Daughters of the Storm
by Kim Wilkins
448pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 3.8/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.75/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.76/5

Daughters of the Storm, a sequel to the novella “The Crown of Rowan,” is the first novel in the Blood and Gold series by five-time Aurealis Award–winning author Kim Wilkins. Both this and Sisters of Fire, the second book in this epic fantasy series, were finalists for the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel during their respective publication years. About four years after its initial release in Australia, Daughters of the Storm was released in the United States for the first time just last month—and I’m so glad it was since otherwise I may not have discovered this engaging, character-driven tale centered on the royal family of a kingdom called Almissia.

When the king fell ill, his wife tended to him in secret, hoping that he would recover before it was necessary to tell even his counselor of his condition. However, he did not improve and the queen summoned her physician, who confirmed her terrible growing suspicion: the king is dying.

To make matters worse, the physician’s visit was noticed by those closest to the king, who decided they must send for his eldest daughter, Bluebell—a mighty warrior who despises her stepmother.

After Bluebell visits her father, she becomes convinced that his sickness is not natural and blames the queen. She requests that her sister Ash, who has the sight, use her ability to check for magical influence, and Ash discovers that Bluebell’s instincts were correct: their father is elf-shot. Only a powerful magician could possibly cure him, but Bluebell is hesitant to entrust a stranger with her father’s life. When her sister Rose reveals that she once received a true warning about the future from one of these magicians claiming to be her aunt—whom their father never spoke of and refused to speak of when asked about her directly—the sisters resolve to seek her since she may be their only hope of saving their father.

Daughters of the Storm starts slowly as it introduces the various characters and their situations, and though the king’s illness is immediately revealed in the opening, it takes time to bring together the five sisters who are the heart of the novel. The smooth, adept prose and intriguing glimpses into the lives of the main characters were enough to keep me reading despite the plodding beginning, and though it did ultimately seem to me that this book was setting up a larger story to be continued in the following installments, these siblings and their relationships are captivating enough that I do want to find out what happens to them next.

It primarily follows six main characters—the five sisters and their stepbrother—with a couple of brief sections from the perspective of the queen, all written from the third person point of view. This is a novel in which plot and the world, which is not particularly fleshed out but also has enough tensions stemming from cultural and religious differences to keep it from being thinly built, come after character. Each of the six has their own story, and it’s about these individuals, their relationships, and how they drive each other. All of these characters are changed by the end of the novel, whether that’s due to ending up in a different position or learning that their world or someone within it is not as they’d always believed—or both.

Although there are multiple main characters, I consider Bluebell to be the most central character: she’s the first of the five sisters we meet, she’s the one who drives the main story most, and she’s the best developed. Bluebell thinks the world of her father and wants to follow in his footsteps; she is a short-tempered, allegedly unkillable, coarse, fierce warrior princess (but don’t ever refer to her as a princess in her presence—she hates that!). Her main priorities are duty to family and kingdom, and she thinks she knows how her family members can best serve their kingdom, constantly making plans for them without considering their feelings. She has a soft spot for each of her sisters, but she also finds some of them frustrating since she doesn’t understand why they are not as dutiful as she or why they don’t simply resign themselves to unhappy marriages to keep peace between kingdoms. (Bluebell probably thinks that if her sisters did not want to be married off as peace offerings, they should have done as she did: on her sixteenth birthday, she had a friend break her nose in order to make her an undesirable bride.) Everything revolves around Bluebell—there wouldn’t be much of a story without her, and love her or hate her, the other characters all have strong feelings about her.

Bluebell is the most compelling of the sisters from a characterization standpoint, but my favorite character is the sister she herself likes most, Ash. Ash is a kind, gentle, curious soul and the only sister who doesn’t clash with her oldest sister’s force of personality. She doesn’t particularly mind Bluebell’s bossiness, but she can also understand her other sisters’ perspectives and serve as a mediator between the two sides. In addition to having an amiable nature, Ash also has the most interesting problem and potential destiny, making her sections particularly captivating. She has strong magic powers that she does not know how to control since others refuse to help her, as they fear her or choose to disbelieve that one as young as she could have such abilities, and has even had a vision of her own death. Much of her journey is discovering that it does no good to try to smother this part of herself and learning more about her talents.

Rose is, in my opinion, the most sympathetic character. She was married to a king in return for peace with his kingdom, and she’s miserable since she is in love with her husband’s nephew—who is, unknown to her husband, the biological father of her three-year-old daughter. Though he has his flaws, Rose does believe her husband to be a good man and a good father even if she does not love him, further fueling her guilt about the past and her inability to stop wishing to be with his nephew. Rose has a complex relationship with motherhood that I think makes her the best developed sister after Bluebell, and she also has a complicated relationship with her older sister. Bluebell cannot understand how Rose could be so selfish as to put peace between two kingdoms for love, and this is often a source of friction between the two—yet it’s also clear that the two do care about each other despite their frequent arguments.

Ivy and Willow, twins and the youngest of the sisters, are more separate from the rest of the family since they are teenagers who have been living with an aunt and uncle. They are very different in some ways, but they are similar to each other in that they both have obsessive, narcissistic personalities: Ivy pursues the admiration of handsome men, and Willow pursues the blessing of a god of which her family would not approve. Ivy is the least likable, sympathetic, and interesting character, but though she is spoiled and self-serving, she is not malicious. When she causes trouble, it’s because she’s young, naive, and thoughtless, and she didn’t yet understand that society does not hold men and women to the same standards. Willow does worse things than her twin, but I found her more sympathetic since she converted to her religion due to hearing the voices of angels, and the impression I got was that she was being manipulated. On the other hand, she is rather quick to believe that her god has a special purpose just for her without much examination, so like her sister, she is ultimately rather thoughtless.

The five sisters’ stepbrother, Wylm, is actually the one I consider to be the most complex and compelling of the six characters, yet I didn’t find reading his perspective as engaging as the others since it was not as connected and the relationships between these five different women were the main reason to keep reading. Wylm is a villain and a murderer, but he does have lines he will not cross and even shows some sympathy for children and animals at times. Though he’s partially motivated by greed and power, it seemed to me that he probably would not have gone down such a vile path if not for the motivation of preservation of his own family, driven by a (rather valid) fear of Bluebell.

As much as I enjoyed reading about these different characters and did not think any of them were one dimensional, I also would have liked to see a little more dimension from some of them—especially considering that Daughters of the Storm is not a plot- or world-heavy book and suffers from some sluggish pacing. However, I did appreciate the variety of characters and their ties to each other, and I am eager to find out what happens to them in Sisters of Fire!

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt from Daughters of the Storm