Kate Milford is an auto-buy author for me. I love all of her books. The Left-Handed Fate, which I was lucky enough to read an ARC of, is no exception. It has been a long time since I was so thoroughly enraptured with a book and in that mode where I never want to stop reading or leave this world and its characters.
Max Ault is attempting to complete his late father's mission to put together the pieces of an ancient puzzle that lead to the building of a magnificent machine-a machine that will have the power to end all wars.
Lucy Bluecrowne is a privateer determined to help Max complete his mission and continue her family's legacy of honor and commitment.
Oliver Dexter wants to live up to the legacy of his famous ship captain father and not embarrass himself as a midshipman turned captain of a prize vessel.
Liao Bluecrowne just wants everyone to stop fighting and let him make fireworks in peace.
Together these four headstrong determined characters have to dodge the most undiplomatic of French diplomats, outrun mysterious pursuers dressed in all black whose ship seems to appear out of nowhere, navigate the mysterious unexplainable port of Nagspeake, and deal with betrayals, plots, and politics. Most importantly they have to learn to trust each other and work together before they all lose everything they are working hardest to hold on to.
As always with Milford's work, the characters shine brightest in The Left-Handed Fate. I can not even begin to tell you how much I love these people. My brain is a jumble of incoherent ramblings and heart eye emojis. Lucy is brave, smart, strategical, and a masterful leader. Max is determined, loyal, intelligent, and capable of backing down when necessary. And can the boy ever think outside the box. Oliver is vulnerable yet stalwart, honorable, and smart enough to know when he is in over his head and ask for help. Liao is wise beyond his years, energetic, and artistic. The way Milford weaves their relationships to bring out their characteristics is nothing short of phenomenal writer's craft. Through it we see the people they are in how they behave with each other. And different interactions and groupings bring out different characteristics and shades of who they are. It. Is. Brilliant. Oliver is a foil for both Lucy and Max. He has certain qualities in common with Lucy and others with Max. This shows how much Lucy and Max really have in common despite seeming to be complete opposites. In addition to that, Oliver is very much his own character. Liao is so completely self-possessed and runs circles around the older characters and it is vastly entertaining. I loved all of Liao's scenes. The developing relationships and how each is carefully circling around the others for a variety of different reasons makes for fascinating reading too. I adored each of these characters individually and every permutation of them together. I loved how they needed each other to be their best possible selves too. (My favorite is Lucy/Max though because I'm a hopeless romantic and I shipped that hard from the first chapter, which, if you read this blog often enough, will tell you everything you need to know about Lucy and Max.)
The plot is fast paced. There is really no peace at all to be had while reading this book. The end of each chapter just left me wanting to know more, desperate to see what happens next. I've made no secret of how little I tend to enjoy books that take place on boats. I had no trouble with this here. There was exactly enough about ships for me to be firmly set in the world without making me want to go set fire to an entire fleet out of sheer frustration if I got one more detail about how ships work. This is a fine balance no other author writing about boats has managed for me. Milford does a fabulous job of showing life on ship and also the bringing to life the town of Nagspeake, which is changeable and hard to pin down. I was fully immersed in the world she created from beginning to end.
The story takes place during the War of 1812 shortly after America's declaration of war. The Left-Handed Fate is a British privateer vessel. Oliver is a midshipman in the US Navy. Max is doing what he is doing to help Britain stop the advance of Napoleon. I appreciated how well Milford added historical details including how complicated the politics of all this were at the time. Max has a line about how inconsequential the American war is in comparison to Britain's problem with Napoleon. (True.) She also manages to include how awful and unfair impressment and the British seizing of America's ships was. (Also true.) She does this deftly, not turning her plot into a history lesson. It is simply part of the world and who these characters are. These issues color how the characters see each other, how they choose their words, and what actions they take. At the fear of repeating myself too much, it is BRILLIANT.
I am labeling this as Middle Grade because that's how it is being marketed, but truly it is one of those books that defies age category. (Okay, that's also a trademark of Kate Milford's books. She is in the same category in my head with Diana Wynne Jones, Elizabeth Marie Pope, and Megan Whalen Turner that way.) Child. Teen. Adult. Who cares? Enjoy a good adventure with politics and characters who will feel like family? Then this book is for you.
I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Henry Holt and Co., via Edelweiss. The Left-Handed Fate is on sale August 23rd.