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When Saotse rode across the treacherous ocean on an orca at the bidding of Oarsa, Power of the Sea, the blind maiden believed she had been chosen for a great destiny. But she hasn’t heard Oarsa’s voice in decades. Aged now, she has found her place among a peaceful, long-lived people, though her adoptive sister, Uya, still blossoms with youth. Then, pregnant Uya is kidnapped, and the rest of her family is slaughtered when an army of mounted warriors strikes the defenseless capital, leaving Saotse grief stricken and alone.
After Saotse finds refuge with strangers in a distant village, a new Power makes contact. Saotse embraces the opportunity to bury her bloodthirsty enemies in vengeance, but wielding the Power’s bitter magic could cost her everything she is.
As war escalates and allies flock to her side, Saotse believes she finally understands Oarsa’s purpose for her. But the Powers may have set events in motion that even they cannot control, and the fates of gods and men alike hang in the balance.
Three orcas raised their heads above the green surf at the foot of Six Pine Rock. Uya crouched behind a drift log so her mother couldn’t see her and scold her, and she watched them. One of them carried something on its nose, a sea lion carcass or a fish, and the orcas’ fins flashed as they pushed it towards the foot of the stone, with its crown of ferns and evergreens. A surge of seawater hid them from her view, and when it subsided, Uya saw their prize clinging to the rough spire like a ragged piece of kelp. It was not a sea lion. It was a woman. She must be dead, Uya thought. The orcas splashed for a moment at the foot of the stone, then dove back into the deeper water. The foam surged over the rock. Then the woman moved. Uya stood up straight and shaded her eyes to be sure that she saw right. The woman’s arms wrapped around the stone to keep from slipping back into the water, and then, she raised her arm and groped for a higher handhold.
“Uya!” shouted Uya’s mother from a short distance up the beach. “What are you doing? You’re supposed to be gathering mussels.”
"The orcas brought a woman to Six Pine Rock!” Uya said. Her mother guffawed. “Get back to the mussels.”
Aunt Mariku pointed across the water, to the narrow spire of stone that the woman clung to, and called to Uya’s mother, “Oire, I think I see something."
Uya’s mother looked at the base of the stone, then gasped and breathed an oath.
“Oarsa help her.” Then she ran down the pebbled beach and called to the men.
Uya scrambled around the rock and ran after. She had seen the woman first, and it would be fair for her to be the first to tell. But she couldn’t match her mother’s stride, and by the time she reached the men at the canoes, they had already pushed two of them into the surf and were paddling furiously against the waves toward Six Pine Rock.
“I saw her first!” she shouted to Grandfather Asa as soon as she caught her breath. “It was me.” Asa put his gnarled hand on her head.
“So Oire said. You did well.” But his eyes were watching the brown-clad woman clinging to the rock, and the canoes spearing through the waves toward her. The lead canoe was past the breakers, halfway to the spire, its red-and-black painted head charging through the waves.
A small crowd surrounded Uya on the shore, and everyone watched the canoe nose into the foamy surf around the rock’s feet. The men beat their oars wildly at the water and pushed off stones as they tried to keep the canoe upright. They were alongside the rock where the woman waited, now. Someone from the boat stretched out his hand. The woman seemed to shudder and turn away.
Uya could see the lips of the people in the canoe moving, mouths wide open to shout, but she could only hear the roar of the ocean and the shrieks of gulls. A swell washed over the woman on the rock and shoved the canoe aside. With a flurry of oar-strokes the men brought their craft back, and the hand was proffered again.
The woman shifted, then like a crow picking up a minnow, one of the men snatched her off the rock and tumbled with her into the bottom of the canoe.
