An aging alchemist seeks the key to the Universal Tincture said to unlock the Thousand Worlds of the mind, but she never expected to solve the riddle of her hermetic heart.
Welcome to one of the February 5th stops on the blog tour for The Isle of a Thousand Worlds by Dan Fitzgerald with Escapist Book Tours. (#EscapistBookTours | Twitter | Instagram) Be sure to follow the rest of the tour for spotlights, reviews, exclusive content, and a giveaway! More on that at the end of this post.
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About the Book
The Isle of a Thousand Worlds
Weirdwater Confluence Book Two
by Dan Fitzgerald
Published 15 January 2022
Shadow Spark Publishing
Cover Illustration: Karkki (Kittensartbooks) | Twitter | Instagram
Design: Jessica Moon | Twitter
Genre: Romantic Fantasy / Sword-Free Fantasy
Page Count: 300
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
An aging alchemist seeks the key to the Universal Tincture said to unlock the Thousand Worlds of the mind, but she never expected to solve the riddle of her hermetic heart.
A meditation acolyte travels the mystical social media known as the Caravan and finds that the Thousand Worlds lie just below the surface, if she can only learn to see the space between the stars.
This steamy romantic fantasy explores the confluence of the physical and the metaphysical through the commingling of bodies and minds.
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Patia checked the stoppers one last time, then laid out the slender vials on a rag. She rolled the cloth over the first vial twice before adding the second, repeating the process until all four were snug and secure. She wound a ribbon around the bundle to hold it tightly, then tied it off and put it in the waterproof case. Four vials of meditation tincture, though not her best, should net her sufficient coin from Endulai to make her way downriver to Rontaia, with enough left over to feed her until she could find Paoro. Whether or not she could convince him to share his secret was another matter, but she had other means to persuade him if her alchemical skills alone were not compelling enough.
If the rumors were true, Paoro, a second-rate alchemist with his head in the clouds, had somehow produced the Universal Tincture, the key to unlocking the Thousand Worlds of the mind. She’d spent the past thirty years struggling to survive by making meditation tinctures for the Endulians, with such paltry recompense she could hardly afford the time and materials to pursue the Great Work on her own. Over that time, she had developed the knowledge and skills she was sure would allow her to solve this ancient puzzle if she only had the time and money to focus on it, but Endulai’s stranglehold on the market forced her to accept too little coin for far too much work. And though alchemists were secretive about the prices they’d received, Patia was convinced Endulai paid her less for her tinctures than her male colleagues.
She often daydreamed of walking into Endulai with a vial of Universal Tincture, seeing the taster’s wide eyes and shocked expression as he realized what she had made. She would listen to his offer, so low as to be laughable, and politely tell him to stuff it up his metaphysical ass. If she alone held the formula, she would become rich beyond her wildest imagining, and the old boys club of Guluch alchemists would mutter in grudging recognition of her talent.
Anyone who bought her tincture could travel across the continent in their minds, connecting with whomever they wished at any time, with no need for the phony meditation training or magical tech the Endulians guarded so closely. Every city, bank, mining company, and family of painted faces would have to deal with her. Endulai would no longer hold the monopoly on the Thousand Worlds, and their precious Caravan would be relegated to a sideshow. She might even give away her formula once she’d cemented her nest egg and her legacy, just for the pleasure of watching their little fiefdom crumble.
She tucked the case into her bag, casting a last wistful glance around her shop. Filimin had agreed to look after her things, no doubt eager to test out Patia’s custom-made aludel from the Silver Docks workshop. Though it pained her to leave her most prized possession behind, she had a long, uncertain journey ahead of her, and she had to travel light.
* * *
She booked passage on a boat called the Dashi, run by an all-female crew. It wasn’t the cheapest boat at the docks, but it was the least sketchy, and the smell of cooking fish and pungent spices wafted up from the galley. It was a monthlong trip down to Rontaia, and a decent cook would make a world of difference.
A dark-skinned woman with a pink scar running down across her nose squared up to Patia and took her hand with a firm grip.
“Captain Olin, nice to meet you.”
“Patia. Pleasure.” She looked at Captain Olin’s brawny shoulders, then up into her eyes, which were hard, but with a twinkle beneath. “You do stop off at Endulai, correct?”
“Two hours, not a minute more.” Olin released Patia’s hand and relaxed her posture, crossing her thick arms over her chest as she leaned against the cabin wall. “You got business at Endulai?”
“Well, hopefully, you can get it squared away in two hours. In the meantime, let me or my crew know if you need anything, and welcome aboard the Dashi.”
The passengers were a mix of tradespeople like herself and middle-ringers from Tralum and Anari. Some of them spoke the Rontai dialect among themselves, which brought a smile to Patia’s lips. She hadn’t been to Rontaia in decades, and she missed the exuberance and the flights of verbal fancy inherent its speech. She had once been fluent, and she still understood it well enough if someone was speaking directly to her, but she caught less than half of what they were saying to each other with all the noise of the boat. It would make a nice backdrop for her trip, and help her find the tongue more quickly, which would make finding Paoro much easier.
