Hello! Today I’m reviewing a novella I finished recently: Encante by author Aiyana Jackson, published by Aädenian Ink. As you can probably tell from the cover, it’s a high fantasy with humans and the eponymous mermaid-like creatures and is set almost entirely on a submersible – that’s submarine to those of you not so acquainted with the lingo.
Deep under the ocean, Simeon Escher, protégé to the leader of the order of Loth Lörion, finds himself an unexpected guest aboard the submersible, Narwhal. Home to a crew of humans, and strange mer-folk few people are aware exist, Simeon is swept up in their quest to find a world within a world, a possible safe haven from the insidious reach of the Kabbalah. Yet how can he think about his mission when the captain’s niece fills his every thought, distracting him from all that’s important to him, including his own fiancée.
Whilst this novella started off slow, with large, dialogue-less paragraphs, it picked up by chapter three, and I enjoyed it once Simeon was on-board the submersible and we’d been introduced to the batch of characters. It’s one of those stories where one must go with the flow, or otherwise be left when the tide turns; I felt like I was being thrown into the deep end of a world – which was both good, in that Ms. Jackson doesn’t patronise the reader by trying to explain, and bad in that I took a while to resurface and understand where we were.
…I’ll stop with the water imagery now.
The use of voice and language really brought the novella to life. I did like the plot, but I suspect I would have skimmed had the voice had been so…facetious, I suppose. I could relate to Simeon’s tight, mannered personality (he rather reminds me of my MC Cathy, in that punk of steampunk).
There were bits that I found annoying, though. For instance, at the beginning, Simeon kept going back to thinking of the love interest as soon as she appeared. Not going three pages without his thoughts straying to Drusilla. To me, it was mildly annoying. I’m also not sure what I think about Drusilla’s gift to read minds. It took a little fun out of the romance, since she was forever interrupting and second-guessing. And, yeah, it took me a little bit of time to adjust to that. On the other hand, I guess that’s how Simeon was feeling. Good use of relatability.
However, by the end, I believed in their romance. I’m not sure if some would critique it for being ‘instalove’, but I didn’t find that the case. Yes, the days flit by and there is very little time for pleasantry, acquaintances and getting-to-know, but The Narwhal submersible is a cramp place and proximity is going to affect the speed of attraction. Besides, Drusilla and Simeon evidently have that spark and connection and shared goals of travelling. Blows to Cecelie! Who wants a human when they can have a half-Encante?
Sorry, going off point– I will say for that, however, I was surprised how readily Simeon actually abandoned thoughts of his fiancé. Sure, he didn’t love her, but one would think for decency… Uh. I cannot say what I would do were I in his situation.
Certainly, it was a gripping tale that kept me turning pages for more. The beautiful, almost magical, world of The Narwhal and the ocean, filled with description such as
Several scarves in a rainbow of autumnal hues tumbled from a solid looking chest, and I was only marginally surprised to catch a glimpse of a skull nestled within them.
is a stark contrast to the foul, derogatory actions within the ship’s crew itself. I liked this Victorian feel to the class-system between the Encante and the humans, and it’s definitely something that, once I realised how strong the themes are of class in the novella, I wanted to read more of.
Overall: 3 1/2 stars. In terms of originality, I loved the novella. The Encante themselves sound like gorgeous creatures, though I was a little sad that the scene on the cover comes from the penultimate chapter. At times, I felt the story dipped into telling, and, whilst the voice was distinct of Simeon and enjoyable, I would have preferred a good deal less of the ‘seemed’ and ‘appeared’ in the prose. The antagonists were strong and believable, but I wouldn’t give full stars because of simply my subjective reaction to how high fantasy it was. However, it worked well on its own, and I would happily have read the novella without references to the conflict ex mare.
If you like the deep-sea side of the Steampunk aesthetic, like high fantasy in new worlds with new species, and enjoy a sustainable romance thread that doesn’t claim the story, then Encante is a quick read with believable characters and engaging stakes.
My gif verdict, a la the Notebook Sisters:
Well, in terms of aesthetic. Some Steampunk can feel cramp and all blimps-and-ether-guns, but being in the submersible added another dimension I hadn’t thought of.