Misty Massey,
Mad Kestrel
(Tor, 2008)

Swords and sorcery are a staple of fantasy novels. Add pirates to the mix, and you've got the potential for a winning combination.

If, that is, if the author can pull it off in a successful and entertaining manner, and with Mad Kestrel, first-time writer Misty Massey has a good start to what promises to be a fantastic career.

This is the tale of Kestrel, a girl in her early 20s who, as a child, showed signs of budding power that would have led to a lifetime of servitude to the Danisobans, an order of mages sanctioned by the king and who seek to control all people with even the slightest hint of magical ability. But Kestrel's parents sacrificed their lives to aid her escape, and she eventually took refuge in the only place safe to her: the ocean. It turns out the Danisobans' powers are negated in the presence of saltwater. (Kestrel's, oddly, are not, but that's a puzzle for later.)

Serving as quartermaster on a pirate brig should be adventure enough, but when a black-and-crimson warship sails into view, Kestrel's life begins to change. Soon, she is embroiled in a series of chases, captures and rescues, with a dose of political intrigue, secret identities, plots and double-crosses. There are few men she can trust; one, her captain, has been taken by soldiers and is scheduled to be hanged, and another, the ship's bosun, has taken a sword to the belly on her behalf. And then there's McAvery, the infuriatingly dashing and entirely mysterious figure who becomes a constant thorn in Kestrel's plans.

The touches of romance between Kestrel and McAvery are the only failing of this book. McAvery is just too deceitful, too duplicitous to earn any kind of attraction; Kestrel, for her part, seems far too grounded to be won over by nothing more than a handsome face.

Otherwise, Mad Kestrel is a treat of a read. Fast-paced, but never rushed, the plot rushes like a raging whirlpool around a darling of a heroine. For her part, Kes is good at what she does, but not so superior as to be an unbelievable protagonist. Mix in a dandy supporting crew and some good, old-fashioned nautical rollicks, and you'll be waiting eagerly for the sequel.

review by
Tom Knapp

21 June 2008

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