What is Tides of Mana?
Western European fantasy is the traditional form of fantasy propagated ever since JRR Tolkien propagated the Lord of the Rings. There’s some exceptions to this rule with Conan the Barbarian more or less doing his shenanigans across a pseudo Bronze Age Middle East and a decent number of books or movies dealing with Asian fantasy ala Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or anime. However, there are is a decided lack of willingness to engage with other culture. Polynesian fantasy is something that, aside from Disney’s Moana, you’re probably not going to get much interaction with.
Matt Larkin is willing to step outside the comfort zone of traditional fantasy storytelling to create a secondary world universe where the majority of the world has been drowned by the gods, turning it into a series of island chains. It is a world of many cultural concepts and fantasy ideas that post-date its mythological underpinings like Mer folk or Mu but this is not meant to be a wholly faithful retelling of the past but the creation of something new. No, this is more in the tradition of Kara Tur, Rokugan, or Zhakara from Dungeons and Dragons. Which is to say it’s a world strongly influenced by its origins but, really, just there for the cool stuff to happen in.
Tides of Mana follows the conflict between two god queen as Namaka the Sea goddess is up against Pele the Queen of Fire. The two are engaged in a war that is engulfing all of the islands of humanity as well as spilling over to those who would rather stay uninvolved in their feud as well. The protagonists are well and truly flawed yet remain believable in their choices. Everything is grandiose and mythic as befitting Matt Larkin’s other work with the Norse Gods and Olympians.
The characterization of the book is strong as Matt doesn’t attempt to ascribe motives of good versus evil to the storytelling. This is more classical in its motivations even if it is a mythology half the world away from what I read in my Bulfinch’s. The heroes are arrogant, controlling, and grasping but they’re up against forces that are alien as well as hostile. It doesn’t feel modern and thus it manages to feel timeless.
This is definitely a book to throw yourself fully into and while it helps to have a passing familiarity with the mythology it draws from, it might serve as an entry point for those who just want a unique story of magic using badasses as well as their larger-than-life feud. There’s much to be enjoyed here and this kind of epic fantasy is something that is often overwritten these days or told with a deconstructive lens. This book simply lets the visceral gritty storytelling mix with the fantastic world created.