Colm Weathercliff lives in a world built on magic, superstition, and fear. His mountainous village of Anneslea is no longer a safe haven, now that his father has died. The clerics will soon press Colm into farming and marriage, although he has no inclination toward either. Colm has a “knack”—don’t call it magic!—for locating fish, and has been a steady fisherman at his home lake since his childhood. Fearing for Colm’s well-being now that his charismatic father has passed, his stepmother encourages Colm to take his father’s ashes to the ocean for burial. She has an aunt in the capital city of Caithmor who will take Colm in, but the trip is long and Colm has few resources.
Colm joins a trader’s caravan, with the agreement that he gather fish for Fergus, the head trader, each night, a small issue for a man of Colm’s nature. He and Fergus bond, sharing the adventure and a few secrets, and a month later Colm is finally in Caithmor. There he meets his stepmother’s relations, Aunt Megg and cousin Nichol, who take him in readily. They know all of Colm’s talent from years of family correspondence, and help him to find a job as a fisher’s mate. Unfortunately the fisher is a drunk, and his big mouth and bigger catches raise the ire of the other fishermen. They alert the clergy, the only legal practitioners of magic. Colm is subjected to torturous questioning and his livelihood ruined, but he’s not without resources. He works in Megg’s inn and enjoys spending time with Nichol. Nichol is a young man, like Colm, who finds attraction to other men. He is besotted with his childhood friend, and they are a tight pair until Colm’s disgrace causes a rift. Soon Nichol is on the outs, and Colm must help him get over his heartache.
It looks as if life is picking up for both Colm and Nichol when the unthinkable happens and Colm is transfigured. This isn’t the worst part, though. Nope. Nichol is gravely injured, Colm is distraught and bereft, and then things get even worse, and well, it does get better. A lot better, actually. But first, Nichol and Colm must endure a big upheaval in their lives, and risk everything to escape and find safe harbor.
I really loved how this book tied all the plot lines tight. Characters that seemed inconsequential became indispensible. There is actually more to the plot than I’ve outlined, but I can’t reveal more of the tapestry without taking all the joy from it. This is a fantasy and adventure with a romance that grows naturally. I liked how they had been friends first and became close as the weeks and months wore on. I was so intrigued throughout, because the world building is excellent. The elements of magic are considerable, with selkies and mer and curses and priestly charms. I think everyone will know the secret of Colm’s magic from the blurb, but the reveal is so different from my expectations that I was completely blindsided by the next several plot turns. I found the juxtaposition of religion and magic to be unique, with the priests and royalty full practitioners of magic, while even innate magic was forbidden to the regular folk.
The end is squarely in the HEA category, but it’s a hard won ending. Like Colm, readers will be on the edge of despair until the last chapter, or two. I was captivated and pleased, both with the story and it’s pacing, especially given the length. The book is nearly 500 pages, and I honestly didn’t feel as if any of them were wasted. If you like fantasy, magic, and are willing to suffer the amazing turns of Colm’s fortune, I really think you’ll like this one.
I also suspect there might be another book in this world, as there were a few characters I could “see” getting their own stories—quotes here because one of them is an intriguing blind soothsayer.