The Duchess of the Shallows (Duchess of the Shallows #1)My rating: Fantasy
by Daniel Ravipinto & Neil McGarry
The Duchess of the Shallows is an engaging fantasy adventure, following the story of Duchess, an orphan who has been raised in a bakery. She's skilled with dough, but she's also strong from pushing the bread cart and handy with a knife from fending off would-be thieves. But as the story begins, her life is turned upside down (for the second time) by the delivery of a mysterious letter, and a bronze token which introduces her to the shadowy organisation of the Grey. To join, however, she must complete a seemingly impossible challenge.
The setting is a fairly generic, medieval-style fantasy world - but it's the characters which bring it alive. Duchess herself is brave and resourceful, determined to succeed although the road ahead is a hard one for which she isn't really prepared. Her best friend Lysander introduced Duchess to life in the Shallows, and must now face the fact that she's going to go further than he ever has. Brothel owner Minette, who is herself a powerful force in the Grey, reminded me of Momma K from Brent Weeks' The Way of Shadows (in a good way); her relationship with Duchess is a curious mixture of mentor and gatekeeper.
I loved the verbal sparring and quiet politicking, just as much as I enjoyed the fights and adventures. There's no magic in evidence, yet, but there are hints of something supernatural going on, and the various religions of Rodaas are well characterised as players in the city-wide game. I can't wait for the promised sequel.