So yes, I do listen to my daughter’s music from time to time. But that line caught me, and it came back as I finished Mistress of the Waves and started thinking more about the central premise of the story. George Phillies succeeded in doing something that rarely works out well, a story built around economic realities. Mistress of the Waves reminds me strongly of David Friedman’s Harald, a tale of how war and economies would really work in fantasy societies. Harald was occasionally confusing for me, the reader, as I would lose track of who was who and where they were, had been, were going… I still wound up enjoying it, but Phillies doesn’t fall into that trap, mainly by telling Amanda Kirasdotr’s tale through her own point of view.
We begin by seeing her do something that she didn’t even think twice about, rescuing a man who had fallen overboard. What changed her life, and would ultimately change much more, was that he was a starfarer. Amanda, slightly injured in the rescue, is tended aboard their starship, and given a gift that was both blessing and curse. She had grown up on a world bounded tightly By The Book, a world where no technology was allowed to advance. But when she saw the stars, and her own round planet below her, she began to dream of sailing the stars.
Back home, afraid to tell anyone of her experiences lest she be killed, she sets about a plan to build a starship. It’s a long journey, but you never doubt her determination, through conspiracies to kill her, storms, pirates, and her own changed body through what the starfarers gave her. Phillies weaves enough action in with the trading and practicality of the hard-headed Amanda to keep the reader drawn onward, and even though the ending leaves a sequel open, it could be left there, as well. Much better than a cliffhanger, although I won’t give it away.
The tone and characters, even the society, reminded me of David Drake’s Lord of the Isles Series, but this is no fantasy with magic. Amanda must make her way on her own wits, and she makes mistakes along the way, eventually growing into a wise woman. I wouldn’t mind revisiting her world, and I don’t know if he plans any sequels or not. I do hope so.