Grandmother Nei and all the aunts and uncles of the enna crowded together when the canoe’s prow ground against the black stones of the shore, but Uya slithered past the adults and rested her chin on the lip of the canoe. The woman in the bottom looked to be dead. Her skin was white as a trout’s belly, tinted with chilly blue from the cold. A woven cloak had once covered her, though it was now little more than briny rags. Her hands were bloody from scratches, one of her fingernails had torn away, and blood trickled down her face from a cut across her forehead. But most of all Uya marked her hair: orange as a robin’s breast, beautiful and strange, matted with salt and seaweed. With a grunt, two men lifted the woman out of the bottom of the canoe. Only then did Uya realize how tall the woman was. Curiosity seized her, and Uya reached out and touched the woman’s face. The woman gasped. She opened her eyes, and Uya cried out and stepped back. The woman’s eyes were large and beautiful, as blue as a jay’s feather, but her pupils were white with cataracts and twitched sightlessly. The woman’s lips moved without sound. Then she passed into the arms of the men waiting outside the canoe and out of Uya’s sight. They carried her swiftly up the beach, where they laid her next to the fire and swaddled her in linen blankets. Women moved forward, bearing pots and poultices. Uya tried to follow to see that extraordinary face again, but she was elbowed wordlessly aside. Finally she gave up and retreated to the driftwood log on the high tide line. Her enna cared for the stranger until dark. # The enna lit two fires that night—the larger one around which most of them ate, and a smaller one where the strange woman lay on a pallet of blankets, cared for by the Eldest, Nei, and a rotating group of aunts. Uya quickly ate her fill of steamed clams and salty half-dried seaweed, then slipped away from the larger fire to where her mother was tending the stranger. Her mother gave her only a moment’s glance as she walked up. “—See if any of the rugei traders lost someone at sea.” Nei’s voice was as gravelly as the high tide line. “Have any trading ships from the rugei come down the coast recently?” Uya’s mother asked. “No. Maybe Deika will have heard something at Suroei.” “And if not?” Nei shrugged. “Oarsa blesses those who entertain strangers. If we don’t find the vessel that lost her in a few days, we’ll have to bring her with us when we return to Prasa. We could be caring for her for a long time after that—we only see their ships on our coast every few summers.” Uya crept around the perimeter of the fire, approaching closer. The woman turned her head suddenly, and Uya drew a breath and froze. She hadn’t supposed that the woman was awake. For a moment she remained perfectly still, then she decided that if the woman hadn’t been angry this morning, she was unlikely to be angry now. So she crawled forward until she could see the strange pale skin and blue eyes in the mellow firelight. The woman was very young, almost as young as Uya, with smooth skin and bright hair. “What is your name?” The woman made no response. She cocked her ear towards Uya’s voice, but her eyes darted aimlessly from the sky to Uya’s face, and she remained as mute as a stone.“Why were you with the orcas?” Uya continued. “Did you know they would leave you on Six Pine Rock? How far did they carry you?” “Uya,” her mother called out, “don’t bother the swift woman.” “I want to know her name,” Uya said. “She cannot understand you. She doesn’t speak our language.” “What if she’s not a swift woman?” “Of course she’s a swift woman. Only the swift people have hair that color. Now leave her alone until Deika comes back.” So that was why Nei had mentioned Uya’s father. Deika could speak to the woman in the trade tongue, which the women did not know. Now Uya, too, was anxious for her father to return from Suroei. She had heard that the rugei, the swift people, grew old very quickly, so she studied the woman’s face intently to see if she could perceive her skin growing wrinkled or her hair turning white. “Mama,” she said after a moment, “she’s not getting any older. Are you sure she’s a swift woman?” Oire laughed. “The rugei don’t get old that quickly, silly. It will take her fifty years to get old, which for swift people and little girls seems like a long time, even if it’s not so long for us.” The woman remained still under her blankets, her head cocked as she listened to Uya and her mother speak. The enna was going back to Prasa in a few days, and the woman would probably still be young then, which meant that Uya could befriend her. She took the woman’s hand and touched it to her own chest. “Uya.”The woman started for a moment at Uya’s touch, then smiled. “Uya,” she repeated. Uya put her finger on the woman’s lips. “And what is your name?” The woman said something like Salde, but the latter half of that name was an impronounceable twist of the tongue. Uya shook her head. The woman said the name again, slowly. Uya imitated it as best she could: “Saotse.” The stranger sighed and waited for a moment, then she repeated, “Saotse.” “Oh good, Saotse,” Uya said. “Since I was the one who saw you in the water and who learned your name, we will be sisters. And we will love each other until we are very old—well, at least until you are very old—since that is what sisters do.” The woman blinked. Uya took this as a sign of comprehension, for language was no barrier between sisters brought together by the Powers of the sea. Uya’s mother put a hand on Uya’s mouth. “Speak carefully,” she said. “The Powers hear all things. The swift woman should return to her people as soon as we find them.” “You speak carefully, too, Oire,” Nei said from the other side of the fire. She looked ghastly and uncanny through the dance of flames. “Oarsa doesn’t send orcas bearing a woman to our beach every day. Let the Powers work as they will.”
A beautiful, bitter tale of fantasy and war, Storm Bride drags you in from the first page, sinking you into it's beautifully tragic depths, just like the ocean at high tide.
The writing is flowing, beautiful and almost musical. You won't realize until you reach the end that you've been reading for hours, absorbed into the perfectly described world that Bangs created.
The characters are all unique, each one emotional, realistic, and likable. Even the unlikable ones will grow on you in time.
You get taken into the horror of war, described not as horror, but as fact (though it gets bloody). This isn't for shock value, it just is. I might not recommend this book to young people, at least not under the age of sixteen, but I think its pure beauty is enough to bring in even the most reluctant of readers.