They reached Endulai by early afternoon. The docks were festooned with faded flowers and tattered ribbons from one of their seemingly endless ceremonial days. Patia had seldom seen the docks without some sort of decoration. The herb and flower market was in full swing, and a half-dozen alchemists waited outside the tincture tent holding bags and boxes close to their bodies.
“I’ll ring this bell twice when you’ve got fifteen minutes left,” Olin said to the passengers assembled for the stop. “If you miss the boat, you just paid thirty lep for a one-way trip to Endulai.”
Patia wove through the children hawking sweets and charms to the flower market, where she cast a quick eye on the stalls to see if anything exotic was on offer. She didn’t have the money to buy, but she liked to keep a mental inventory of what was available in case she ever needed something for one of her tinctures.
She took her place in line behind the other alchemists outside the tincture tent. They were all men, and she recognized several of them from Guluch, but only one of them, an apprentice in Thea’s workshop, met her eye. He flashed a shy smile at her greeting, and she contemplated his lithe stature, the soft skin on the back of his neck, and imagined what it would be like to place just the tiniest kiss behind his ear. She shook her head to clear it as the line shuffled forward. An alchemist exited the tent, his face drawn as he clutched his hand to his chest, where he had no doubt stored the coin he’d received for his wares, less than he’d expected if his frown was any indication.
Patia made it inside the tent within half an hour, moving forward as Jeno summoned her with a gentle wave. Jeno’s table was flanked by two Endulian guards, who stood with fingers tented together, their faces eerily blank. Though they carried no weapons, Patia knew their hands and feet were as deadly as any blade, and their minds doubly so. The counter, a beardless little man who looked like a twelve-year-old boy, sat at a smaller table behind Jeno with his hands on a lacquered wooden box. Jeno dipped his head in a slight bow, and Patia returned the gesture.
“Patia, so nice to see you. Have the days been kind?”
“They have, but the nights have been lonely. And yourself?”
“I find my peace when I can, and embrace the chaos when I cannot.” She rather liked Jeno, despite the role he played in keeping her in poverty. He looked her up and down, and his face took on a questioning look as he eyed the small case in her hands. “You have brought something?”
Patia nodded, opened the case, and laid the bundle on the table under the watchful eye of the guards.
Jeno rubbed his hands together as he untied the ribbon, his eyes alight with anticipation. “Such a small amount, I assume it must be something…special?”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, Jeno, but I’ve had a bit of a setback with my quicksilver supply. I’m headed down to Rontaia for a bit, to look into some things that have caught my attention.”
“I’m truly sorry to hear that,” he said, unstoppering one of the vials and inserting the tiny testing spoon. “We have been quite pleased with your output of late.” Patia’s stomach roiled at the thought of the precious few coins they’d given her to show their alleged appreciation. He lifted the spoon beneath his nose, which wrinkled slightly. He slid the spoon into his mouth, closed his eyes for a moment, then laid the spoon in a bowl of greenish-tinted water. “Six,” he said, twisting his mouth sideways. “You repurposed the quicksilver from something else?”
“A batch of antiseptic salts, and some vermilion ink.” She smiled ruefully at the ease with which he’d detected her clever workaround.
Jeno raised his eyebrows and shook his head with a smile. “With your talent, you could come work at the Annex. The equipment we have there—”
“Yeah, I’ve heard all about it. How they have you watched every second, so you can’t concentrate, and certainly can’t come up with anything new.” In truth, she would have killed to get access to the equipment in their fabled Annex, but not on their terms. “I prefer the life of a freelancer, thank you.”
He held up his hands as if in self-defense. “As you wish. Fifty.” He waved five fingers over his shoulder, and the little man fiddled with something on the box’s lid, opened it, and laid out five stacks of coins on his table. Patia had expected forty, but she took the money without comment.
“The extra is for your troubles, which I am sorry to hear of. I hope you will come visit me on your return and show me whatever it was that drew you all the way down to Rontaia.”
“Count on it. If I find what I hope to find, you’re going to be seeing a whole lot more of me.”
“I certainly hope so. The offer still stands, regardless. About the Annex, that is. If you were ever to change your mind.”
“Never going to happen, but I appreciate it all the same.” Patia bowed to him, and he inclined his head slightly in response.
A waft of grilled nut twists hit Patia as soon as she walked out of the tent, and she held her coin purse tight to her chest as she forced herself past the food stalls and made her way back to the dock. Olin stood on the deck, leaning against the cabin and smoking a cheroot. She glanced up at the water clock, then smiled at Patia through a cloud of blue-gray smoke.
“Get your business all squared away?”
Patia nodded. She didn’t get the sense Olin was prying, but the look in her eyes showed she had guessed Patia practiced the Good Works.
“You been sitting on this ship the whole time?”
