, and older brother her only friend, companion, and protector. After a peasant uprising against their family, she and her brother create new identities and take a ship to the new world to begin again. In Root, she becomes tangled in romance, remains under suspicion by the sheriff, and soon realizes that the troubles she thought were behind her are in fact still around, and the mystery of how she came to be in that river begins to unravel. While the premise is promising, Molly is the sort of incorrigible heroine whose antics seem adorably quirky until they continue to wreck everything around her; her inability to temper her “feistiness” or learn from her mistakes is profoundly irritating—she is almost too precious to be believed. The real strength of this novel is its stunning worldbuilding, which merges the aesthetic of the Colonial Americas with Márquez-style magical realism—take the weather and the old-fashioned, fantastical flora and fauna—but unfortunately it’s merely backdrop to a plot that hits mostly expected beats and is populated by an uninspiring cast.
A pleasant, passable diversion that never quite conquers its tropes or pitfalls.