Sarah Driver’s The Huntress: Sea is a classic coming of age fantasy. It features a gutsy heroine called ‘Mouse,’ who is a flawed but admirable and appealing central character. Aged barely 13, she’s a strong young woman, trying to understand the world she finds herself in.
The Huntress is a sailing ship in a magical land, filled with mythical and terrifying beasts. Mouse is the granddaughter of a Sea Captain, and one day, it has been foretold, she will be captain of The Huntress too.
As the novel opens, this seems like an impossibility. Mouse’s mother is dead, her father missing, and her brother blind and sickly. Her grandmother, to all intents and purposes a witch, holds the ship together by force of will alone. The arrival of a taciturn ex-member of the crew, and a terrible storm throws Mouse’s world into turmoil. Her world tipped overboard, Mouse sets off down a trail laid for her by her absent father.
Such is the quality of the tale, it put me in mind of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. There is a blend of myth and magic versus technology. Mouse’s small but tough demeanor reminded me of Lyra, as does Mouse’s special ability of being able to talk to animals. There are differences. Mouse’s world is filled with superstition and faith. She is fighting against a man who believes in the power of gunpowder and advancement. He would see Mouse’s world swept away.
Subtitled “Sea,” this is the first book in The Huntress trilogy. The titles of the next books, Sky and Land, hint at their nature, as does the ending of this first volume.
The first two-thirds of Sea are good children’s fiction, but the final third elevates it towards greatness. The blend of quest, magic, and the novel’s dark setting are mesmerizing. Driver’s world building is rich and enchanting, and she weaves a classic adventure tale into it. A classic tale with a well-wrought heroine. I can’t wait to see where the next volume takes us.