J. Brandon Lowry’s debut fantasy novel, set on an island, follows the struggles of orphaned siblings who embark on a quest to find their destiny and understand their deceased parents’ dark past.
Sophie Farrier, 14, and her older brother Damon live with their aunt and uncle in the small village called Seaside, a place where “boring” and “ordinary” are complimentary terms—and anything that upsets the mundanities of daily life is to be shunned. So when an unconscious stranger washes up on the shoreline—covered in tattoos and wearing a strange amulet—most citizens want to throw him back into the sea.
After Damon helps save the man, the Seaside inhabitants’ monotonous lives are quickly turned upside down. The man turns out to be a mythical Navigator on a quest to save countless lives—and after he leaves to return to his mission, a monstrous aquatic ruler known as the Merling King arrives with his army of crustaceous creatures shaped like men. The king states that the village owes him the Navigator’s life and if the man isn’t delivered to him by the next moon, the entire village will be destroyed.
As Sophie follows the Navigator, hoping he’ll facilitate her journey of self-discovery, her brother battles his own demons as he’s forced to revisit his parents’ bizarre deaths.
Lowry’s novel is nothing short of a towering masterwork of imagination—sure to satisfy even the most discerning reader, from middle grade to adult. It offers gloriously deep character development; forceful themes (finding one’s place in the world, etc.); nonstop action and adventure, and rich world-building. But it’s the author’s mesmerizing narrative voice, powered by a sense of whimsy and wonder (describing imaginative Sophie, he writes, that “she fits into Seaside about as well as a whale fits into a rowboat…”) that makes the book truly memorable.
Blending the timeless tone of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy with the action and adventure of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, this is a story to be cherished.
Lowry’s middle-grade fantasy novel charts an unexpected arrival in a small coastal town.
In the tiny coastal town of Seaside, everything is always the same: Life is unimaginatively ordered, and nothing ever deviates from the dull, dreary uniformity that most of its inhabitants prefer. Until, that is, the day that a castaway washes up on its shores after a storm. The survivor—who mysteriously slumbers for days on end after being rescued—is deemed an “Unnecessary” visitor by most of Seaside’s residents, who wish him dead until Damon Farrier, an orphaned young man, saves his life. Damon sets in motion a chain of events that will reverberate across their world, because when the castaway (called the Navigator) eventually wakes up, he proves to have magic in his veins, magic connected to fantastical creatures from the deep sea and also to Damon’s 14-year-old sister, Sophie, whose imagination starts to run even wilder than it did before the Navigator appeared in their lives. When the Navigator leaves Seaside, Sophie follows him, setting out on a journey that will shape her future and possibly even determine the fate of Seaside. The author’s debut novel is charming and whimsical, featuring a delectable writing style with plenty of subtle humor: “Seaside was given its unimaginative name by its unimaginative people. In fact, hostility toward creativity and change is a central feature of the Seasider mentality, a proud tradition handed down from generation to generation.” The narrative, which resembles a fairy tale both in structure and tone, is full of unexpected depth and follows a surprisingly interwoven, complex arc as it explores topics of change, agency, and growth as both Damon and Sophie struggle to fit into a world they feel uncomfortable in. The bonds between brother and sister—and between mentor and mentee, as forged between the Navigator and Sophie—are heartfelt and celebrate family, with members both blood-bound and found along the way.
A delightful fantasy debut.