Fathomfolk (Drowned World #1), by Eliza Chan

7 Mar 2024

The Book

Series: Drowned World
Pages: 432
Age Group: Adult
Published on 29 Feb 2024
Publisher: Orbit Books
Available on:


From one of fantasy’s most exciting new voices Eliza Chan comes a modern, myth-inflected story of revolution and magic set against the glittering, semi-submerged city of Tiankawi, perfect for fans of Jade City and The Bone Shard Daughter.

Welcome to Tiankawi – shining pearl of human civilization and a safe haven for those fleeing civil unrest. Or at least, that’s how it first appears.But in the semi-flooded city, humans are, quite literally, on peering down from skyscrapers and aerial walkways on the fathomfolk — sirens, seawitches, kelpies and kappas—who live in the polluted waters below.

For half-siren Mira, promotion to captain of the border guard means an opportunity to reform. At last, she has the ear of the city council and a chance to lift the repressive laws that restrict fathomfolk at every turn. But if earning the trust and respect of her human colleagues wasn't hard enough, everything Mira has worked towards is put in jeopardy when a water dragon is exiled to the city.

New arrival Nami is an aristocratic water dragon with an opinion on everything. Frustrated by the lack of progress from Mira's softly-softly approach in gaining equality, Nami throws her lot in with an anti-human extremist group, leaving Mira to find the headstrong youth before she makes everything worse.

And pulling strings behind everything is Cordelia, a second-generation sea-witch determined to do what she must to survive and see her family flourish, even if it means climbing over the bodies of her competitors. Her political game-playing and underground connections could disrupt everything Nami and Mira are fighting for.

When the extremists sabotage the annual boat race, violence erupts, as does the clampdown on fathomfolk rights. Even Nami realises her new friends are not what they seem. Both she and Mira must decide if the cost of change is worth it, or if Tiankawi should be left to drown.  

My Review

Fathomfolk is the initial book in the Asian inspired fantasy series Drowned World, which represents the debut of Eliza Chan, published by Orbit Books. A highly creative story full of social commentary which encloses a big metaphor about immigration, xenophobia and the own Asian diaspora, told through the situation in the city of Tiankawi.

The semi-flooded city of Tiankawi is seen as a perfect place to live, an achievement for the human civilization and a safe heaven for those fleeing civil unrest; however, the reality is far from that image: humans are peering down from skyscrapers and platforms on the fathomfolk (sirens, kappas, kelpies and seawitches) who live in the polluted waters below. The fathomfolk's rights are severely restricted, being in many situations second-class citizens.

Half-siren Mira has always inhabited Tiankawi, a place she can call her home; a life of efforts has been rewarded with her promotion to captain of the border guard, something that she sees as an opportunity to reform the system from the inside, working with the council and progressively opening the hand towards fathomfolk. But with the arrival of Nami, an exiled water-dragon, all her plans start to wobble.
Nami has also been sent by her mother to get information about how the Onseon Engine, the source of energy for Tiankawi, works; she has an opinion on everything, and she's frustrated by the apparent lack of progress for fathomfolk produced by the progressive Nami's approach. Her radicalism will lead her to get in contact with an extremist anti-human group; putting her at risk.
Both characters share their goal of changing things for the fathomfolk, but their methods and ways to behave are really different, as a consequence of their social origins and positions; Mira has worked and sacrificed much to reach a position that allows her to maybe improve the conditions of the folk, and she fears that all the progress might be lost if a mistake is made. Nami is younger, impulsive, from an aristocratic family, prone to act in outbursts, and she's angry about the folk situation. They are two sides of the same coin.

When the annual boat race is sabotaged by the extremists, violence appears, and the fathomfolk see their rights being restricted against; Nami opens her eyes to what her new friends were. But after this incident, both Nami and Mira will need to think about the change they are seeking, and most importantly, if they are ready to pay the price for it.
But that's not the only conflict in this story, as there is a third character playing with threads behind the scenes, Cordelia, a second-generation sea-witch who is determined to do everything in her hand to make her family flourish, at any cost; her connexions can end with everything Nami and Mira wanted for the folk.

The world of Fathomfolk is imaginative, paying homage to the Asian inspiration used to write this novel, something that can be recognised in many of the buildings that are part of Tiankawi; a grand place which represents the progress of humanity, but with a cost for those that are living in the polluted waters. A city where many are trying to influence in the political decisions, and with a clear two classes system based on your origin, a clever representation of the xenophobia experience by many immigrants.

Eliza Chan has written a clever novel with Fathomfolk, an excellent and thought-provoking story which was an absolute pleasure of reading. If you like Asian-inspired fantasy, this book would be a great choice, especially if you like social commentary threaded into your novels. A really solid debut.

The Author/s

Eliza Chan

Eliza Chan

Eliza Chan is a Scottish-born speculative fiction author who writes about East Asian mythology, British folklore and reclaiming the dragon lady. Her short fiction has been published in The Dark, Podcastle, Fantasy Magazine and The Best of British Fantasy. Her debut novel FATHOMFOLK — inspired by mythology, ESEAN cities and diaspora feels — will be published by Orbit in Spring 2024.

She has been a medical school drop-out, a kilt shop assistant, an English teacher and a speech and language therapist, but currently she spends her time tabletop gaming, cosplaying, crafting and toddler wrangling. She lives in Manchester with her family and a sizeable collection of dragons, Totoros and weapons (but only if you count an inflatable cutlass and plushie swords).