Portal Fantasy on the High Seas: The Stormwrack Novels of A.M. Dellamonica

Science fiction and fantasy are rife with trilogies. Sometimes, if you don’t hop onboard with book one, you can feel like you’re too far behind to catch up. Trilogy Tracker is our intermittent attempt to make sure you aren’t missing out on books you’ll love but highlighting recently completed trilogies definitely worth tracking down.

The Chronicles of Narnia. The Wizard of Oz. The Tales of Thomas Covenant. The Guardians of the Flame. For many years, fantasy was strongly aspected to tales where people from our world, often children or teenagers, found themselves transported to a fantastical land, almost always steeped in magic; the person who crossed often had a secret destiny in that other world. It’s a powerful Who wouldn’t want to be secretly a Prince or a Sorceress in the world just across the threshold of a magical doorway? The 1980’s in particular drowned the marketplace with such novels.

Since those heady days of dimension-hopping, portal fantasy seems to have fallen out of favor, supplanted by epic fantasy, grimdark fantasy, and the mean streets of urban fantasy. But it has never disappeared completely, and recently, one series has brought it back to the seas of genre fiction with a vengeance: the Stormwrack trilogy by A.M. Dellamonica. After completing a contemporary fantasy duology (Indigo Springs and Blue Magic), Dellamonica has brought her penchant for strong characters, especially female and genderqueer, to portal fantasy, crating stories that benefit from an unforced inclusivity; readers of all stripes can find characters to identify with, connect to, and fall in love with, as they lose themselves in an immersive new world.

Stormwrack is a world parallel to our own Earth. The moon is the same, right down to the Sea of Tranquility. The constellations are familiar. The sun is the same friendly orange-yellow ball in the sky. There are even pelicans. If it’s another world, it’s one awfully similar to our own—save for one major difference: nearly all of the land is underwater. Stormwrack isn’t quite the drowned globe depicted in the movie Waterworld—there are islands, primarily of small and moderate size. But one of the major polities—the capital in fact of a loose confederation—is not based on an island at all; It is a fleet of several hundred ships that makes its way across the oceans. This is the Fleet of Nations, and it is one of the most wonderfully described, unique locations I’ve encountered in recent fantasy.

Child of a Hidden Sea begins the series, introducing us to our protagonist, Sophie Hansa, a college student in modern day San Francisco with strong interests in marine biology and videography. She’s an intelligent, enthusiastic, impulsive, and charismatic, and I quickly developed a literary crush on her. One of Sophie’s burning passions is one that her adoptive mother and father do not approve of—finding her birth parents.

It is Sophie’s efforts to find her birth mother that lead her to accidental cross over into the world of Stormwrack. Once there, in addition to pursuing the identity of her genetic mother and father, she throws herself into learning about this new world, documenting everything she can with her video camera, which she happily had in tow when she crossed over.

Sophie’s enthusiasm quickly runs afoul of local customs, especially as it becomes clear some denizens of Stormwrack know about, and have no love for, Earth, particularly and the higher level of technology it possesses. Far from being a secret princess of Stormwrack, Sophie’s relationship with the alien world is perilous and uncertain.

A Daughter of No Nation continues the story. Back home for several months after the events of the first novel, Sophie is offered an opportunity to cross again to Stormwrack. This time, it is her birth father who dangles the opportunity, in exchange for a seemingly simple favor.

Her curiosity about the place only heightened since her first visit, Sophie accepts without much forethought. But in the midst of accomplishing her father’s task, she learns more about herself, the complicated nature of her birth parents’ relationship, the fraught politics of the watery world, and more about the magic systems that govern it. If Sophie learned in the first novel how much she didn’t know about Stormwrack, in the second, she starts taking steps to make a future for herself there.

The third in the main novel series is The Nature of a Pirate, which puts Sophie’s hard-won status as a trusted outsider to work when a threat to the ships that make up the Fleet of Nations pits her research skills up against a threat unlike any encountered before. Sophie’s growth and development in both her responsibility and the various roles she serves in Stormwrack are paralleled by her growth and development as a character. It’s a rousing conclusion, full of action, adventure, and pure portal fantasy goodness.

Dellamonica has traveled into deeper waters in short stories that explore Stormwrack without Sophie as the main character. They instead feature Gale, a character crucial to Sophie’s travel between worlds, and a personage of importance and authority in Stormwrack. Among the Silvering Herd sees Gale brokering a political problem between two nations. The Glass Galago is more of a mystery tale, as a missing magical inscription holds the potential for a conflict to erupt across the Fleet of Nations. The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti features Gale and her crew experiencing a nasty case of magical culture shock. In addition to providing a showcase for Gale, these stories explore more of the richness of this watery world.

If you’ve ever dreamed of finding your own passageway to another land, I encourage you to set sail with Child of a Hidden Sea, and discover Sophie—and her two worlds—for yourself.

What’s your favorite portal fantasy?

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