Published by Tor.com on January 12 2016
I was immediately drawn to this novella by the cover: a beautiful and fierce-looking woman in the middle of a stormy sea. What was happening to her? It is book covers like this that make me want to read a book, and I dove in, hoping to find adventure, danger and an answer to my question. And I was not disappointed. The Drowning Eyes packs a lot of story into such a small page count, and introduces readers to some very unique characters. Foster takes the idea of a group of women who can control the wind and bring forth storms through magic, and tells the story of a girl who has been given a difficult task to complete before she is considered a full-fledged “Windspeaker.”
Tazir is the captain of the Giggling Goat, and along with her small crew, she sails among the Tahiri Islands, transporting travelers from island to island, assuring them safe passage through choppy waves and storm-prone skies. As they wait in a port, looking for their next customer, they are approached by a young girl named Shina, who offers them a huge amount of money to get to a distant island. She says her parents are forcing her to marry against her will, but Tazir knows she’s hiding something. But, unwilling to turn down such a huge fare, Tazir takes the job.
Shina is hiding a secret, a big one: she’s a Windspeaker, someone who can bring forth storms with magic. She’s on a quest to find and bring back an icon that is sacred to her people. With Shina’s help, the ship is able to evade a dangerous enemy, but how long can they possibly hide from them?
I love stories that take place at sea, and much of the action happens on the Giggling Goat, as Tazir and her crew get to know Shina, who is clearly not the innocent rich girl she appears to be. Foster did a great job with the atmosphere of the story, and she literally made me feel the sea spray on my skin, and I could clearly imagine the rocking of the ship as the winds kicked up.
Foster’s magic system is strange and disturbing. I don’t want to give away too much, but I will tell you that Windspeakers have a tradition that when they come of age and are ready, their eyes are exchanged for rocks. I’m usually not the squeamish type, but this one story element made me cringe each time it was brought up. But still, I loved the idea of weather-related magic. This certainly isn’t the first story to use this idea, but I’ve never seen it done quite this way before.
The Drowning Eyes not only features multi-ethnic characters, but gay and bisexual ones as well, so for those looking for more diversity in your stories, this one has it all. Throw in a mostly female cast and you have a short but powerful story that delivers on many levels.
I think Tor.com is off to a great start in 2016 with their first published novella of the year.