The Left-Handed Fate, by Kate Milford, was published in 2016 by Henry Holt.
Lucy Bluecrowne and Maxwell Ault are on a mission: find the three pieces of a strange and arcane engine they believe can stop the endless war raging between their home country of England and Napoleon Bonaparte’s France. During the search, however, their ship, the famous privateer the Left-Handed Fate, is taken by the Americans, who have just declared war on England, too. The Fate (and, with it, Lucy and Max) is put under the command of new midshipman Oliver Dexter…who’s only just turned twelve. But Lucy and Max aren’t the only ones trying to assemble the engine; the French are after it, as well as the crew of a mysterious vessel that seems able to appear out of thin air. When Oliver discovers what his prisoners are really up to—and how dangerous the device could be if it falls into the wrong hands—he is faced with a choice: Help Lucy and Max even if it makes him a traitor to his own country? Or follow orders and risk endangering countless lives, including those of the enemies who have somehow become his friends?
Kate Milford has done it again. I loved her book Greenglass House and The Left-Handed Fate is—nearly—as perfect. It’s a well-written, intriguing, fascinating historical fiction with hints (and more than hints) of fantasy woven through it. It gives a great deal of information about the War of 1812 and seamanship in general. Every character is interesting and they interact in ways that are believable in each circumstance they run into.
Apparently this book is a continuation/companion of other books Milford has written about Nagspeake, but it’s not necessary to have read them. I had no trouble at all understanding the world and I have only read Greenglass House before this one. There is enough explained with the characters that nothing seems missing; backstory is given when necessary and when not, small details are given that fill in possible gaps. Milford does a great job of bringing in an audience who may not be familiar with her other books.
I said The Left-Handed Fate was nearly perfect, so now here’s the ways I felt it faltered a bit—not enough to drop its rating, ultimately, but enough for me to comment on.
First, there’s a conversation between Liao and Max that is really odd, or maybe teeth-clenching irritating, or simply nonsensical. Basically, Liao believes that weapons have feelings and that they like it better if they’re used for good rather than evil, which makes absolutely no sense but he’s nine, so whatever. Then Max starts thinking about cannons/gunpowder being chemical reactions and then thinks about how people are exactly like that. Yes, people are exactly like cannons. Just chemical reactions. That explains why we have thoughts and emotions. You know, just like cannons. *eyeroll*
Second, the whole Copley thing is very hard to believe. Even harder to believe than a black ship that appears out of nowhere. I mean, the latter is clearly magic. The former is…some combination of magic and science fiction? An artificial intelligence brought to life by a golden elixir? I don’t know—for some reason, I had a hard time accepting that part of the book. I can do ghostly black ships and blue lights appearing out of nowhere. I can’t do a computer that functions on magical juice.
However, those flaws are not serious enough to significantly affect my liking of The Left-Handed Fate. Overall, I thought it was well written, engaging, and a wonderful historical fiction novel.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
“I had that piece for years,” Jeton said. “It was brought to me damaged and the repairs were complicated, but they only took as long as they did because I made them take that long. I strung the work out as long as I possibly could, in hopes that your father would answer my letter or turn up. If either he or you had managed to get here before war had been declared, you could have had it, and welcome. I would have lied to the owner, claimed the shop had been robbed—I had the whole story worked out. But you didn’t arrive in time.”
“My father couldn’t come because he was dead,” Max retorted. “It made traveling difficult for him, you understand.”
Jeton’s eyes hardened at the sarcasm. “It was more than a year and a half ago that your father passed, may he rest in peace.”
“I came as soon as I could!” Max said wretchedly. “And then we were attacked twice in the Chesapeake. If not for that, we should have been here before—”
“But you weren’t here, and we are at war, and I will not turn traitor. There are those who might do it, but I am not one of them.”
Greenglass House is written by Kate Milford. It was published in 2014 by Clarion.
It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smugglers’ inn is always quiet during this season, and Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo’s home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cooks’ daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House—and themselves.
Greenglass House turned into something I was completely not expecting, in the best possible way. When it first started, I thought, “Well, this is interesting, I guess.” Then the roleplaying game stuff started, and all I could think was, “Is this really necessary?” (although a big YES to depicting a girl being the one to suggest the idea of the game in the first place. Girl gamers unite!) And then the rest of the novel unfolded like one big, beautiful story, and I was swept up in it.
I say “story” but really the novel is a compilation of multiple stories, told a la The Canterbury Tales. Not only do the guests tell stories, but Milo reads a book that is also a bunch of stories. And the whole thing is really beautiful coupled with the winter imagery that Milford brings out. This book is the perfect book to read on a snowy evening next to a fire drinking your hot beverage of choice, because that’s exactly what the characters do when they’re telling/listening to a story.
Not only are the stories beautiful, but the mystery is also really complex, complete with such a shocking reveal at the end that I am being incredibly careful not to accidentally spoil it in this post, since I want my reaction to be everybody’s reaction when they read it. Let’s just say the reveal took the book in a whole new direction, and it was a little strange but wonderful at the same time, and it didn’t feel out of place at all, not with the lore Milford had already set up earlier.
The only thing I thought was a tad overdone was a certain moment where one character expresses her feelings about two other characters. It felt a little melodramatic and over-the-top to me, but perhaps that’s just me.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Realistic, Middle Grade
“What sort of stories do people tell in the book?” Clem asked curiously. “Is there…I don’t know…a right sort or wrong sort for this kind of occasion?” She scratched her head. “I don’t honestly know if I’ve ever told a story before.”
“You’ve never told a story?” Negret asked. “Not ever, not to anyone? You must have.”
“Well, not like this,” she protested. “This isn’t the same as when you tell someone how your day went, is it?”
He opened his mouth to say that it wasn’t quite like that, not exactly—but then he stopped himself. “It can be any kind of story you want. The point is that you share something with everyone. It’s supposed to be a fun thing. I don’t think you can do it wrong, if that’s what you mean.”
Greenglass House is wonderful, the sort of book that you will want to read over and over, not just to soak all the beautiful stories and images in, but also to catch all the little hints and clues placed for the resolution of the mystery. The mystery was quite good, but the most memorable moment for me was so memorable that I tried to leave out anything in this review that would even marginally point to what it is.