Review: Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters by Aimee Ogden



Gene-edited human clans have scattered throughout the galaxy, adapting themselves to environments as severe as the desert and the sea. Atuale, the daughter of a Sea-Clan lord, sparked a war by choosing her land-dwelling love and rejecting her place among her people. Now her husband and his clan are dying of an incurable plague, and Atuale’s sole hope for finding a cure is to travel off-planet. The one person she can turn to for help is the black-market mercenary known as the World Witch—and Atuale’s former lover. Time, politics, bureaucracy, and her own conflicted desires stand between Atuale and the hope for her adopted clan.

“Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters” was a quiet, queer, and unexpected little thing that affected me like the gentle stroke of a callused palm, and I wanted to lean into it and let it stroke me forever. I consumed this novella in one setting, letting the author’s voice lull me into a half-dream, muffling the world around me into silence, and melting all my troubles like darkness at sunrise. I really hope the author writes more in this world, because I already yearn to return back to it.

“Oh, little fry.” He’s shaking his head as he works up a new trajectory on the console. “If every day you’re looking for the next thing that’ll change your life—what’s left in the moments in between?” 

Told in intensely lyrical prose, “Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters” is a brilliantly imaginative reworking of “The Little Mermaid” that reads like a half-remembered fairytale suddenly being played in full. Ogden breathes exhilarating new life into an age-old myth by crafting a world of spaceships, gene-modification technology, and alien species, and animating her storytelling with a melancholy beauty and a strain of something like tremulous hope. The result is the kind of story that you can’t help but feel very deeply.

The author moves through the story as smoothly as a ribbon being pulled through a bonnet, taking the reader on a deep journey into the mists of Atuale’s life, a woman who was “born in the sea and remade for the land.” The cage doors of Atuale’s captive terrors slide wide open when a deadly disease sweeps through the land-dwellers of Vo—her husband’s people—with all the force of the ocean. Now with her beloved standing at death’s front door, Atuale clings to the only crumb of hope she has in her pocket: she must go back to the sea and beg for help from the World-Witch Yanja, her former lover whom she left behind, and hope her leap of faith wouldn’t turn into a fall into darkness.

Longing runs through the quiet lines of this novella like a torrent, and it set everything inside me aflame with an unreasoning sorrow, edged with joy. Ogden writes dazzlingly and devastatingly about the howling cold of unbelonging, and hearts caught in two places, unable to put down roots and too weary to pull anymore. She writes about well-forgotten dreams, regrets rubbed soft as rose petals, and the harsh, defiant wistfulness of pushing open doors you have never dared try before and hoping you might find yourself beyond the threshold. Along the way, she traces the soft, gossamer webs of first love, and what it means to love someone so feverishly and with a touch of tragedy, and leaves you with questions that will settle inside you like dregs in a cup, long after you turn the last page:

Will home always be a thing that crumbles into fragments the moment you reach for it? How much of yourself are you willing to offer as sacrifice for love, or for a glimpse of a grander world? Will you spend forever searching the faces of those you loved for traces of the dreams you had lost, you heart heavy with the weight of goodbyes and words left unsaid, or will you finally, gently close off the past to embrace the horizon and its unsung stories?

“An anchor’s a burden for those who have a destination to make.”
“But it’s a blessing in a storm.”

CWs: still-birth/miscarriage

Thank you to Tordotcom and NetGalley for providing me with a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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