Sharon Lee’s CAROUSEL TIDES is about Kate Archer, her grandmother, the half-dryad Ebony “Bonnie” Pepperidge, and the enigmatic André Borgan, whose powers derive from the sea. Kate is magically talented, being a Guardian of the Land, but renounced it years ago; she’s been forced to return to Archers Beach, Maine, because her grandmother is missing. Worse yet, her grandmother’s business — a magical carousel ride, where every carousel animal has a spirit that has to be bound every season or it’ll escape and cause great harm — needs attending to, as does the Land.
Kate’s an interesting character for more than one reason; though she scans as a normal, thirtyish human being, she wasn’t born on our Earth at all. This means Kate, unlike most humans, is familiar with the Six Worlds and the magical ability called jikinap, which isn’t exactly the same as Bonnie’s inborn abilities as a dryad, her mother Nessa’s various abilities due to her voysin (or magical spirit), or even Kate’s Guardianship of the Land.
So while Kate wears a Google sweatshirt with pride, and speaks of how magical code and computer code seems to have a lot in common, the fact remains that Kate has hidden depths. One of the reasons for this is because Nessa was taken prisoner many years ago in the Land of the Flowers (one of the other Six Worlds) by the evil Ramendysis, a man who’s attempting to swallow whole as many mages — and as much jikinap — as he possibly can. Worse yet, Kate was forced to watch as Nessa had to submit to Ramendysis, then endure many more privations before she finally escaped Ramendysis’s clutches and found her way to our Earth (and her grandmother’s guardianship).
But just because Kate’s been on our mostly non-magical Earth for years and away from her magical duties doesn’t mean that Ramendysis has forgotten about her — oh, no. (That would be too easy.) Instead, Ramendysis, for whatever reason, just can’t leave Kate alone. Because of this, Kate has to not only keep Bonny’s business alive and resume her Guardianship of the Land, but she also must make alliances, pronto, or Ramendysis will end up destroying her, just as Ramendysis has destroyed so many other mages of various abilities and talents in the process of swallowing their magic and using it for himself.
And if Ramendysis kills a bunch of non-magical humans in the bargain, that’s just a bonus. For him.
This is where Borgan comes in. Borgan, you see, has many hidden depths also, and with his affinity being the sea (or, in the more usual terms, he’s Water and she’s Earth), he’s very strongly attracted to Kate. Her personal story only furthers and deepens this growing attachment, which is why Borgan decides to mix in, along with other various magical entities (including a hidden-in-plain-sight Fire mage).
But will all of these various entities, which Ramendysis sneeringly calls “Low Fae,” be enough to stop the nasty Ramendysis?
And even if Ramendysis is foiled, will Bonny be found? What has happened to Nessa in the intervening years? Will the animals of the carousel escape Kate’s magic for good due to all of this upheaval? And will Kate and Borgan be able to gain any peace, much less allow their romance to progress, amidst all this turmoil?
All of these questions will be answered, but tend to pose more and more questions. But if you give this book time — for me, it took about five chapters to settle in — you will get hooked. Guaranteed. (Further reviewer sayeth not.)
Bottom line: CAROUSEL TIDES is a highly satisfying, extremely enjoyable, and manifestly excellent novel that urban fantasy lovers will devour with relish because it succeeds on every level. As a quest story, it works. As a coming of age story for Kate, it works. As an understated romance between Kate and Borgan, it works. And as a story of female empowerment — coming into your own power unapologetically — it also works.
A book that can do all that is one that should be in your library. So what are you waiting for? Go grab a paperback copy of CAROUSEL TIDES today — or go get the e-book directly from Baen Books. (You’ll be glad you did.)
— reviewed by Barb