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Fathomfolk by Eliza Chan : a review

I’m delighted to be sharing my thoughts about Eliza Chan’s Fathomfolk.

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book cover for Fathomfolk by Eliza Chan.  Two water dragons are either side of a building that is underwater

Fathomfolk by Eliza Chan

  • Category :  Fantasy
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Orbit (29 Feb. 2024)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 432 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0356522393
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0356522395
  • Amazon  |  Waterstones  |  Goodreads

Fathomfolk Summary

Revolution is brewing in the semi-submerged city of Tiankawi, between humans and the fathomfolk who live in its waters. This gloriously imaginative debut fantasy, inspired by East Asian mythology and ocean folk tales, is a novel of magic, rebellion and change.

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, on top: peering down from shining towers 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 help her downtrodden people. 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 Nami, a know-it-all water dragon and fathomfolk princess – is exiled to the city, under Mira’s watch. When extremists sabotage a city festival, violence erupts, as does the clampdown on fathomfolk rights. Both Nami and Mira must decide if the cost of change is worth paying, or if Tiankawi should be left to drown.

Fathomfolk Review

First off, I identified with each and every character in this story.  I need this connection; it hooks me into the emotions so that I get to feel what the characters do (and a few more emotions besides). It was there for me right from the beginning.  The story felt like a safe environment for me to access my own feelings through the characters about such things as prejudices and empty gestures.

Mira really cares about the fathomfolk community and climbs the ladder in the human world to hopefully make a difference but is still not respected. 

Kai, noble and the only water dragon in the city state has a position of authority.  Often on the edge of the action waiting to support Mira, he really comes into his own when it’s really needed (I fell a little in love with him myself out on the boat).

Nami (sister to Kai), is banished to Tiankawi and has to figure out the human technology and take it back home to Yonakuni haven.  She has the heart of a rebel and away from familial influences, rules and regulations, she’s put through some testing situations.  She believes wholeheartedly in what she’s told but then some experiences make her question her belief. I can’t make up my mind about one character.  There was no trust there from me in the beginning and I’m still thinking the cause is more important to them with their black and white thinking.

Serena holds power but thinks she’s unbeatable and always has the upper hand … those two things together never go well do they …

The Fathomfolk world is a mirror of our own (class, power, immigration and prejudices) which makes it totally relatable.  There’s a device that reminded me of our electronic tag system (but with harsher consequences, used for the wrong reasons and is much more than a preventative measure!).  Layers of manipulation and plotting, secrets (that may not be as hidden as someone thinks) and of course factions provide intrigue and suspense.  There is so much action.  At times this story was hard to put down and I found myself reading into the early hours.

I loved the fantasy, the myths and the legends.  The way this author weaves it all together is perfect.  The shape changing was awesome. 

This is a timely story in the Year of the Dragon!  I’m so excited for what comes next.  Bring it on!

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About the Author

Eliza Chan is a Scottish-born Chinese-diaspora author who ‘writes about East Asian mythology, British folklore and reclaiming the dragon lady, but preferably all three at once.’ Eliza’s work has been published in The Dark, Podcastle, Fantasy Magazine and The Best of British Fantasy, and her non-fiction has appeared on Tor.com. She lives in the North of England with her partner and young child. Fathomfolk is her first novel. @elizachanwrites

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