The Black Coast by Mike Brooks
Orbit, pb, £8.79
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
The Raiders haven’t been seen on the Black Coast for a decade, so when the Brown Eagle Clan of the Tjakorshi arrive in force on their shore, Daimon and his stepfather, Lord Asrel, ready for battle. But Saana, the Brown Eagle Clan chief, has a proposal for them, she doesn’t want to raid, she wants to settle. However, if the Blackcreeks turn her down, her raiders will kill everyone and take the land. Lord Asrel doesn’t believe her and prepares to fight, forcing Daimon to betray his stepfather and invite the Brown Eagle Clan to stay. Daimon saves many lives that day, but his actions put his own life at risk as a traitor.
Rikkut is chasing the Brown Eagle clan across the waters on The Golden’s orders, a draug who wants to unite the different Tjakorshi clans. The Golden is furious that Saana’s clan has fled, and has vowed to destroy them all and whoever is sheltering them. Daimon and Saana’s uneasy peace might be shattered before any progress is made.
Told mainly through Daimon and Saana’s point of views, The Black Coast explores the cost of moving to a new place and learning to get along with those we might once have called enemies. It is full of tension and incidents which put the Saana and Daimon in conflict with one another as much as they want to work together.
There are many interesting aspects to The Black Coast, making it stand out from other fantasy novels. Nariada has a complicated referral system based on the gender a person identifies as. A person’s masculinity or femininity affects personal pronouns’ inflexion as much as how high or low born they are. Until someone identifies their gender to you, within Nariadan culture, it is polite to refer to someone as “they” regardless of what gender they may appear. It sounds complicated, but as a good portion of the narrative is in Nariadan, it quickly becomes natural. Compared with the Tjakorshi way of life, which has no movement on gender or single-sex relationships, it is much more accepting.
There are other points of view, such as Rikkut and Tila, the Naridan God-King’s sister, Natan. Rikkut shows us what Saana and her clan have fled from which ties into the main story, but Tila’s story takes us to a separate storyline.
Natan is without an heir which leaves his family at risk of being usurped by a distant family line who claim to have the Splinter King, a rival for the title fo God-King. As Natan has no heir, then Tila must have the Splinter King and his family assassinated and find a suitable male child to adopt. This strand has very little to do with Daimon and Saana, but I’m sure will come together later in the series.
Which leads me to the next point that struck me. There is some action in the book, but the narrative is carried forward by Daimon and Saana’s attempts to find a way passed their history of violence and distrust, which is juxtaposed with Tila trying to kill the Splinter King’s family. While it was refreshing to read of characters trying to work through their differences, it felt a little slow in pacing. Sometimes the same incident was looked at through three different points of view, Daimon, Saana or Zhanna.
Also, the breaks from the action at Blackcreek to Alaba are few and far between, and a little disjointed. A few days might pass in Blackcreek before heading back to Tila, but she is still where we left her. I wanted more from her because the whole book starts with her plans, yet we see so little of her.
The Black Coast put me in the unusual place of saying I enjoyed it, but I feel it could have been shorter. It has the hallmarks of being a scene-setting novel, so the reader understands the differences between the Alaba, Nariadan’s, and the Tjakorshi and prepares us for an invasion from The Golden, and that the real story is yet to come. Whatever criticisms I have are minor, and I can’t wait for the next instalment.