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Book Review: The Ferryman and the Sea Witch

Dark fantasy meets nautical action-adventure in D. Wallace Peach’s lyrical seaborne epic that features some of the best writing I’ve ever seen from an indie author. Callum is the eponymous Ferryman, the only ship’s captain permitted to cross the Deep, the sea witch’s perilous domain, after her daughter was killed in a fishing net. Only a boy at the time, Callum saved her other daughter, and to repay his kindness, the sea witch offered him a bargain: his life for his service. He can never set foot on land, and until the kingdom of Brid Clarion pays its debt in royal blood, he must gift the sea witch a human sacrifice whenever he crosses the Deep.

The warring nations of Brid Clarion and Haf Killick couldn’t be more different. The former is more of a traditional land-based coastal kingdom complete with castle palace, sandy island beaches, and farmland. Haf Killick, meanwhile, is a fascinating creation on the other side of the Deep: a huge flotilla city consisting of old hulks lashed and chained together. Its ruthless queen is barely keeping it afloat, so she resorts to desperate measures when the time comes for an exchange of royal hostages. Callum finds himself in the middle of a complex web of intrigue, deception and buried secrets, some of which will affect his fate in profound ways.

It wouldn’t be fair to spoil any of the plot twists, and there are many. The story begins with a stunning, dramatic prologue, and rarely lets up. Characters are strong and have very believable arcs. Ms. Peach’s world-building is astonishing. She’s mastered the nautical vernacular, and manages to layer in fantasy elements that feel organic, as well as evoking fear and wonder. The merrow, of which the sea witch is the queen, are more like the sirens of The Odyssey than anything remotely Disney. They’re seductive and dangerous, but also, in their own way, as complicated as the human characters.

The writing throughout is arresting. Ms. Peach’s vivid, often poetic style paints pictures in the mind’s eye and excites the senses. There’s a rare descriptive power at work here, but it doesn’t slow the pace. She’s brilliant at action and delves deep into the characters’ emotions. It’s a pretty dark tale for the most part, but I found it riveting and unpredictable.

I’m not an avid fantasy reader, but I was intrigued by the nautical mythology hinted at in the title. It turned out far better than I could have expected. It’s also worth taking a moment to realise how much skill goes into writing something like The Ferryman and the Sea Witch. There’s nothing pedestrian about it at all. I enjoyed it so much I bought the paperback as well.

Check it out on Amazon here.

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