Combining the emotional turmoil and distrust of a classic witch hunt with fast-paced, airy prose, Moss provides a tale that explores complex issues of social and personal responsibility without becoming dry or didactic.
Since time immemorial, the Acolytes have protected the islands of the Sea of Tears from witchcraft, and brought the protection of the Kraken to sailor and islander alike. While Alyn doesn’t join in when the mob gathers to capture a witch, she’s always accepted the necessity of giving them to the Acolytes. However, when plants appear to listen to her young daughter’s songs, Alyn must decide whether to do her duty or save her child.
This novella (or—at 27 pages—novelette, perhaps) is a prequel to Moss’ Witch’s Trilogy and focuses on a critical moment in one of the character’s lives. While Moss does not reveal which of the characters this is until the end of the book, she also doesn’t seek to mislead the reader meaning many will guess in advance. While the story might have an extra layer of resonance for readers familiar with the Trilogy, it does not rely on knowledge of it; as such, it might be enjoyed equally as an entry point to or expansion of the series, and with or without guessing which characters go on to feature in the other volumes.
As with the other books in the series, Moss does not provide the level of exposition that some fantasy novels feature. This absence of long explanations both gives the book a plausible sense of accompanying characters in the moment rather than watching past events from a distance, and prevents those who read the entire series in a short space of time from the tedium of repetition.
In line with both her focus on action over analysis and the insularity and paranoia of island villages, Moss describes uses of magic through implication and emotion rather than as a deliberate and conscious process. However, these events are consistent with each other, allowing readers to build a theory alongside the characters.
Alyn is a well-crafted protagonist: although she doesn’t oppose the sacrificing of children, her stance of not actively participating in the mob justice distances her sufficiently from its horror that readers can sympathise with her genuine belief that its saving lives. This sense that we might make the same choice if we were in that situation combined with her inability to gain any objective information on whether the Acolytes are right, makes her choice between society and child a plausible dilemma.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I recommend it to readers seeking a brief foray into a fantasy world that isn’t just a rehash of Tolkien.
I received a free copy from the author with no obligation to review.