Compass and Blade
Grade : A

This world of sea and storm runs deep with bargains and blood.

On the remote isle of Rosevear, Mira, like her mother before her, is a wrecker, one of the seven on the rope who swim out to shipwrecks to plunder them. Mira’s job is to rescue survivors, if there are any. After all, she never feels the cold of the frigid ocean waters and the waves seem to sing to her soul. But the people of Rosevear never admit the that they set the beacons themselves to lure ships into the rocks.

When the Council watch lays a trap to put an end to the wrecking, they arrest Mira’s father. Desperate to save him from the noose, Mira strikes a deal with an enigmatic wreck survivor guarding layers of secrets behind his captivating eyes, and sets off to find something her mother has left her, a family secret buried deep in the sea.

With just nine days to find what she needs to rescue her father, all Mira knows for certain is The sea gives. The sea takes. And it’s up to her to do what she must to save the ones she loves.

Dabney: This is the third first entry in a new YA/NA fantasy trilogy I read in 2023--the other two were The Fourth Wing and The Hurricane Wars--and it was the best of a very good bunch.

I loved everything about it: the sublime prose and the unexpected character arcs and plot. Greenlaw's storytelling relies not on dragons or complicated magic but rather on Mira, her riveting heroine, and those on whom she must rely. Lisa, was it a gem for you too?

Lisa: This was my first encounter with this author and I was mightily impressed by it. Mira is a stunner of a character; and she happens to be one of the best of 2024. She’s something special and unique in the field.

Dabney: Agreed. The very best leads in magical fiction are those whose magic is a plus not a necessity. I’d have happily read about Mira if she hadn’t an enchanted bone in her body–she’s smart, a bit snarky, determined, loyal, and witty. I loved her.

Mira, as we learn in the first pages of the novel, lives in a small, coastal town that relies on the illegal goods they get from being wreckers. She has a preternatural ability to stay in the water and the villagers use her to swim out to the wrecked ships and bring back treasures. She is both ambivalent and determined about her work–she is a marvelously pragmatic woman. When the wrecking goes terribly wrong and her father is imprisoned by the draconian British Guard, she sets out on a quest and, oh, I was so there to watch her in all her adventures.

Lisa: The piratical worldbuilding here is fantastic; it reminded me of several different real-life subcultures, like people who scavenge wrecks for cash, or pearl divers working in the deep sea to support their villages. It felt very real and lived-in. And Mira’s love of the ocean is gorgeous and well-defined. It’s, in a great way, a definite part of who she is.

Now, we both loved Mira, but what did you think of Seth? He was wonderful in my opinion - at least in the beginning…

Dabney: Seth, like many a good romantic hero, is full of surprises. I liked his ambiguity–one of the reasons to keep turning the pages in this very good book is to see if he is truly an ally or not. What did you so like about him?

Lisa: He had some great lines, and his mysterious ways kept me turning the pages, TBH. But…well, let’s just say that wonderfulness gets complicated with time and ends with a big twist we won’t spoil here. The ending of this novel leaves things in a very…cliffhangy place. That said, moral grayness is a wonderful part of this novel, and it is a feature and not a bug.

Dabney: I so agree with you about the way the book treats good and evil. Greenlaw knows that while her characters all have the capacity to do right and wrong, they, like us all, rarely choose one or the other. I loved the people in this book–they are utterly believable. Seth, Mira, her friends, and those they meet on their journey are wonderfully limned.

Lisa: Her ability to paint her characters as real, live human beings is what makes this book so very compelling, to be honest.

Dabney: To me, a great book has a trifecta of offerings; the best novels have stellar characters, engrossing plots, and wonderful worldbuilding. We’ve agreed that the characterizations in Compass and Blade are excellent. What did you think about the plot?

Lisa: The plot is fantastic, even if it’s your typical protagonist-finds-self-while-looking-for-lost-parent journey. It’s powerfully done, quite suspenseful and yes - leaves room for a sequel (this is set to be a trilogy).

Dabney: Well, it is an oft quoted maxim that there are only seven stories humans tell–I am rarely critical of novels simply because they recount stories we’ve read before. What I care about is how well is that tale told and, in Compass and Blade, I think it’s done beautifully. The details of this story–Mira’s experiences in and out of the sea, the battles she and her compatriots are drawn into, the politics of the worlds she travels to–these are all unique and made for a page turner of a book.

Lisa: Completely true. The world of sailing here is beautifully, written and sculpted thoughtfully. Did it encourage you to think of heading out on a boat yourself?

Dabney: I love being on the water but I think I’d like it a lot better if I had Mira’s gifts!

Lisa: I can’t blame you, but it made me want to check out the high seas. Familial loyalty is also important here; after all, Mira’s journey is all about rescuing her father. What did you think about the themes of family and family ties binding in this one?

Dabney: If I have a complaint about the book, it’s the bloody-mindedness of Mira’s determination to save her father. Parents, in the overwhelming main, never want their kids to sacrifice their lives for them. I wanted Mira to value her life as much as she does her dad’s.

Lisa: I actually related to that part of the story. Maybe because my mom’s dead and my father’s very much a part of my life, but I could understand her need to get sacrificial.

Dabney: Huh. I think for me, it’s probably an age thing. I can’t imagine the horror I’d feel if one of my kids or my siblings’ kids gave up their life for mine. That said, it certainly makes Mira an admirable character. She’s not pirating for gold for herself–all of her efforts (until the end but no spoilers here!) are motivated by her need to save first her father and second her village.

I really did enjoy the hell out of this book. It’s marvelously subtle and I couldn’t put it down. It’s an A read for me. How about for you?

Lisa: This is a solid A all the way; Mira is a heroine of all time, the plot and worldbuilding are both fantastic, and the supporting characters memorable. I’m very here for the second book in the series.

Dabney: Me too! Thanks for chatting with me.

Grade : A

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : February 27, 2024

Publication Date: 03/2024

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Dabney Grinnan

Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day. Publisher at AAR.
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