Novella Review: The Drowning Eyes by Emily Foster
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor.com (January 12, 2016)
Length: 144 pages
Tor.com kicks off the year with another irresistible lineup of novellas in early 2016, and leading the charge is Emily Foster’s debut release The Drowning Eyes. In this slim little volume, a lone survivor sets off on an adventure in a wind-swept coastal fantasy to retrieve what was stolen from her and her people. With the Windspeakers’ island enclave pillaged and destroyed by the Dragon Ships, villages along the coastline are left unprotected and open to attacks. Now it’s up to Shina, a young apprentice, to reclaim the weather-shaping magic of the Windspeakers in order to save the villagers and drive back the raiders.
Determined and resourceful, Shina manages to find a captain desperate for funds and bargains for passage on her ship. Tazir and her crew are unhappy at the prospect of transporting their new guest at first, but they soon come around when everyone realizes the importance of Shina’s quest.
I know I can be a harsh judge of novellas, often with my main complaint being a wish for them to be longer or feel more complete. I’m afraid this is once again the case with The Drowning Eyes, which feels a lot like a too large idea trying to fit into too small a package. This admittedly weakens the story somewhat. But be that as it may, I want to underscore a few things I thought this novella did amazingly well and other areas that might have been limited by the short fiction format but shone through nonetheless.
First, the characters. I might not have spent enough time with them to call them truly memorable, but they were delightful to get to know. I have a soft spot for roguish sailor types, and the crew endeared themselves to me for the brief time I got to read about them. Their personalities were all wonderfully unique, and I enjoyed the interplay between them and the way they gradually accepted Shina into the fold and decided to throw their support behind her.
Second, the magic. Before you go thinking that this sounds like your typical feel-good quest narrative-type adventure story, you should get a load of the Windspeakers’ powers. Weather magic, the kind that is central to the plot in The Drowning Eyes, is a strictly guarded medium. Apprentices are brought to the enclave at a young age, and when they are deemed ready to don the mantle of a full Windspeaker, their eyes are gouged from their sockets and replaced with stones. It’s true that I may not remember the names of all the characters in this novella a year, three years, or five years from now, but I can pretty much guarantee I’ll remember this gruesome little detail about Windspeaker tradition for the rest of my life. Also, seeing as this is the third book I’ve read in as many weeks about ships and characters with weather-based magic that can control winds, it’s refreshing to see a new twist on a familiar idea, even if it is kind of disturbing.
Lastly, the world-building. I really liked what I saw, even if this story merely gave me a limited view through a tiny window. The rich descriptions paint a very lively picture of coastlines and the cultures of their inhabitants. The place feels very much alive, and even a small setting like life aboard a ship seems to have its own atmosphere.
And it was all over way too soon. I wish I could have held off the ending, but it came upon me like one of the story’s magical storms, and after a whirlwind of confused and sudden events, the book was finished. This is rather unfortunate, because a satisfying ending might have left me liking this book even more, but as it is, I felt the conclusion felt too incomplete—jarringly so.
However, as you can see from the many positives I talked about, The Drowning Eyes was still a book I really enjoyed. I think this would have made an excellent full-length novel with a more fleshed out plot and developed characters, but if given the chance to read more stories set in this world, I certainly wouldn’t say no. An impressive debut novella.