Emily Foster’s 2016 The Drowning Eyes is a standalone secondary-universe fantasy.
Town after town has been sacked by the Dragon Ships. Widespread paranoia is cutting into the good ship Giggling Goat’s business; it’s much harder for Tazir to find passengers willing to book passage.
Still, no matter the danger, there is always someone anxious enough to pay well for transport across risky waters. It could be “runaway bride,” “person looking for a lost relative,” or “murderer who needs to get away from the scene of the crime.” Tazir’s recruiting efforts pay off in the form of a young girl named Shina. She seems naïve and harmless, needs to travel quickly, and is willing to pay an impressively large fee.
All is not quite as it seems.
Tazir’s crew notices that Shina doesn’t at all look like a rich girl on an unauthorized adventure. She looks like someone raised on skimpy rations; she isn’t accustomed to wearing shoe; she never hesitates to pitch in when work needs doing. But Shina’s money is real and that’s enough for Tazir.
The Giggling Goat encounters uncommonly good weather as it makes its way across the seas. This suggests that Shina might be a so-called “wet eye,” a weather witch who has eluded the windspeakers’ guild. According to the windspeakers, untrained wet eyes are a danger to themselves and those around them. Since the training involves years of monastic isolation and surgical removal of the trainee’s eyes, Tazir can understand why a potential windspeaker might not want to join the organization.
In fact, Shina was willing to become a full windspeaker. She didn’t graduate because the windspeaker training center was raided by the Dragon Boats. All save Shina were killed. Not only that, the Dragon Boats stole the icon that allows windspeaker powers to work. Windspeakers can’t use their weather control to balk the pirates if they’ve been kneecapped.
Shina must set things right. Unfortunately for her and for those she encounters, wet eye windspeakers truly are as much of a danger as the senior wIndspeakers claim.
Don’t expect the narrative to take time to humanize the antagonists. There isn’t enough room in this short novel. The Dragon Boats appeared to be crewed entirely by chaotic evil pirates1. The raiders delight in every atrocity you can imagine. (You can imagine, but you aren’t given any gory on-stage depictions; the massacres take place off-stage.)
The novel is short and to the point, despite which Foster manages to write characters more vivid than most of the characters in David Weber’s weighty tomes. There’s a lot of action as well; Foster’s prose moves the plot along efficiently, from encounter to encounter, towards the story’s final resolution. Without infodumps re ship armaments. This book is a pleasant reminder of the days when SFF plots could be handled between the covers of one lean book.
1: Pirates who, if they were RPG players, would regard wisdom as a dump stat. Stealing a divine artifact that’s functionally a WMD almost never works out well for thieves.