Melusine Bluecrowne, or Lucy for short, is going to be grounded. As much as she loves her half-brother and stepmother, she’s always imagined a life on board her father’s privateer (aka letter-of-marque), not living ashore, no matter how grand their new home appears.
Sutler Foulk Trigemine is in 1810 Nagspeake to see about several matters of business for his boss Morvengarde, one of which is the collection of a specially gifted conflagrationist. Meanwhile young Liao Bluecrowne is fascinated by fire and can create fireworks like nobody’s ever seen…
I debated reviewing this. Full disclosure – it’s not really diverse. The author is white and so are both of the main characters, and while there are important secondary characters of color, Milford’s AU world is, at least at this time and place, mostly white. Greenglass House has the same conditions except the main character is an Asian domestic transracial adoptee, which put that book firmly within the scope of this blog. This book is more diverse-adjacent, which is okay but I just wanted my readers to be forewarned.
The very first thing I want to say, now that’s out of the way, is please read this book before The Left Handed Fate! Nagspeake is a complicated world, and while Milford has a handy guide for figuring out what you could read in what order, if that matters to you, there isn’t anything obvious on the covers themselves. I still managed to blunder and read the sequel first, which lead to some irritating major spoilers.
Turning to the content, Milford does an interesting thing here. She puts the pivotal event, what most writers would consider the climax, at the halfway point of the novel. Bluecrowne, like most fantasy, tends to run a little longer than other MG so she does have more room to work with, but this really piqued my interest.
Coming to this novel having mistakenly read the direct sequel first, I was already aware of some major plot points, and getting to that point and looking incredulously at how many pages were left made for an intriguing reading experience. Milford’s extensive worldbuilding helps here by providing a deep, consistent backstory for minor characters, which fleshes out the story without feeling like padding.
Indeed, many either have their own separate story or are included in another Roaming World tale, and Milford provides those connections in a handy end note so that readers can follow their favorite character in whichever direction most intrigues them. That is the aspect of these books which most draws me in – while I preferred the comparably cozy Greenglass books, I really love series of non-sequential interconnected novels and almost nobody invests this heavily in them, let alone with a diverse-adjacent setting/characters.
Now, while the Greenglass House books are these sort of warm, mystery/fantasy hybrids that involve some danger and derring-do but never get too dark, this story about even younger children is far, far darker. If the Greenglass books are capers, these are missions, with more serious and far-reaching consequences.
Liao seemed exceptionally young here. Of course, he’s meant to be a grand pyrotechnics prodigy, but he didn’t have much of an action role in the plot – instead being the mechanism that stirs Lucy and his family to action. I did wonder if that was part of the unconscious infantilizing that so many adoptive (and relative) parents do. But Milo does have agency, and her other Asian characters tend to be almost too strong.
Nicole Wong’s illustrations are well done and add to the charm and atmosphere of the book. My very favorite is on page 221, but I won’t picture it here as it could be a spoiler. The map is also helpful, and I hope maps are included in more of these books.
I’d written in my notes that the story contains mild swearing and had to cross it out as Lucy uses a much harsher swear on page 146. It makes sense in context (both for a character who’s grown up on board a ship and specifically based on what happens when she says it) and is frowned upon (she asks another character not to tell her father), but still helped push this novel to an older reader bracket.
Some other content for adults to be aware of are fireworks, references to past serious injury and deaths, kidnapping and attempted kidnapping, child luring, concussion, loss of blood, burning of hands, potions, fortune-telling, persons held against their will, references to throat slashing, theft, attempted theft, a spooked horse, loss of a parent, macro-and-microaggressions against non-white and biracial people (generally called out or disapproved of within text), child prodigy, drowning, fire, (negative) references to the devil, gender stereotypes common to this time period (frequently called out within text).
Did I mention that this book is significantly darker than the others?
All that said, I still enjoyed it, and would recommend it for older MG/younger YA. My preference is for diverse authors and characters, but Milford seems to do well organically incorporating more diversity than most white authors, and I’m already invested in this world. The Left-Handed Fate will surely read a little differently now!