Sailor Darragh Thorn pulls into port, only to find his sister waiting. His sister wants Darragh to reconcile with his ailing father, but Darragh hasn’t been home, or heard from his family at all, for ten years since his father kicked Darragh out for being transgender. Despite the feelings and emotions this brings up, Darragh heads home. But upon finding his father near death, Darragh sets out on a quest to find the Enchanter. As far as anyone knows, Darragh is the only person to have seen the Enchanter in a century, when the mysterious person gave Darragh the ability to have his body match his gender.
Merrigan experienced a harsh reality at a young age. Even though eir father loved em, e was forced to chose how to present emself. It was not safe for em to live in the village, and so found eir way to the forest. After decades of learning magic, e heads out into the world and begins to make a difference. But the forces of greed turned em against the people, and e has become a recluse, eir magic diminished. The stories of e’s travels have become nothing more than fairytales, one version painting em as a hero, the other a villain.
But with Darragh’s appearance, Merrigan begins to live again. Long conversations and gentle affection bring Merrigan back to life. But the troubles that face both Darragh and Merrigan are many, and it is only together that they can finally come out the other side.
This story is difficult to sum up. There is so much going on in this long novel, and Cochrane has built a complex world. The story has elements of fairytales woven throughout, and Beauty and the Beast is the most prominent theme, though the author does not portray it in the way you might think. The book is filled with queer characters and ends with a happy note. But it is a complex story told in three parts that hits all the beats for the hero’s journey archetype set in a fantasy background.
I will say here that for me, the pacing wasn’t always spot on. In part 1, we follow Darragh as he finds out his father is dying, go through his emotions with him, and then travel on his journey as he seeks answers. He wants closure with his father that he won’t get unless his father lives to explain himself, and so Darragh embarks on a journey to find the Enchanter who helped him thirteen years before. I was fairly well invested in this part of the story and in Darragh. Being a sailor from age fifteen left him a lot of time for introspection, and his wisdom and thoughtfulness added to his character. This part of the story is also interspersed with fairytales of the Enchanter that show em in a positive light.
Part 2 shifts focus to Merrigan, and it becomes quickly apparent that eir life started out hard. With the magic Merrigan possesses, it also is easily noted that e becomes the Enchanter. And as much as I liked seeing things from eir point of view, this is also where I struggled the most, pacing wise. Many of the stories that Darragh read in part 1 are now retold. On the one hand, it was nice to see the “truth” of what really happened before the stories became tales. On the other, this slowed the pacing quite a lot for me, as much of the retelling was rehashed. Merrigan is a fascinating character who has a lot of layers. But I found myself not as invested in the middle third of the book, as the pacing bogged things down at times.
In the third part, things picked up rapidly. This is not a traditional love story in the romantic sense, though there are elements of that. Really, this last part was a conclusion of the hero’s journey with all the drama and action one would expect from such a story. Things move rapidly as lies are told, actions taken, and speed is necessary to save the day. After the slower middle third, it was nice to see things pick up and move the story along.
The romance between the MCs is subtle, which I had no problem with. They definitely had a connection. My one issue is that their romantic love was the catalyst to save the day, but I didn’t feel that love was as big and sweeping it was portrayed. This became a sticking point for me as it seemed like an all too easy solution when I didn’t feel the depth of their emotion from the characters.
This is just an overview of some of the bigger points of the novel. As I said, it is long and complex. There are a lot of elements that are on page that cannot accurately be discussed in this format. But there were a lot of things I liked and that kept me invested moving forward. This is the kind of book that needs to find the right readers. But if you’re looking for a twist on fairytales and magic, and speculative fiction is your jam, then take a chance on this one.