Saturday, January 24, 2009
The water followed her home from the library, water in the air slipping over her skin as if afraid to touch her without permission. The sound of water played in her ears--a child's laughter splashing, a creek burbling a mile down Atlantic Avenue--and the soft rain skipped in her footprints. Headlights broke over the hill behind her, and the wet air reacted. The water snapped flat and reflective on every surface until the car passed. The hiss of automobile tires faded into the whisper of rain and, in the distance, she watched a spray of pinpoint lights, shiny and heavy like mercy on the leaves that folded over the road. The car was gone and the water spoke to her, words that seeped and dribbled into her head. I will clothe you in mirror, my lady, shield you in ice, become the crown you already wear. She glanced around and walked faster, huddling under her backpack. "Leave me alone." The rain spat and crackled like angry cellophane, but warned her of another car approaching--miles away, a shiny black sedan pulling out of the North Hampton Police Station. She turned and walked backward along the edge of the road, staring into the dark, her three long brown braids winding around her throat like a noose. She waited a moment for the care to appear, biting her lip uncertainly, and then turned away, her sandals flipping mud behind her. "The rain's watching me, Prax." Praxinos, a voice inside her, answered with a deep thrum in her jaw. Of course it is, but its motives are rarely complicated. And you are the Wreath-wearer. It will obey, but you must learn to command. --Excerpt from Seaborn by Chris Howard Seaborn has taught me a valuable lesson: never underestimate Juno Books. For some reason I had assumed that Juno Books was a publisher of romance novels with a genre twist, but the reality is that Juno Books is not that much different from any other publisher of fantasy, except that they publish novels with strong female leads. And Seaborn certainly has a cast of strong female leads. Seaborn follows Kassandra, the granddaughter of the current King of the Seaborn and the Wreath-wearer, a person of extraordinary power. King Tharsaleos is a murderer and Kassandra wants revenge not only for the House of Rexenor, but for her family as well. As she gears up for war, she has to learn to control her newfound power. Then there is Corina, a California native who loves to scuba dive, but unwittingly releases Aleximor, last of an ancient line of seaborn sorcerers with the power to control the dead who was imprisoned by the Seaborn royalty. The problem, however, is that Corina has released Aleximor within her, and he's taken over, imprisoning Corina within her own mind. And Aleximor is also on a path to revenge. When his path crosses with Kassandra's, will they work together or will they become enemies? Chris Howard is someone I will be paying close attention to from this day forward. As a debut novel Seaborn succeeds where many others in the same class have not. It puts together a fascinating new world (within our own), drawing from Greek mythology and developing that into its own unique fantasy creation. Interesting too is that Howard has brought together two separate views of this fantasy world as a junction between the world as we know it and the world as Kassandra knows it. Corina is our outside connection, pulling us into the complexities and strangeness of the Seaborn as she is pulled into it. We are able to share our learning experience with her as her imprisonment draws her deeper into the Seaborn mythos. Not all of Howard's novel is centered on worldbuilding, though. Seaborn is an action-packed fantasy thriller with a touch of the macabre. My expectation of the slightly flowery romantic fantasy (the literary romance, not the genre) was shattered by Howard's unrestrained presentation of the darker aspects of his world. Kassandra is not a perfect being with untold power; she's flawed and struggles against factors that might drive most of us insane. Aleximor, likewise, is a cunning, twisted individual whose passions for the macabre offer to the reader a gruesome (though not overboard) visual of death and reanimation. Corina, who is perhaps the most sympathetic character of the novel, is the odd-girl-out, being the only one who is "normal" by our standards. Her development throughout the novel keeps this fantasy world connected to ours (this feat is also maintained through Kassandra, who does interact with us surfacers). If it isn't obvious at this point, I enjoyed Seaborn a great deal. The novel isn't perfect, as most debuts never are. Some of the names can be a pain in the butt to pronounce. I assume they are based on Greek mythology of some sort and unfortunately my Greek mythology is wholly insignificant to have caught all the references. Also, the ending did feel a bit rushed to me, although perhaps that has more to do with the fact that I enjoy a lot of description for scenes involving battles and the like. Regardless, the novel kept me entertained from start to finish and even snatched me up in the first few pages, which is something a lot of novels have failed to do for me in recent years. Seaborn never felt like a chore and often times surprised me in its presentation--Kassandra, especially. I look forward to reading more of Howard's work in the future. If Seaborn is what Howard can churn out as a debut, I suspect this may be the beginning of a long and fruitful writing career, with even greater novels finding their way into our libraries, personal and otherwise. If you're interesting in learning more about him, check out his blog. He's currently working on some other Seaborn related projects (and some not related) that might be of interest to current fans or future fans.