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Serendipity's Tide (Across a Jade Sea) (Volume 1) Paperback – January 31, 2014
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I love the protagonist, Batiya. I love her because she really does think like an engineer, because she’s totally down-to-earth, because she’s happy with who she is – her character arc involves no angst to speak of, which is great – and because I just love the way she is always figuring stuff out from half a clue.
Plus, it’s especially refreshing that Batiya is not consumed by angst, since actually she does have a lot to deal with, as in her society girls are not normally engineers. (Think industrializing Eastern Europe for her and Imperial China for Chunru and you’ll get a good idea of the culture clash embedded in this story.) Batiya is comfortable with being a girl and being an engineer; almost implausibly so given she is only nineteen and incredibly inexperienced in some ways. But then, growing up in her family provides a fairly believable background for this combination.
I enjoyed the worldbuilding, too. Especially the slang. There’s a ton of slang in this book, mostly appropriate for the working-class culture that Batiya comes from, but also some, entirely different in tone, from Changali. It’s hard to come up with fictional slang that sounds right, or I always thought it was, but Shelby makes it look easy. Maybe some of this is real slang from a real culture, I don’t know, but either way, it sounds perfect: I’m overjoyed. Gleeful. Brighter than a bean in a bucket.
A bean in a bucket! That's such a great expression!
The male lead, Chunru, is also a great protagonist – well, he has to be, or he would hardly be a match for Batiya. He’s autocratic, determined, honorable, ruthless, possessive, and of course far from stupid. Also, it’s a good thing Chunru is an excellent male lead, because he gets to be the pov protagonist in the second book. I loved Batiya’s pov, so it took me about ten pages to get over the switch. After which I really enjoyed Chunru’s pov, too. The main plot is tied up at the end of the second book, by the way, and then the third book in the series is the making-a-life-for-yourself-in-Changali part, after Batiya and Chunru finish up in Dostrovia and go to Changali to explain the whole thing to Chunru’s father.
This story is not perfectly flawless, btw. I don’t want to be over-the-top and create inflated expectations that nothing could live up to. I did find Imperial Spoiled Brat Lulahn disappointingly one-dimensional, for example; I kept thinking she would show a glint of something worthwhile under all that self-absorbed stupidity, but no. Who knows, though, maybe in a sequel she could be better developed? I would love to read more stories set in this world; my pick for protagonist would be Batiya’s brother Vanitri.
Her adventures start very early in the book; no time to speak of is devoted to setting the scene. There is action and romance aplenty. And it is impossible not to love the protagonist. I would call this book a romance, both in the modern term for a marketing category and the older meaning of a tale of adventure but that doesn't diminish its appeal.
Other readers have given the book a five. I couldn't quite give it a five but it is as solid as a four gets.
I'd just like to add that I've read the next two books and the series _really_ holds up well. It's great fun.
Interesting world-building--kind of a steampunk/late nineteenth century feel to this universe, with its technology, manners, and social mores. It feels like it's set in an analogue to Russia and China, which is a refreshing change from the usual Victorian England tropes. The characters are a joy to spend time with--two smart, brave, resourceful people--and I liked the cast of secondary characters as well, especially Batiya's family.
All in all, a really fun read and I am looking forward to starting the second book in the trilogy after I get home from work tonight.