‘The Bayou wants its Butcher back’
Ghosts of Mildred Berry’s past stalk her dreams, dredging up memories she’d rather forget. Struggling with the return to city life and a surprise marriage, Millie finds her strongest ally is distracted, preparing for the Colfield Massacre trial.
When the trial’s key witness goes missing, a bloody message makes it clear to Millie that the city of Marigot is done waiting for its vengeance against the man who betrayed it… and the elf who burnt it down.
Enemies new and old lurk in the bayou, while all of Millie’s old allies are long dead. If she goes after the witness, she’ll be walking into a city of vipers. If she doesn’t, she’ll lose her closest friend.
The Bayou wants its Butcher back, come hell or high water.
“I survived in spite of Fred, not because of him.”
No Port In A Storm is the second book in the Legends & Legacies series, and the sequel to No Land For Heroes, by Cal Black. As No Land ended up being one of my favourite books of 2022, I was really excited to see what Black has under the sleeve ready for us, and I can say that it has surpassed my expectations.
Millie has returned to the city, and she's struggling to adapt to this new life. It doesn't help that Rhy is mostly focused on preparing for the Colfied Massacre trial, being distant and different from the one Millie knew on Scorched Bluffs. Rhiannon's cousin, Natalie, has arrived in the city, still blaming Millie for the assassination of her father during the Amelior War, making the relationship complicated at its best.
Fred Rosseau, the key witness for the trial, has been kidnapped from the jail, and his captors have left some worrying traces left: a painting calling for the Bayou's Butcher, and a triad made with Fred's hand. It's time for Millie to travel to Marigot, and recover Fred from his kidnappers.
"In the thick of it all, laughing and looking perfectly at ease, stood Rhiannon in a beautiful blue gown. Next to her, dressed in red silk shot with black, was her cousin. Nathalie turned her severe eyes toward Millie and the smile that graced her face sent a chill down the elf’s spine.
That was the smile of a viper."
Returning to Marigot is not an easy task for Millie. Trying to help Rhiannon, she will be forced to face her past, as Marigot was the place where the Bayou's Butcher title was earned. The Ghost of Marigot against the city where everything started.
But Millie won't be alone in this returnal; Gilbert, her husband, will accompany her, as they suspect Fred's finances might be behind the kidnapping. Due to the insistence of Rhy, Natalie will also be with them, adding to the pot that she's a native of Marigot; and Pierre Rosseau will also join, Fred's little brother.
The sand and the dessert of Scorched Bluffs get replaced by the swamps and the mysticism of Marigot. A city with a long story, which protagonized one of the most important episodes in Amelior's Civil War; slavery was the norm there, and the spilled blood is still echoing.
Marigot has changed since Millie's left, but the ghosts of her past are still haunting the place.
The setting is definitely one of the main strenghts of this novel. You can feel the amount of research that Black has done in order to adapt the traditions of New Orleans to this novel, creating a unique place. A city of swamps, making it specially humid in combination with South's heat; a city where its mystical traditions have been preserved, in the form of magic queens.
“I figured if Rousseau was going to kill me, I wanted the meanest son of a bitch out there keeping the rest of my family safe.” He coughed, realising his slip of the tongue. “Daughter of a bitch, I suppose. Either way, I figured only one of us would survive Fred. Probably her.”
And in this setting, we can see Millie having to face her past. A past with many traumatic moments, plaguing her mind with survivor's guilt, as most of her old mates died; but we can see how she's able to grow and with a great effort overcome them. In a certain way, the lows that Millie hit help to humanize her character, making it easier to connect with it.
Natalie has been added as a new POV to this novel, and it's an interesting and a complex character. While at first sight, I was sceptical about her, especially because Black made an excellent work building a rather unfriendly appearance, Natalie breaks it when the plot advances, showing that there was more inside her than what we could spot at first sight.
Gilbert also feels like an step up from the banker we knew in No Land For Heroes, as he shows the good person inside him; he cares about Millie's wellness, and will do as much as he can to protect her, even if he's the weak of the pair.
Talking more about the secondary characters, I would say most of them add an extra layer of complexity to the story, while at the same time being a good tool to develop the world. Characters as Ghat and Pierre might be secondary, but all of them have a big weight in the narration, being exceptional tools to develop the world.
"Millie knew her splash would have spooked the local fish and smaller vishaps, but every heartbeat she stayed under was one that would draw the big predators her way. She was pale, like a fish’s underbelly, and worse: covered in blood. The perfect bait for a full-grown vishap. The aquatic draconids ruled the bayou and its rivers, chasing the mundane alligators to the smaller waterways. They could see just as well in the murky water as Millie could, and their powerful limbs and tail let them swim faster than anything without fins."
If there's another aspect I would like to praise before ending this review, that is the ability of Black to create a perfect avalanche for the final part of the stories. We could see that in No Land for Heroes, but I personally think the final arc of No Port In A Storm is even better; all the elements that were introduced finally clash to make a memorable final quarter of the book, that hooks you in a exceptional way.
No Port In A Storm is without any doubt a contender for my favourite book of 2023. An exceptional sequel to No Land for Heroes, it keeps the aspects that made me love it, but it goes a step further. Don't sleep in this series, do yourself a favour and pick Legends & Legacies, because you don't want to miss it.
Cal Black is a Canadian writer based in Ontario who enjoys writing about messy people who make an effort to improve their situation. Cal was a contributor to the Advent of Winter anthology, a Finalist in the SFINCS novella contest, and is the author of the Legends & Legacies series. Cal writes gaslamp fantasy, cosmic fantasy, and has a bad habit of ‘trying out new genres’ when already full up on projects.