Welcome to Tiankawi: Fathomfolk by Eliza Chan #bookreview #Fathomfolk #NetGalley

From one of fantasy’s most exciting new voices Eliza Chan comes a modern, myth-inflected story of revolution and magic set against the glittering, semi-submerged city of Tiankawi, perfect for fans of Jade City and The Bone Shard Daughter . Welcome to Tiankawi – shining pearl of human civilization and a safe haven for those fleeing civil unrest. Or at least, that’s how it first appears.
But in the semi-flooded city, humans are, quite literally, peering down from skyscrapers and aerial walkways on the fathomfolk — sirens, seawitches, kelpies and kappas—who live in the polluted waters below.
For half-siren Mira, promotion to captain of the border guard means an opportunity to reform. At last, she has the ear of the city council and a chance to lift the repressive laws that restrict fathomfolk at every turn. But if earning the trust and respect of her human colleagues wasn’t hard enough, everything Mira has worked towards is put in jeopardy when a water dragon is exiled to the city.
New arrival Nami is an aristocratic water dragon with an opinion on everything. Frustrated by the lack of progress from Mira’s softly-softly approach in gaining equality, Nami throws her lot in with an anti-human extremist group, leaving Mira to find the headstrong youth before she makes everything worse.
And pulling strings behind everything is Cordelia, a second-generation sea-witch determined to do what she must to survive and see her family flourish, even if it means climbing over the bodies of her competitors. Her political game-playing and underground connections could disrupt everything Nami and Mira are fighting for.
When the extremists sabotage the annual boat race, violence erupts, as does the clampdown on fathomfolk rights. Even Nami realises her new friends are not what they seem. Both she and Mira must decide if the cost of change is worth it, or if Tiankawi should be left to drown.

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Hi and welcome to my review of Fathomfolk!

Fathomfolk is the first book in what is to be the Drowned World duology. While it certainly leaves the door wide open for the next instalment, I did have a sense of closure at the end, which is very important to me when I’m reading a series. I don’t like major cliffhangers at the end and then having to wait another year to find out what happens next, so I was happy that wasn’t the case with Fathomfolk.

I won’t lie, Fathomfolk had me at the cover, it was cover love at first sight. But as I read the blurb, I became even more eager to get my grubby hands on it: I have been thoroughly enjoying Asian mythology inspired fantasy in recent years, I’m a fan of Elizabeth Lim’s novels, and the series referenced in the blurb are some of my favourite fantasy series ever. Add a water dragon and a sea witch and I’m more than sold!

While Fathomfolk certainly had all the elements to become my new favourite fantasy novel, I never quite got there. It took me a while to get into the story, I’m not really sure why. Maybe because at first, I didn’t get the feeling of escaping reality that I usually get from fantasy? The fathomfolk, the magical beings, are being discriminated against by humans, and it was all very racist and harrowing, and it just felt like it hit too close to home to offer that escape from reality I expect from fantasy. I think it didn’t quite fit my reading mood. Although, it must be said: kudos to Eliza Chan for making me feel so deeply for her characters.

That final quarter or so, though, that was everything I signed up for. A great build-up to a rather epic and dramatic endgame, it was fantastic!

I found Fathomfolk more thought-provoking and a lot grittier than other novels in its genre. The world-building is fantastic and it hosts an amazing array of mythological waterbeings, from sirens to kelpies and kappas, and everything in between, including the most fabulous sea witch, who does seem to have a bit of a heart every once in a while (well, physically, she has three, but emotionally, …), but don’t tell anyone or she’ll break your bones. 

It took me a while to fall under its spell, but in the end I fell hard for Fathomfolk, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Fathomfolk is out in digital formats and audio on 27 February and in hardcover on the 29th, with the paperback to follow next year.

Massive thanks to Orbit and NetGalley for the eARC. All opinions are my own.

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