The Archmage rules the island of wizards and has banned the use of magecraft in warfare, but there are corsairs raiding the Caladhrian Coast, enslaving villagers and devastating trade. Barons and merchants beg for magical aid, but all help has been refused so far.
Lady Zurenne's husband has been murdered by the corsairs. Now a man she doesn't even know stands as guardian over her and her daughters. Corrain, former captain and now slave, knows that the man is a rogue wizard, illegally selling his skills to the corsairs. If Corrain can escape, he'll see justice done. Unless the Archmage's magewoman, Jilseth, can catch the renegade first, before his disobedience is revealed and the scandal shatters the ruler's hold on power...
It's been a while since I read a Juliet E McKenna novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed the quintet of novels that made up The Tales of Einarinn, and felt it was long overdue picking up a new one. When I saw that Dangerous Waters was the start in a new series by McKenna, I thought this was a great chance to try this talented lady author again.
Dangerous Waters is a great example of traditional fantasy, from the faux Medieval setting and the corsairs and the mage powers. McKenna easily handles the various strands of story, as we follow Jilseth, Corrain and Lady Zurenne in their respective plotlines.
I particularly enjoyed the way that McKenna worked within the constricts of the societies she created. I've seen panels that McKenna has sat on during UK conventions and she is always very determined to see a good representation of women in speculative fiction. In this novel, we have the enjoyment of one women who is granted easily as much power as the men, in the form of magewoman Jilseth - in fact, Jilseth is particularly talented and has a fairly prominent position in her society. We also have Lady Zurenne, who is bound by her role in a male-dominated society - she has to work by devious means to attempt to wrest power from men after her husband is killed.
All the characters are deftly written, and, as ever, are a strength of McKenna's work.
Dangerous Waters is not dominated by battles, although there are some badass mage fights. Rather, it is political by nature - different realms clashing and presenting different ideas, some innovative and forward thinking, while some are deeply conservative. I particularly liked all of the scenes featuring the backbiting and division in the mage realm of Hadrumal - the heated discussions of whether the mages should involve themselves in events beyond the boundaries of their island.
I have to confess that, although this is the start of a new series, I felt a little lost while hearing about some of the realms and people involved since I suspect they feature heavily in McKenna's previous series for Solaris. Dangerous Waters can be read as an entry point to McKenna's work, but I do think that the reader will take more from this novel if they've tackled the Chronicles of the Lescarii Revolution.
In addition to this, Dangerous Waters sometimes felt a little... well, long for the plot contained therein. The novel is just under six hundred pages, and not all of it felt completely essential - but then, it is the first book in a series, so some of what I was reading might well be set-up for future instalments.
Altogether, Dangerous Waters is an entertaining slice of traditional fantasy. If you like your mages accompanied by a dose of political intrigue, then it would be well worth you picking up this book.