Exile Of The Seas
by Jeffe KennedyIn the second volume of the Chronicles of Dasnaria we catch up with Jenna as she runs from her brutal husband and her repressive country. She doesn't know where she is going, except that it has to be as far away from him as possible.
Jenna starts out directionless. She is also scared, and very ignorant of the world around her, with no clue about how normal people behave or what the value of her wealth is. Then she meets Kaja, a badass older woman who guesses a little bit about who she is, and who agrees to teach her to fight and to fend for herself.
Jenna becomes a fighter and a priestess of Danu, taking on a new identity as Ivariel so she can hide in plain sight as an entirely different kind of person from the timid princess she once was. However, she feels like a fraud. In many ways this is a story about imposter syndrome, and about hiding who you really are. Adopting the mask of a fighter, Jenna takes a vow of silence, on the surface because of her religious dedication. But in practice the silence prevents her from giving herself away with her accent or with slips of the tongue, in order to better hide her true origins.
As Avariel she meets Ochieng, an attentive and respectful young man who helps her on her journey. He is a storyteller, and even though her vow prevents her from speaking, he is able to communicate effectively with her because he pays attention and takes time to understand her expressions and body language. Yet although Ochieng has the potential to be a love interest, Jenna bears the physical and mental scars of her past marriage, and has taken a vow of celibacy. In addition, she is being hunted, so anyone she gets close to could be put in harm's way. With all the damage she has suffered and the danger she attracts, can she love?
This is also a story about culture shock, as Jenna learns about new places in the Twelve Kingdoms. Nearly everything she encounters beyond the ocean stands in stark contrast to the way she lived in the insanely patriarchal country of Dasnaria. Expect some strong female empowerment vibes. But there's also more subtlety, as Jenna comes to understand her mother's harshness better, as someone who was trapped in a patriarchal system that moulded her behaviour and temperament.
Where there are scenes of action and fighting, these ramp up the emotional intensity without giving too much blow-by-blow detail. Jeffe Kennedy has great skill at writing turning points in the action that overwhelm the senses in all the right ways.
Exile Of The Seas is notable because it's a low magic fantasy. This means that characters have to earn their successes, rather than being gifted them through magic powers or the intervention of supernatural creatures. It makes for a believable and compelling story, where the stakes are high because the characters can be very vulnerable, and the main characters are very easy to relate to.
15th July 2022
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: own copy