The world of Sanctuary is not a kind place. Many races have fled there across the ages. Fewer still have survived and flourished—or survived. Humankind is the most recent to seek refuge, and the most cataclysmic. Since their arrival within the city-state of Atlantis, the embassies and tribes of man have formed new nations across several continents. Their misuse of magic in a prior age turned the seas acidic and drove their ancient Gods mad. The great contradiction of the current age is that it is only with magic that sailing ships like warship Tryphon criss-cross the oceans to protect trade routes.Navigator Edouard Van Reiver departs from shipboard routine and petty politics when he stops Tryphon against age-old superstitions to rescue two survivors, inviting aboard blood, fire and death.Sunjammer Gabriel Dagmar squanders his precocious talents through daily tedium to hide from the more terrifying depths of magic.Lady Carla’s escort mission is in tatters, and needing rescue from the acidic sea is the least of several concerns. Coxswain Grimm will need every one of his decades of experience to keep the Tryphon men alive, the officers on course, and quell the threat within spilling over.No good deed goes unpunished. Events require they assume new roles to fight an unknown assailant, as their anti-pirate patrol mission veers into the unknown. They will need skill, luck, or a hint that the Gods of Sanctuary still exist to rebalance the scales of a power play that could tear asunder the fragile balance the World of Sanctuary teeters upon. Can they hold the line and do their duty, or fail and doom their Spires Kingdom?
“I have to say, lads, that is up there with the worst f-ing evenin’ I ever had.”
This line perfectly encapsulates the delightful blend of dry humor, violence, and grit that characterizes S. D. Howarth’s The Tryphon Odyssey. It comes at the end of a grueling battle aboard the Tryphon, flagship of the Spires Principality, which ends with the flight of the once-proud crew—or what remains of them—from the burning wreck of their maiden voyage. From there, our heroes embark on an odyssey wherein they battle mythical monsters, rogue waves, and mundane human selfishness and treachery. It’s a romp through the Saturday afternoon films of my childhood, like Ray Harryhausen’s Mysterious Island or Jason and the Argonauts, but with the foul language and wit of a Quentin Tarantino film. If that sounds good to you, get your popcorn ready—you’re going to love this book.
The novel is divided roughly into thirds, with the first part giving us a clear picture of the Tryphon’s day-to-day operations and crew, the second a harrowing journey over the open ocean during a hurricane, and the third another battle against fearsome foes. Our main hero is Edouard Van Reiver, the ship’s navigator and second mate. He’s a commoner in a world that favors the nobility, and a history of poor treatment by his social superiors has left him an angry young man with a massive chip on his shoulder. He’s filled with self-doubt, sensitive to slights and criticism, and both suspicious and disdainful of his captain and crewmates. But he is also intelligent and kind-hearted, and I loved watching him find his footing as things go south. Edouard’s best friend is Gabriel Dagmar, who operates a giant magical crystal, called a sunjammer, that collects energy from the sun and powers the ship. Dagmar is too gifted a mage for his job, but he’s afraid of his own potential and hiding in his own boredom. Like Edouard, Gabriel steps up when events slide into chaos, giving readers a delightful reluctant hero arc. A well-drawn set of additional officers, sailors, and marines round out the crew, giving us a rich picture military discipline and below-decks rivalries that carry through the whole novel.
Lady Carla is a noblewoman and castaway rescued by Edouard’s orders, against the objections of the Tryphon’s crew, who share a strong superstition that picking up shipwreck victims is bad luck. Carla is another character who blossoms under pressure and draws on deep reserves of grit to help the crew survive their journey into the unknown. She’s no passive damsel, like the few female characters in the Harryhausen films of my childhood, who mostly exist as plot devices for the hero’s journey. Carla has her own role in the inciting mystery and proves herself a force to be reckoned with—which makes the gracefully developed romance between her and Edouard all the more satisfying.
Howarth also provides a lot of good stuff for lovers of unique magic systems and deep history. Many of the human residents of this world, known as Sanctuary, are descendants of Atlantis. Roughly a thousand years before the novel takes place, the Atlanteans’ attempt to return home caused a magical catastrophe that turned Sanctuary’s oceans orange and acidic. The acid isn’t lethal, but it’s strong enough to blister the skin, and so getting shipwrecked is really less than ideal. But not everybody came from Atlantis. There are elves—Tolkien-style, tall, graceful, and very long-lived, and monsters out of Greek myth, and a variety of non-Greek human cultures that suggest multiple populations were magically transported to Sanctuary over the centuries. The officers and crew of the Tryphon have a strong British navy flavor, so fans of Horatio Hornblower will find a lot to love here too.
It all sums up into a great read. The story may cover one of the worst evenings of the characters’ lives, but it could be one of the most enjoyable of yours.
About the Reviewer
A. M. Justice is an award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy, a freelance science writer, and an amateur astronomer, scuba diver, and once and future tango dancer. She currently lives in Brooklyn with a husband, a daughter, and two cats.
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An award-winning, gripping tale of empowerment and revenge plays out against a breathtaking backdrop of dark fantasy and science fiction.