This book was a short, quick read, but it was entertaining. It’s set in the same world as The Anvil of the World and The House of the Stag, but it has no significant connection with either book and it stands well on its own. Chronologically speaking, it definitely takes place after The House of the Stag, but I couldn’t say with any certainty where it fits in comparison with The Anvil of the World.
The story takes place entirely from the perspective of a teenage girl, Eliss, although it’s written in the third-person perspective. Her mother is a drug addict, her father is dead, and she has a 10-year-old half-brother who is of mixed race. They are barely scraping by, both because her mother is of no use and because they face a lot of prejudice when people see her brother. At the beginning of the book, the mother manages to get a job (mostly thanks to Eliss) on a huge river barge that sails up and down a very long river, stopping at various towns. This barge is the setting for the majority of the book.
There are some mysteries to solve – What’s up with the captain of the barge? What does the boy who joined the barge shortly after Eliss did really want? Where is the head of the dead body that was found? Who killed him? How are the bandits raiding the towns along the river so effectively? However, despite these questions, the story was pretty straight-forward and many of the answers were easy to guess from early on in the story. There was some twists (at least, I assume they were supposed to be twists) that I had guessed were coming from early on.
But even though there wasn’t anything earth shaking here, I still really enjoyed it. I liked and sympathized with the character of Eliss. She’s practical, intelligent, proactive, and determined not to make the same mistakes in life that her mother did. It was interesting to read about life on the barge, and to see all of the different towns that they stopped at on their way up the river. The story kept me reading to find out what would happen next and discover whether any of my predictions were correct.
Eliss’ brother seemed like a potentially interesting character, although he didn’t really do much more than act sullen and angry most of the time. He has some interesting experiences as well, but most of that takes place “off the page” because Eliss isn’t a direct witness. I think, if the author were still alive, he would have made an interesting subject for a fourth book in the series.
The ending wrapped everything up well and was satisfying, with a brief epilogue set four years in the future to help satisfy my curiosity about whether or not events continued on their expected course.