Seventeen years old Hanna wants to be a proper witch but she is stuck as a fisherman’s apprentice. Bemoaning the tedium of her life, she is sure nothing interesting is ever going to happen to her. When she and her master Kolur embark on their regular fishing run, she expects the routine to continue. Even after a magical storm blows their ship, Penelope, towards a remote island, she has no clue.
Then instead of sailing back home, Kolur points his ship in the opposite direction without explaining anything to his apprentice. He also picks up a trained witch to help him maintain course and perform other magical tasks. With no way home, Hanna has no choice but to accompany her secretive master on his mysterious errand.
Nobody talks to her, neither Kolur nor his witch. One night, stewing in frustration and longing for answers, Hanna meets a strange magical merman who seems to be following the ship. Unlike Kolur, the merman talks to Hanna but he speaks in riddles. He spouts vague warnings of danger and mayhem, caused be the otherwordly evil Mists, and professes his readiness to help Hanna. He doesn’t give straight answers to any of her questions either.
Hanna is mad at them all, especially at Kolur for abusing her trust. This irritating situation continues for half the book, while Hanna fumes and collects disjointed snatches of information to make informed decisions. The plot moves as slowly as Hanna’s life at sea, but the tension soars. Nothing happens, but something will and soon. And the reader keeps waiting for the break in monotony, until another magical storm shipwrecks Penelope in a distant land.
Finally Hanna abandons her master: he doesn’t deserve her loyalty. Because of his idiotic mission she has stumbled into an unscheduled and hazardous adventure, and she doesn’t like it one bit. It’s cold, wet, and life-threatening. All she wants is to get back home. Unfortunately, she can’t. Out of options, she finds a job at another fishing boat and hopes to save enough money one day to return home. But her adventure is not nearly complete. Kolur’s unwise actions unleashed terrible perils and magical monsters, and they target her and her new friends. In the end, she would have to fight the villains, no matter how unwilling she is.
The story is a classical case of a reluctant hero, but this book is only the beginning of Hanna’s journey. As soon as she says Yes to her adventure, the book ends. No surprise I hate cliffhangers.
The protagonist is controversial. On one hand, her heart is in the right place. She helps her friends whenever they need her, even risks her life, when necessary. On the other hand, she is whiny. She weeps a lot – tears are her signature reaction to any distress. She is as unlikely a hero as you could get, but what is a girl to do in her situation? She doesn’t know where her boss is taking her, for what reasons, or for how long, and not for lack of trying to squeeze the answers out of the old sailor. When belligerent magic breaks their ship, he still wouldn’t say a word. He seems to keep her ignorant out of a misguided wish to protect her. But ignorance doesn’t protect anyone. Only knowledge gives power.
I came to hate Kolur’s guts together with Hanna – for his dratted silence and his multiple lies and evasions – and I did sympathize with Hanna’s trials, but to tell the truth, I’m not sure I want to read her next story. I couldn't bond with her.
I will read other books by this author though. The writing was excellent.