Whitfield (Benighted, 2006) delivers a tale of royal intrigue and undersea fantasy.
The British author’s brand of alternate history offers a blend of genres rarely seen. In this version of medieval Europe, every human kingdom that isn’t landlocked must form alliances with tribes of “deepsmen” (mermen and mermaids) to defend against invasion by sea. As with many political alliances of the time, this means intermarriage, which produces human-deepsmen hybrid children. Two such hybrids—Anne, a blue-faced young princess of England, and Henry, the illegitimate product of an unsanctioned union—become pawns in a plot to take over the English throne. However, the pair prove more savvy than anyone expects. The book’s early sections are the most effective, detailing the origins of the alliance between deepsmen and humans (“landsmen”) and showing Henry’s difficulties acclimating to human ways after a childhood underwater. Whitfield’s insights are often fresh and sharp: “Land was simply where the water ran out and there was nothing left to hold you up.” The royal-politics plot tends to bog down after a while, but the story’s startling originality shines throughout.
Refreshingly unusual work from a writer to watch.