Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins

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Daughters of the Storm 
Kim Wilkins
Del Rey Books, 2018

 

Not necessarily a new novel, Kim Wilkins’ Daughters of the Storm was originally published four years ago in Australia but finally made it here to the States earlier this year. In January of 2019, we’ll get the sequel Sisters of the Fire and if it is only half as strong as its predecessor, it’ll be one of best epic fantasy books of the year. Wilkins has created a deep world where characters casually reveal its details as they live their lives urgently pursuing their goals at the highest stakes they can imagine. And then Wilkins pushes them (and us) further out of their comfort zone all while maintaining a realism refusing to turn base like so much contemporary grimdark. Daughters of the Storm takes its story and world seriously, but never masochistically broods.

Clearly with a lean towards Norse myth and geography, the kingdom of Almissia is experiencing a crisis. King Athelrick is dying, but it seems he may be suffering under some magical curse. Rallying to his side are his five daughters spearheaded by the eldest Bluebell, a fearsome warrior standing to be the next king. And Bluebell will be a king, not a queen. She commands the loyalty and/or fear of all those around her modeling her life on her father. We see Bluebell panic and rage as she attempts to solve the riddle of who or what bewitched her father.

What makes this story truly engaging is that Bluebell refuses to act without all her sisters around her, fully aware and participant in confronting their father’s imminent death. Rose, who was wed to a rival kingdom as a peace bond wrestles with her love for another; Ash, discovers she not only possesses a magical second sight but awe-inspiring elemental powers; and teen twins Ivy and Willow suddenly find themselves entering womanhood each with their own internal struggle. These sisters are each fully fleshed out (although Bluebell is certainly the most dynamic and primary) as they travel together to find a cure and confront the machinations swirling around them.

Wilkins writes an epic fantasy equal parts intrigue and action where neither is subordinate to the other and in fact mutually enlivens. Her prose moves with ease yet never strays too far into the kind of onanistic worldbuilding that plagues most fantasy fiction. Instead, Wilkins teases out to readers in digestible and clever sections how her world’s religion, politics, and magic systems work with an authority even experienced fantasy authors often lack.

Some would gripe the story’s twists aren’t mysterious enough or sharp enough to be innovative, but this ignores just how good of readers we’ve become over the last ten years as the quality of fantasy literature has increased.  Or also assume that the tropes used for each sister is some kind of flaw, conveniently ignoring that this same criticism can easily be leveled at masterworks like Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song or In the Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. One has to wonder if this has more than a little to do with the story being not just women-led but firmly in power as the protagonists. 

Wilkins does an excellent job of laying out clear and subtle motivations for her characters. She is also adept at generating scenes demonstrating the complexities of sisterly relationships, which become very much the prime movers of the interpersonal action. Daughters of the Storm is an exceptional epic fantasy adventure kicking off what promises to be a superb series.

 

About the Author

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Kim Wilkins was born in London, and grew up at the seaside north of Brisbane, Australia. She is an Associate Professor of writing and book culture at University of Queensland. She writes a lot, usually by ignoring unimportant things like cooking and washing her children’s clothes. She has enduring obsessions with Viking-age England, misty landscapes, pagan mythology, Led Zeppelin, and really really small dogs.

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