Orphans of the Tide is one of the best books I have read in 2020. Myth, legend and dark truths combine in this thrilling tale.
Orphan Ellie Lancaster lives in the City, the only remaining one that remains after the Great Drowning. She makes a living by fixing all manner of intricate and wonderful things in a workshop that used to belong to her mother. When a whale washes up on the shore and a boy crawls out the City inhabitants come to the only logical conclusion, he is a deadly force that has not walked the City for 23 years. The Vessel, the life form of the dreaded Enemy has returned and must be destroyed before it can cause devastation and destruction.
Unlike everyone else, Ellie is convinced that the boy, Seth, knows nothing of the Enemy and is innocent and so begins a race against time to clear his name. The journey that will take her to all corners of the city but no amount of running will stop the dangerous Inquisitors hunting Seth down. To clear Seth’s name Ellie may have to reveal her own dark secret. In saving Seth she will be forced to condemn herself…
This is a thrilling fantasy adventure around cobbled streets, abandoned buildings, up tall spires, through dank sewers and amongst the docks of the City surrounded by the sea. The cat-and-mouse chase sees twists and turns and bombshell revelations. The story starts at pace and never lets up. From the opening page to the last, not a word is wasted.
There is so much to appreciate in the narrative. Murray has created a brilliantly dark and original world. A City living in fear and shrouded in suspicions and secrets. Frightening Inquisitors who keep the people safe and watch over the city and are hellbent on finding Seth and killing him. Orphaned children fighting for justice. A bombshell revelation half-way through that will leave jaws-dropped. Alongside the narrative are extracts from the diary of the previous Vessel, Claude Hestermeyer. The diary extracts are cleverly woven into the narrative as the children use the diary as their own guide to understanding the Vessel and the Enemy. The diary extracts reveal a dark and chilling tale about the fates that befell Hestermeyer.
The characters are deep and complex. Ellie and Anna are both determined, strong-minded, strong-willed and courageous female protagonists. Ellie is dealing with grief and guilt. The grief and guilt at not being able to protect her brother and keep him alive manifests itself in her young, bold and often foolish nature. The death of her brother is her motivation for wanting to help Seth and keep him safe and her ability to solve problems and fix things is constantly called upon. The bond of friendship between Anna and Ellie is strong, and Seth quickly becomes part of the group, despite Anna’s reservations. The three characters are fiercely protective of each other, they look out for each other and stand up for what they believe in. I love a good villain, and Killian Hargrath is dark, spine-chilling and one to be feared.
The map and illustrations by Manuel Šumberac are dark, delicious and provide a beautiful visualisation of Murray’s imaginings.
It is enthralling and captivating, and the adventure doesn’t stop here, Orphans of the Tide: Shipwreck Island is due for publication in March 2021. I for one, can not wait.
Recommended for 9+.