Isle of Larus by Kathy Sharp (Crooked Cat Publishing)
This is a delightful fantasy about the Isle of Larus that has four guardians who seem incapable of protecting it when strange things begin to happen. Silver ships appear but the islanders can't benefit from any shipwreck material because the ships then disappear... Visitors from the island of Arjento Rock prove troublesome. A seagoing trader attempts to steal innocence and, at the drop of a hat, pocket silver for himself.
The four guardians are Rissa, who forecasts the weather; blind Rufus who communes with the sea (‘People had been wondering quietly for quite a while if all his wits were collected in the same crab pot.’); Pontius the priest who finds guidance from the Spirit in the Sky sometimes, but not often (‘The Reverend would have fallen on his knees to thank the Spirit of the Sky for this positive response, if he had thought anybody was listening’); and Castello, the Captain of Artillery who has no memory of how he came to the island.
And there’s a cast of amusing walk-on characters, too, not least the mysterious Mother Culver who sticks in her nose too…
The delight is in the characterisation and their interaction. Told from an omniscient point of view, we learn of the thoughts and past of some characters, often with tongue in cheek.
There are plenty of gems in the prose. For example, when ships are spotted in the harbour:
‘But Rissa, they could be pirates, ruffians. They could try to… interfere with you!’
All eyes were on Rissa. ‘Not in these undertrappings,’ she snorted, and stomped off towards the harbour. The crowd dispersed to test their doorlocks, bury their treasures and hide their daughters in the haylofts.
Captain Castello muses about firing his cannon for the first time:
Anyway, provided it made lots of noise, did it matter if they didn’t manage to hit anything? He was hazy about the practicalities of aiming a gun. And provided he didn’t demolish his own wall or blow his own foot off… There seemed to be too many ‘provideds’ for comfort.
The relationship between Rissa and Castello is a joy. She is formidable, he is not sure…
… when he put his head round the bedroom door to ask how she did, she had lobbed a water decanter at him with astounding force, to judge from the crash. She was a remarkably good shot, too, hitting the door on the exact spot occupied by his left ear a moment earlier. He filed that information away for future reference, and idly wondered whether he shouldn’t recruit her into one of his gun crews.
When Castello is confronted by a girl, dishevelled and tearful, his heart sank.
It was so hard to deal with a weeping woman. At least Rissa never wept. She just yelled and threw things.
There are a few moral points to make along the way; and some amusing ones too. As Mother Culver stated, ‘The people of this isle have a great failing… They forget the past. They let it slip away, and do not learn from it, and so they are never prepared for the future.’
She’s good at interpreting old prophecies. Which seem to be coming true. Which will greatly affect the islander’s future. Some of the surprise revelations are worthy of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta.
Kathy Sharp maintains the amusement, the little mysteries, up to the end. The whole enterprise was a joy to read. If you like to read a tale with a smile on your face, you couldn’t do better than set your feet and mind upon the Isle of Larus.
[A shorter version of this review will be posted on Amazon and Goodreads.]