|This looks to be the beginning of a be-utiful series! In a blend of fairy-tale and the magical history that characterized their previous collaborations about a certain red-headed queen, Lackey and Mallory have taken to telling the adventures of twelve sisters, princesses of a small kingdom, who must go out into the world to seek their fortune. As the eldest, Clarice sets out first, disguised as a young man, with her sword, her courage, and a practical array of skills that serve her in very good stead. (My favorite parts of the story are actually the descriptions of how and why the sisters all learned to fend for themselves and not expect servants to do everything for them. I also liked the way the authors use the old names for places: Lochrin - from Logres - and Albion for England, Wauloisene for France, Khitai for China, Ifrane for Africa, and Temese for the river Thames, if I got all of those correctly.)
Clarice wishes to see the world, so she takes berth as a passenger on a ship heading for the New World. But whether it was destiny, impatience, bad luck or the lure of the ship’s handsome navigator, Clarice winds up on the ill-named and ill-omened ship Asesino, captained by the dubious, but reputedly lucky Samuel Sprunt. Sprunt’s luck, however, is other’s misfortune; he and his mates may survive every misfortune that can befall a ship, but others lose their lives. The ship on which Clarice nearly books passage is the Cutty Wren, and somehow I hope we see more of this charmingly named ship and her Captain Hawthorne later in the series, for it would be a shame to waste such promising names on a throwaway character.
Clarice, as Clarence, quickly befriends several of the crew, including Mr. Emerson, the genial cook; Dr. Chapman, the ship’s surgeon; and the aforementioned navigator, Dominick Moreyet. But the captain, along with his bully of a first mate, a corrupt purser, and the sinister Reverend Dobbs turn an ordinary passage to a nightmare, and seem hell-bent on inducing a mutiny, but why? And what is the purpose of the mysterious - and patently magical - pendant the captain wears around his neck?
When Clarice has to decide between standing by or taking a side, she commits herself to a course that she never foresaw. Soon she finds her freedom, and the soul of the man she is falling in love with, on the barter-block at The House of the Four Winds, where they can only be ransomed by succeeding at a quest that has doomed many a ship before theirs. But maybe a practical princess turned adventurer can find a way. ~~ Chris R. Paige