Neill’s (City on a Hill, 2014) fantasy features a teenage girl on a quest to save her island tribe from the designs of a militant fleet.
Fourteen-year-old Gabriella Carlyle is from the island of Harkness. Her 11-year-old brother, Dameon, is fluent with numbers but a social outcast due to his inward nature. One day, he’s counting grains of sand while Gabriella and her friend, Eloise, are harvesting mussels by the shore. They witness the arrival of a formidable-looking vessel, and the cloaked men who disembark seem rough and ready for battle. The leader of the island, Chief Salinger, greets one of the men, Sade, who’s part of a group called the Servior. Sade explains that the visitors hope to purchase land next to the Tower of the Dead, which stands as a portal between life and the afterlife. When the villagers perform a ritual to consult with their ancestors, the dead speak through Gabriella and reveal that “the Servior...those whom they serve are treacherous.” A loner named Omanuju Ant decides to help Gabriella find the treasure of Nicomedes on the far-flung Eastern Continent, which may thwart Sade and his men; in return, perhaps the dead will heal Dameon. In this opening installment of a vigorously imagined series, Neill delivers an epic that’s as grand as it is brief. Episodic brilliance characterizes Gabriella and Omanuju’s adventures, such as when they befriend Ghede, who pilots the floating ship Elawn—and a dragon race ensues. Alternating chapters flash back to Sade and his younger brother, Vondales, growing up as orphans on the island of Illicaine and later becoming teenage savages on a sharp rise to power. Neill’s prose is often beautiful, as when Gabriella “could make out the shape of undulating hills and ridges silhouetted against the spray of stars.” Alongside frequent scenes of brutality, there are dear instances of wisdom, as when Omanuju says, “Sometimes when we find a person hard to love, the failure is in us, rather than them.” A finale featuring deft, magical weirdness only elevates the narrative further.
The start of what promises to be a tumultuous, visionary fantasy series.