Book Reviews

Review: Fathomfolk by Eliza Chan

I fell into Fathomfolk. This is rich, full of fascinating characters, and I love the world! It’s one of my favorite reads of the year so far. Keep reading this book review of Fathomfolk for my full thoughts.


But in the semi-flooded city, humans are, quite literally, on peering down from skyscrapers and aerial walkways on the fathomfolk — sirens, seawitches, kelpies and kappas—who live in the polluted waters below.

For half-siren Mira, promotion to captain of the border guard means an opportunity to reform. At last, she has the ear of the city council and a chance to lift the repressive laws that restrict fathomfolk at every turn. But if earning the trust and respect of her human colleagues wasn’t hard enough, everything Mira has worked towards is put in jeopardy when a water dragon is exiled to the city.

New arrival Nami is an aristocratic water dragon with an opinion on everything. Frustrated by the lack of progress from Mira’s softly-softly approach in gaining equality, Nami throws her lot in with an anti-human extremist group, leaving Mira to find the headstrong youth before she makes everything worse.

And pulling strings behind everything is Cordelia, a second-generation sea-witch determined to do what she must to survive and see her family flourish, even if it means climbing over the bodies of her competitors. Her political game-playing and underground connections could disrupt everything Nami and Mira are fighting for.

When the extremists sabotage the annual boat race, violence erupts, as does the clampdown on fathomfolk rights. Even Nami realises her new friends are not what they seem. Both she and Mira must decide if the cost of change is worth it, or if Tiankawi should be left to drown.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

Fathomfolk is multi-faceted. I immediately fell in love with the world. How above the water the society is convinced they need to perpetuate this illusion that everything is great. And it might be, but only for the humans not for the Fathomfolk. This is a book devoted to exploring sacrifice, class, and oppression. With multi-tiered politics, diplomacy, and deals, Fathomfolk is complex. We see the ways in which Cordelia, Mira, and Nami are all balancing their family, their city, their ideas of home with what options are open to them.

The outright aggression of riots in the streets, backroom sacrifices and manipulative deals, and tedious politics of false faces. What can each of us do in our life? What impact can we make? In many ways, these three characters are on this collision course with each other bouncing off, repelling, and being drawn to each other. One of the core themes is more of a question – how do we make real change? Is it through the burning down of a broken system or do we try to fix it from the inside out? Or do we just eschew it completely for ourselves?

Fathomfolk discusses how, for these characters, they are all forced to figure out what change means to them. With wars on the docks or with words. What we would do for the ‘betterment’ of our own fortunes. It’s a book committed to rebellion, questions of retribution, and resistance. How much violence does change require? And when will it be enough? If you love a fantasy novel that tackles these questions on a variety of characters, this is for you! Fathomfolk is one of those books you want to immediately re-read. I know there are layers, metaphors to our own world, and character nuances I need to read again!


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Like every interaction between humans and the Fathomfolk and the entire character of Cordelia? I could write a whole essay on this alone! The ways that support for the Fathomfolk blurs into objectification, into the performance and assimilation for survival. Tackling the universal theme of the sacrifice of one versus the many, Fathomfolk explores the ways people desperately try not to be used, only to fall into the trap anyway. Because of all of this, I’m going to be thinking about Fathomfolk for a while. Find Fathomfolk on Goodreads, Storygraph, Amazon (US)(UK),, & Blackwells.

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