Once in a generation, the Queen proclaims, ‘Whosoever finds the eye stone shall be paid seven-fold its worth in gold.’ There’s not a pearl fisher in the Queendom who can resist that challenge and, as Miranda is quick to tell us, she is the best of them all. Fathers leave – and forget – their families in their longing for that pearl. Its finder will want for nothing throughout a lifetime. Like many others, Miranda’s mother left home to look for her husband. She never returned.
Since her early childhood, Miranda travelled with her father every pearl fishing season from their home in the Northern forests to the Southern ports, learning and even surpassing his skills on the sea bed. Now, as a young single woman, she still heads South each year to resume her search for the white, red, blue, green and yellow pearls. For her, it’s not the money, though her skills are always well rewarded by the merchants in the market place. It’s that moment of discovery as she finds and gathers a pearl – it is hers. That’s enough. When she was 11, she had paid a price. She met the pearl fisher’s most feared enemy – the yellow-eyed rose-shark, which sees pearls as its own treasure, to be guarded jealously. Pearl fishers are thieves. The shark had taken Miranda’s arm with a single bite.
Miranda is preparing to search for the eye stone when Marko, the boatman who sailed with her and her father for years, calls at her lodging, bringing his niece with him. Young Syrsa is talkative, boasting that she’s the best pearl fisher, or she soon will be. As if to prove her claim, she tells how she too lost an arm to a rose-shark. Marko is a man of few words. He’s never seen a child with such talent, he says. He wants Miranda to teach her everything she knows. Then he leaves.
So begins a series of adventures on sea and on shore, taking the young woman and the girl far and wide throughout the Queendom in pursuit of the eye stone. Several of their encounters involve powerful women, often hiding surprising secrets. In truth, men and boys play little part in this first of The Song of the Eye Stone quartet, an award-winning text by a Swedish-speaking writer from Finland. Dedalus promise all four titles in English by 2023.
Syrsa learns that she has even greater gifts than she had thought, since she is one of the very few legendary pearl whisperers, able to hear pearls and summon them from their resting places. Throughout their travels, they are shadowed by Iberis, a sinister merchant with penetrating eyes as dazzlingly white as her hair. Iberis demands that Miranda and Syrsa find the eye stone and at once hand it over to her. Or there will be consequences. As the story develops, Iberis’ virtual enslavement of Syrsa and her ruthless cruelty are explicit.
There are trains in the Queendom, but few other signs of contemporary life. The land seems almost medieval; its rural and maritime ways are strong presences in the story. In its convincing detail, the underwater world of pearl harvesting may well fascinate readers. Critical moments in the plot may test belief in their reliance on coincidence, but the focus of the action shifts as Miranda comes to realise – perhaps later than her readers – that finding the eye stone is less important than her concern for Syrsa. Her life-time’s assumptions – obsessions, even – are called into question.