Vanessa Fogg’s 2016 The Lilies of Dawn is a standalone fantasy.
Kai’s mother and foremothers have served as the Dawn Mother’s priestesses for many generations. They live next to the sacred lake and never marry. Nonetheless, they have daughters. Each priestess chooses her successor from among her daughters. Traditionally the successor is the older daughter. But Kai’s mother chose Kai, the younger daughter, over her older sister Suna. Kai cannot understand the why of the odd choice; unlike Suna or their mother, Kai has never heard the Dawn Mother’s voice.
Not that it matters, since their ancient way of life is doomed.
The healing dawn-lilies of the sacred lake are the Dawn Mother’s gift. The dawn-lilies are the main ingredient in a variety of useful drinks and potions; the sacred lake is the only place on the whole world where they grow. The town’s economy is based on the annual dawn-lily harvests and has been for generations.
Until now. Seven years ago a flock of seemingly supernatural birds swarmed across the lake, consuming most of the annual harvest. The locals soon learned no mortal weapon can touch the demon-cranes . Each year they come back and eat more. Each year they spoil a bit more of the lake.
Without the lilies, the people of the lake are victims of diseases once easily cured. Kai’s mother is one such. Sans lilies, the sacred lake no longer attracts pilgrims. The town, dependent on the pilgrim trade, is withering . As it seems that nothing will drive away the birds, the lake-dwellers have given up all hope of saving the lake or their way of life. Most people have emigrated, looking for new lives.
One person has arrived. Master Kevak is unfamiliar with the lake and its lilies, but he becomes deeply interested in the lake and its curse. He believes he can end the curse.
Perhaps he is correct.
Perhaps he is telling the truth.
Perhaps there is more to the handsome young scholar than Kai realizes.
Perhaps he will force a terrible choice on the unsure girl.
Fogg draws on traditions other than the well-used pseudo-European faux-feudalism, which I found a welcome respite. As well, she displays great skill at illustrating her secondary world without resorting to clumsy infodumps.
Kai’s coming of age has already begun by the time the story begins. Since her mother is bedridden and often confused, duties that should have fallen to the older woman are left to Kai. Kai lacks the perspective and maturity to see Kevak for what he is. She is, however, more than able to rise to the occasion. After all, she will some day be the Priestess; if she does not deal with the situation, who will?
This was a delightful note on which to begin the year. My one complaint is that I wish the work were longer. At least I know there are more works by Fogg to explore.