Voyage of the Damned by Frances White (Reviewed by Shazzie)

 Book Review: Voyage of the Damned by Frances White

Buy Voyage of the Damned here

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: For a thousand years, Concordia has maintained peace between its provinces. To mark this honorary feat, the emperor’s ship embarks upon a twelve-day voyage to the sacred Goddess’s Mountain.
Aboard are the twelve heirs to the provinces of Concordia, each graced with a unique and secret magical ability known as a blessing.

All except one: Ganymedes Piscero – class clown, slacker, and all-round disappointment.

When a beloved heir is murdered, everyone is a suspect. Stuck at sea and surrounded by powerful people, odds of survival are slim.

But as the bodies pile higher, Ganymedes must become the hero he was not born to be. Can he unmask the killer and their secret blessing before this bloody crusade reaches the shores of Concordia?

Or will the empire as he knows it fall forever?

FORMAT/INFO: Voyage of the Damned will be published on January 18, 2024 by Penguin Michael Joseph. It will be available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Voyage of the Damned by Frances White is an endearing, cozy (well, as cozy as it can be) murder mystery set in a rich fantasy world.

Twelve of the most important people in the kingdom of Concordia get on a ship for a “blessed” voyage to celebrate 1000 years of their kingdom being at peace. But, as you can guess, there’s a killer on the ship. Our protagonist is a chaotic bisexual underdog who doesn’t want to be there, and well, he has his reasons to want to solve the mystery.

The most distinctive and memorable part of this book is the narrative voice of Dee (Ganymedes), the protagonist. From one of the lower provinces, and by lower I mean poor and often overlooked, he doesn’t fit in with the other blessed, and would rather run away from the life ahead of him. He has his own sense of style, no filter, and lots of heart, and his inner monologue is cackle-worthy. But most endearing of all, he’s almost always willing to sympathise with everyone, even the entitled brats who treat him like he’s nothing. He has his own secret that is killing him on the inside, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to protect the weak.

The world is beautifully rich, but the first few pages do contain a lot of exposition. This part clearly reads like a debut, but it’s quite necessary to follow the plot of the story, and while not very smooth, never feels like the story is bogged down by the information, and neither is it hard to follow. It paints a good picture of the feudal empire, as well as the challenges facing it, along with the unfairness of the current way it functions, and this is slowly unravelled as Dee’s past is, and they go really well hand-in-hand. What I really loved was exploring the ship itself, and most of all, the dragon butlers in bowties who appear and disappear in puffs of glitter, as well as operate the ship’s engine room. It’s probably aspects like this, as well as the energy of the extremely adorable six-year old Grasshopper (one of the blessed on the ship) that made me imagine the setting as something out of a Pixar movie.

The romance is mostly told in flashbacks of the past, and it is heartbreaking at points. It ties in well with the rest of the plot, which is tightly done. I admit, some parts were quite convenient, and there was more importance given to the narrative voice of the protagonist than the tension that I would expect in a locked room murder mystery, but there were turns in there I absolutely did not see, even when the developments were so easy to follow. Thematically, it is a story that talks of tearing walls down, recognising the strengths and contributions of a diverse society in which all are treated equally, as well as how identity matters, and that existing in a space that asks for it to be toned down can be smothering at the least.

CONCLUSION: A solid debut, one I definitely recommend to those who want to read a book with an unlikely underdog who needs to work through a few meltdowns and lose his shit before becoming the saviour.

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