Child of a Hidden Sea – A.M. Dellamonica

About the Book

One minute, twenty-four-year-old Sophie Hansa is in a San Francisco alley trying to save the life of the aunt she has never known. The next, she finds herself flung into the warm and salty waters of an unfamiliar world. Glowing moths fall to the waves around her, and the sleek bodies of unseen fish glide against her submerged ankles.

The world is Stormwrack, a series of island nations with a variety of cultures and economies—and a language different from any Sophie has heard.

Sophie doesn’t know it yet, but she has just stepped into the middle of a political firestorm, and a conspiracy that could destroy a world she has just discovered… her world, where everyone seems to know who she is, and where she is forbidden to stay.

But Sophie is stubborn, and smart, and refuses to be cast adrift by people who don’t know her and yet wish her gone. With the help of a sister she has never known, and a ship captain who would rather she had never arrived, she must navigate the shoals of the highly charged politics of Stormwrack, and win the right to decide for herself whether she stays in this wondrous world . . . or is doomed to exile.

336 pages (Hardcover)
Published on June 24, 2014
Published by Tor
Author’s webpage 

This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.


Child of a Hidden Sea is the kind of fantasy book that usually leaves me very aggravated, not because it’s bad, but because parallel world/portal fantasy (whatever you want to call it) usually doesn’t work. There are too many leaps of logic that I never really buy into. Things feel clunky, and a good plot seems to be messed up by the complexity that a secondary world alongside our world creates.

I went into this one with a huge amount of skepticism, but I decided to give it a chance anyway because the strong female protagonist really interested me. I’m glad I gave it that shot, because Dellamonica nicely sidesteps most of the speed bumps that so many other authors get slowed down by.

Firstly, Sophie, our protagonist, is far from perfect. She’s a fairly flawed person, in most senses of the word. She’s no pillar of perfection, and many readers will instantly bond with her due to that. She’s a little lost, slightly stalker-ish, has a serious case of being overshadowed by her genius brother. She’s lost, and that sort of lost feeling is something that I instantly bonded with. So many authors fill their books with characters that don’t feel, well, human, and Sophie was incredibly human. She was flawed, and her flaws kept her believable and interesting.

Furthermore, Sophie is nicely balanced by her secondary characters, all of whom have distinct voices and truly feel like individual people. They give the world(s) a broader, more real sense. They also make a lot of the more complex plotlines feel much more grounded. In short, I can tell Dellamonica focused a lot of attention into creating realistic, well rounded, intensely believable characters, and her book really thrives for it.

The plot is quick moving, and full of complex family, and political depth that I really didn’t expect. The world of Stormwrack was very well created, full of culture and depth, plenty of traditions that go back ages, languages that change and make things complicated, weather and lifestyle issues, and magic. The legal and political drama that Sophie finds herself navigating is really made even more complex by the really dynamic world building. It was easy to see how Sophie could be overwhelmed by it all, and it was very empowering to see her grow and adjust to her new situations. Furthermore, many of the “ah ha” moments in the plot are nicely paced, nothing is revealed all at once. I really appreciate when authors pace their plots this well.

There are, however, some issues, which I expected with this kind of portal fantasy. The language barrier, while in place, is a little too easily overcome with some waving-of-the-hands type of magic. There is an issue regarding the transfer of technology between Earth and Stormwrack that was never really explained. For example, why does Sophie’s phone not work, but her camera does? Sophie’s brother is a genius, and I often felt that his genius-like tendencies can be a little too convenient. He learns the languages really fast. He reads books and knows all the answers. He tended to function as an “easy answer” button in the case of conflict that doesn’t really have an answer.

I have to hand it to Dellamonica, though. In the face of so many challenges – portal fantasy, lots of boats (I really don’t do well with books that involve lots of ships and sailing), lots of cultures and characters, and a surprisingly complex drama – she really did well with it. Despite some world building issues, which I expected (I expected more than what I found, to be honest), the plot is tight, and the characters really balance each other well. Furthermore, I found the sibling relationship between Sophie and Bram, and the budding relationships with Sophie and the family she never knew, to be rather endearing. It is rare that I find really realistic, close family relationships in books, and I’m really glad that Dellamonica showed how important family ties are, not just through Sophie’s relationships, but through the plot itself.

I left Child of a Hidden Sea feeling very, well, satisfied. This book is a lot of fun, and many of the complex topics are handled with poise and grace. The world building was well done, despite the fact that some points will require readers to leave their questions at the door and just accept some things as they are presented. However, Dellamonica did the impossible by making portal fantasy work this well. I’m not sure if this is the first book in a series, but I hope it is. There is plenty of room for Dellamonica to grow the world and develop the characters and situations, plenty of questions that could be answered while more questions are presented. There is a lot of potential here.

Bravo, Dellamonica.


4/5 stars

8 Responses

  • For example, why does Sophie’s phone not work, but her camera does?

    I took that to refer mostly to a lack of a cell phone signal rather than it becoming bricked. Technology clearly works on Stormwrack. but is really, really disliked

    But, yeah. good Portal Fantasy has been long out of fashion, but I am glad that this seems to be a counter to that trend.

    • Paul-Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s the lack of signal, since the phone actually did turn on…:)

  • Wow, you really don’t like portal fantasies do you?!

    I really agree with this review. I loved Sophie & Bran, but agree that he was a bit conveniently placed at times. Also pretty sure it’s impossible to pick up an entire language in less than a fortnight…

  • I’m fairly tolerant when it comes to fantasy hand-waving and I think I like ships/sailing more, so this one sounds perfect for me :D. I’m quite excited to hear your thoughts on it and was waiting a bit impatiently 😉

  • Could not agree with you more about the presence of technology on Stormwrack. I just didn’t buy into everyone’s immediate dismissal of Sophie’s tech – *someone* must have seen her filming everything and been freaked out by it. I enjoyed this book but found it to be a little ‘meh’. I’m hoping that the sequel will be a bit more action packed!

  • Picking up languages: It depends. Some people learn languages much faster than other people, and picking up a -related- language is much easier; Italian is fairly easy for a Romanian- or Spanish-speaker, frex. The languages on Sormwrack are related to those on Erstwhile (Earth) and Bram already speaks several of those. Plus he’s very bright and has a very good memory.

    Also, the “Fleetspeak” he learns is a lingua franca, a creolized contact-pidgin, and languages of that type have a stripped-down grammar that’s easy to learn. It also seems to contain a lot of English words.

  • I like portal fantasies myself — grew up on Narnia et. al. This is a very good one. And the protag is, indeed, flawed; she has a hair-raising tendency to mouth off to powerful, dangerous, violent people, for instance. Still, I like her.

  • I’m glad to see you liked this one. I think I really will too. She does look like she is balancing a lot but sounds like it all works out.

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