4/5--a beautiful journey.
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1. When/why did you decide to become a writer?
I had written stories for my own amusement since I was in gradeschool. But I didn't really become serious about learning the craft and attempting to get published until I was in college, and the reason was because I was constantly coming up with stories anyway, so I might as well write them down. And then try to make them good enough that someone else would want to read them. (Getting someone else to want to read them is the hard part.)
2. What authors inspired you when you were younger? What books do you enjoy reading today?
I read voraciously as a kid, dipping into a little bit of everything. I always name J.R.R. Tolkien and Ursula K. LeGuin as my two biggest influences, but I've was also inspired by C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Orson Scott Card, and Tad Williams. Among contemporary authors, I'm a big fan of K.J. Parker, N.K. Jemison, and C.J. Cherryh.
3. What was the inspiration behind your novel Storm Bride?
A million different things :). On a personal level, this book was written in the period around when my second child was born, and I was very caught up in the process of becoming a parent again. That came through pretty strongly in the character themes of the novel. Plus, I was a little annoyed with the notion that a "strong female character" is necessarily a Warrior Princess, and so I wanted to write some strong female characters who were resolutely feminine, and who could impact the world without ever picking up a weapon.
At the level of plot and setting, I was intrigued by a recurring cycle in the history of Europe and Asia where the "civilized" people living at the edges of the Eurasian continent get overrun by barbarian nomads from the inland steppes, and then the barbarians settle down and become civilized, and then the whole cycle repeats again a few hundred years later. I was also struck by something I learned about the Plains Indians, which is that some of the most iconic "plains" tribes, such as the Dakotah, were actually descended from groups who originally lived much further east. But the arrival of European settlers on the Eastern seaboard created a ripple effect of westward movement. Both of these motifs are present in the history and backstory of the setting
4. Will we ever see these characters again in the future?
Alas, probably not. I think that their story is done. I do have a half-finished short story that I wrote which describes the life of one character about twenty years after the events of the book, but honestly it wasn't very good and probably won't ever see the light of day.
5. What is it about a sister's relationship that made you want that connection to be most prevalent in the story?
Actually, that was one of the last elements which came to me. I originally planned for the adopted sisters Uya and Saotse to be in different clans, but I found that it made the story really clunky in places. Their sisterly bond turned out to be the glue that held the story together, especially in the first half.
6. Were any of the characters personalities or emotions taken from real life?
I try to avoid basing characters on specific people, though there are bits and pieces of everyone I know. The emotions, though, are strongly tied to the real-life emotions of becoming a parent, and being with my wife through two deliveries, after two very difficult pregnancies.
7. What other genres would you like to try your hand at?
Lately, I keep getting ideas for mysteries. I love noir films, and I have an SF noir novella that I' d like to publish soon.
8. What would you do if you were Saotse?
I'd talk to orcas more, for sure.
9. Was there any intended symbolism behind Saotse being blind? If not, why did you make her blind?
You know, it seems like that *should* be symbolic, shouldn't it? But actually it isn't. Saotse's blindness just came along with my conception of the character from the beginning, and it emphasizes her dependence on the rest of the clan. I wanted to avoid the "Disability Superpower" trope, so even though she speaks to the gods, this ability is never actually related to her blindness.
10. Would you like to see Storm Bride as a film? If yes, who do you want to see play your characters?
Good question. Unfortunately, I'm not very familiar with current actors and actresses (I almost never go to movies), so I'm not sure who could possibly fill any of the roles. It's especially hard because none of the characters are white! (Though, let's be honest, they would be in the film version.) If I'm allowed to nominate historical examples, I want Keshlik to be played by Toshiro Mifune (https://static-secure.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2012/9/4/1346760810915/Toshiro-Mifune-008.jpg).
11. Where do you see yourself and your career in the next ten years?
I'll probably be in Romania. I plan on writing a lot more books. Other than that, who knows?
12. What would you be doing if you weren't writing?
I'd be playing a lot more video games. And sleeping more.
13. Can you tell KSR what you're working on next?
I recently finished up a draft for a book tentatively called "Heir of Iron", which will be the first in a series of four books. It's set in the same world as "Storm Bride", but in a different country, with a culture and setting inspired by historical India.
14. What authors, dead or alive, would you like to collaborate with?
Gosh, how about C.J. Cherryh? We have pretty similar styles and interests, and I could certainly learn a lot from him.
15. Thank you for participating in the interview. Can you please leave the readers with three things that may surprise them about you?
- I am bilingual in Romanian and English.
- I once ate an endangered animal. (But it had been legally hunted.)
- I have never been able to break the habit of biting my nails.