First of a fantasy duology set in an ocean world spanned by magical bridges, from Frost (Attack of the Jazz Giants, 2005, etc.).
With both her mother, rebellious Leandra, and father, Bardsham, the world’s greatest shadow-puppeteer, dead, strong-willed, red-headed Leodora grows up in the house of her domineering, brutal uncle Gousier. Nearby lives a drunken old man, Soter, the heir to Bardsham’s puppets, with which Leodora soon reveals a talent at least the equal of her legendary father. From the sea she retrieves a weightless mass of coral, man-shaped and magically aware. Gousier, however, plans to marry Leodora off to the local village idiot, and she prevails upon Soter to flee with her. Meanwhile, the procurer Mother Kestrel chains a young, nameless, starving imbecile inside a Dragon Bowl, where the youth must await the coming of a god; Kestrel intends to appropriate whatever gifts the god bestows. But when a god finally descends, he brings nothing but a random assortment of containers. Furious, Kestrel sells the youth to a boy-brothel, little knowing that the youth, henceforth named Diverus, has gained enlightenment. Diverus stoically serves food and drink to the brothel’s patrons, who come to inhale the addictive exhalations of demons. Implausibly, Leodora arrives in the brothel and listens to Diverus play god-inspired music. Needing a musician for her puppetry, she contrives—even more implausibly—to escape with the lad during a raid. Leodora’s shows henceforth attract ecstatic audiences but also unwelcome supernatural attention, and again she must flee.
Meandering stories within stories, with a rich but nearly indecipherable backdrop and no discernable plot: for tenacious readers willing to be tantalized.