I’ve long been a fan of Nathan Lowell. His fiction is characterized in my opinion by the incredible reality of his characters and situations. He takes the time to build characters and their worlds in your mind one brick at a time. This makes for a bit of a slower pace and the inside joke on his Solar Clipper series is that “nothing happens”. “Nothing” has never been so interesting.
In any case, this review is of his foray into fantasy, specifically he second book in the Tanyth Fairport series of adventures. I scoured the intertubes for a review of the first one. Apparently I didn’t do one (though there is this blog post). Suffice to say that this review will serve for both books.
The books follow Tanyth as she journey’s throughout the countryside, seeking wisdom and knowledge from women who serve as herbalists and healers. Most of these woman would serve as crones, witches, or hermits in other worlds or stories. Here we get to see them from the other side. We also get to see Tanyth as she moves from a wife who’s been abused by her husband to the role of wise woman and a reluctant priestess to the All Mother. Ravenwood is the first step that we get to see in this journey.
By this time she’s been on the road for twenty years and has learned much about herself and her world. She’s survived attacks and deprivations that we get allusions to. All of this has made her a sharp, tough “old boot”. She happens on a small settlement that lacks a name or direction. They convince her to stay and replace their healer, if only to teach them how to do it on their own. In the process the settlement encounters bandits and Tanyth begins to have odd dreams that she sees through the eyes of a raven. These visions prove useful more than once. Tanyth also begins to show a connection to the powers of the world and she channels that power through shamanistic prayers.
There’s a lot of “slice of life” that goes on in these books. In Ravenwood, Nathan has the challenge of showing us how a women might not only survive but grow in a society that views women as servants to their husbands and family. Her daily life on the road is vital to that end, as is seeing how she handles life in a new village. There’s also a bit of action and what I would call low fantasy magic. I really found no fault with anything in this book, other than the fact that it ended. When I first listened to it (three years ago?) I couldn’t wait for a sequel and I think that these books are actually better than the Solar Clipper series.
SPOILERS!!! (For those who haven’t finished Ravenwood)
My wish was granted when I found out that he was writing the follow-up. I grabbed Zypheria’s Call from Amazon recently and sat down to read it over the last few days. Tanyth reluctantly moves on at the close of the winter. She doesn’t want to leave her friends or the life she’s started to make there, but she knows that her opportunity to see the hermit of Lammas Wood may close if she doesn’t move soon. Neither Tanyth, nor the hermit are getting any younger. To that end, she goes with the first shipment to Kleesport with her beau Frank and Rebecca who will prove to be her travelling companion.
The journey to the port city and their stay while waiting for the ice to break tell us quite a bit about the world Nathan has built. Again, life as an older, single woman is hard and she runs up against a number of challenges. She overcomes them with dry wit and a ruggedness that’s endearing. All of this just sets the stage for the meat of the story, the journey aboard Zyphyeria’s Call.
Nathan has experience at sea (though I don’t think that it was on a wooden sailing ship, in spite of his state of maturity). I don’t know if it was my knowledge of that or if it’s the actual experience, but in any case I loved the picture he painted of life on such a ship. I can see, based on this, how much his experience in the Coast Guard influenced his science fiction and how he views life on a space ship. Once on board, Tanyth has to get her sea legs and she needs to find a way to pass the time and make herself useful. She does this in ways that will make Nathan Lowell fans more than happy; by helping the ship’s Cook. The description of breakfasts and dinners had me drool more than once.
Appetizers aside (how many food references will this review have?), the fantasy elements are just as important here as the gustatory and social ones. While Tanyth’s abilities are less cinematic than your typical fantasy tale, they are no less important or interesting. The one issue I had with the story that jolted me a bit was the lack of apparent superstition on the part of the ship’s crew. She did some amazing things that I thought would have been met with suspicion or fear. It could have made for some interesting tension. Still, I enjoyed it quite a bit.
I strongly recommend that you check out both books. They’re both available as ebooks from Amazon. I count myself fortunate to have the paperback of Ravenwood. Ravenwood’s also available from Smashwords and as a free podcast. I understand that he’s working on the audio for Zypheria’s Call. Listen to the podcast or read the samples and I think you’ll be hooked!