The cover to The Drowning Eyes immediately grabbed me when I saw it—the ships and storms crashing in the background, the woman standing against the storm, compass in hand. I was sold on weather magic.
Tazir—hard-bitten, tough as nails, and bitter—captains the Giggling Goat, a 50-foot dhow with a 3-man crew (counting Tazir). As The Drowning Eyes opens she’s trolling for a rich passenger in a need to get across the islands quick. The Dragon Ships have been terrorizing the archipelago and business is slow.
Luckily for Tazi, Shina needs to get somewhere in a hurry. She’s lying about running away from an arranged marriage, of course, but she’s also offering Tazir enough money to look the other way.
I’ve seen the editor describe the setting as based on the Caribbean islands, and I’m sure that is true, especially as to the geography, but the setting is much more reminiscent of the Indian Ocean around the time the Portuguese successfully rounded the horn of Africa. The characters sail dhows and wear dhotis and kaftans. It’s full of references and influences I don’t recognize but that I suspect are a mix of Indian and Arabic and eastern African.
The Drowning Eyes adopts the style of worldbuilding that drops a lot of made-up names referencing a lot of unexplained things in rapid order. It’s a kind of worldbuilding you frequently see done poorly in bad fantasy and often see done well in good fantasy. Foster manages the latter.
The magic system, in particular, fits with the island setting. Windspeakers have the ability to control the weather from trade winds to hurricane-sized storms. Control being used somewhat loosely. Only by submitting to an icon and surgically replacing their eyes with stones can Windspeakers hope to control the storms inside them.
The story only suffers a little from the brevity of the book. The Windspeaker magic system is very cool, but Foster tends to skimp on showing us the details. But the setting and the worldbuilding is rich, and Tazir and Shina strong characters. Shina’s conflict drives the action, but it is Tazir’s conflict that drives the story.
I received a copy of The Drowning Eyes from the publisher.