In this debut novel, a maid searches for her lover in a bizarre world.
Miller’s fantasy is about the residents, human and otherwise, of The Coast, a region that has a colonial feel to it. This tale starts as a love story between a seaman named Tom and Katie Jean, a maid at one of Port Jay’s many mansions. But when Tom ships out for a two-year voyage, things start to fall apart, both for the couple and The Coast itself. Catastrophes befall the land, some thanks to supernatural acts, some a result of human stupidity and greed. Port Jay is leveled by fire, creating a stream of refugees in a land whose resources are stretched thin. A pregnant Katie goes on the road in search of Tom, accompanied by her fellow servant Tavish, who harbors an unrequited love for her. Tom isn’t faring much better. He loses his earnings to card sharks, falls off his ship, and ends up swallowed by a leviathan. Freed from the monster, he gets tortured by pirates. Then there’s the king’s army waging campaigns against native tribes and runaway slaves, resulting in major casualties on all sides. Miller has also thrown such evil or capricious creatures as witches, gods, a werewolf, and even the devil himself into the mix. The author has built this tale around the proverb “An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop.” All the characters do well in their day-to-day activities, but get into trouble when they start to ponder life too much. There is far too much philosophizing, which makes for a draggy narrative. “God is language. And language is God. God puts meaning into the sounds that come out of our mouths. And that’s what creates and rules the universe,” asserts a character named Colophus of Demarest. In Tom and Katie, Miller delivers fully developed protagonists in whom readers can become invested. But he puts them through hell and they don’t get a story arc that satisfies. Most of his unethically fuzzy characters do deserve the gruesome fates they receive. While the author offers crackling dialogue, lengthy descriptive passages make the novel seem even longer than its 413 pages. Tighter editing could have given Miller’s story a more pleasing flow.
An intriguing fantasy concept that sometimes gets sidetracked by a wordy narrative.