“The Dashi is a boat, not a ship.” She pointed to one mast, then the other. “Takes three masts to be a ship. And yes, I don’t leave her alone for a second. Not even at Endulai.” She must have noticed Patia eyeing her cheroot, and she pulled another from a little leather case and offered it to Patia, who nodded, salivating. Olin handed it to her, along with her own cheroot, and Patia lit it, sucking the harsh, earthy smoke into her cheeks and blowing it out in a thin stream. She held it up in thanks, and Olin blinked in response.
“You been to Rontaia before?” Olin asked after a long silence.
“Went to school down there for a while, then worked in one of the big workshops.” Besides its arts and shipbuilding industries, Rontaia was known for its alchemical workshops, which produced good-enough tinctures at affordable prices. Patia had met Paoro in Helo’s workshop there, and they’d shared a room for a time, and occasionally a bed, when Patia needed a release. He’d been the most respectful of the crew she’d spent those long, sweaty days with, and he exuded a kind of quiet magnetism. Paoro had been too timid to make any advances, but he’d never turned her down either. She wondered if that would still be true. He’d always had a cute smile, and was fun to be around when he wasn’t on one of his little mystical kicks.
Patia was stirred from her reverie by the sound of the bell ringing two times. Olin tossed her cheroot stub into the water and ran her hands over her face.
“You ready to head downriver?”
Patia stubbed out her half-smoked cheroot and tucked it into her belt pouch.
“How long til we reach Rontaia?”
My Rating: 5 Stars
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I was granted complimentary access to The Isle of a Thousand Worlds as part of my participation in a blog tour for this title with Escapist Book Tours. Thank you to all involved in affording me this opportunity! Also thank you to Dan Fitzgerald for choosing to tour with Escapist, because I was going to go looking for this book anyway, the review tour opportunity was my in with Escapist Book Tours, and it fills that indie/small press SFF hole left in my tour network by the closing of Storytellers on Tour in December. As always, my thoughts are my own and my review is honest.
The Isle of a Thousand Worlds opens with a brief summary of the previous book, The Living Waters, which I appreciated a lot. It was Dan’s opportunity to point out important plot points we needed to remember and I think it was done very well. The summary was informative and interesting and exactly as long as it needed to be. If you choose to read this duology out of order, this summary will get you oriented. That said I do still feel that there’s a lot more world-building to experience and a lot of returning characters to meet as originally introduced in The Living Waters that is best done first than what you’ll get from that summary, and it’s even possible that reading The Living Waters second might cause it to seem boring as it does legwork you no longer need it to do. I think the summary is best used as a refresher after reading The Living Waters, no matter how long it’s been between books.
I think leaving The Living Waters I was expecting more travelling/exploring in the continuation than we got but I really didn’t mind the shift toward settling into new lives. I love that this book placed such a spotlight on imperfect, unapologetic female characters and all-but shoves the men off into very much secondary roles. I’m not used to seeing women written this way, in a fantasy setting, by a male author. There’s sex and naked bodies, yes, but those scenes they’re not the point of the story, these women aren’t objects, and they actually hold a lot of if not all the power in those encounters. On that note I will say that the sex scenes do veer into the realm of being more thoroughly described and readers who don’t go for that may not enjoy those scenes. We are warned, “spicy romantic fantasy” appears right in the official synopsis, and if you feel you must gloss over the acts and pretend it’s a “fade to black,” you won’t miss out on key plot points as long as you’re skimming for the first possible paragraph to resume on. In that way I suppose I should praise these scenes for being tactfully written. They aren’t unnecessary but they aren’t essential for plot understanding. They aren’t clean but they also aren’t excessively vulgar. As a demisexual reader who doesn’t read romance novels I might have chosen to skim if I were leisure reading, but I was reading to review so I read every scene and I wasn’t too uncomfortable with it.
I also absolutely loved all of the alchemy elements to this book. The specifics of how it works in this world, what lore and legends are tied to it, and what the characters are trying to achieve is obviously unique to this world, but the basic principals of alchemy in this world mirror history and other fictional alchemies. If you’re already familiar with the concept from anywhere else then it’ll ring true here as well. I’ve always had a soft spot for fantasy worlds that have science-based magic, and the practise of alchemy is a great way to do that. Everything we discover in this book about The Caravan and the Universal Tincture is fascinating, and I wish this wasn’t being called a duology because I want more of this world!
If you’re looking for a short fantasy series (just two books!) that puts down the swords and maces but doesn’t forget to pack a whole lot of everything else you expect in a character-oriented fantasy plot, read the Weirdwater Confluence books!
About the Author
Dan Fitzgerald is the fantasy author of the Maer Cycle trilogy (character-driven low-magic fantasy) and the upcoming Weirdwater Confluence duology (sword-free fantasy with unusual love stories). The Living Waters comes out October 15, 2021 and The Isle of a Thousand Worlds arrives January 15, 2022, bothfrom Shadow Spark Publishing.
He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When not writing he might be found doing yoga, gardening, cooking, or listening to French music.
A signed copy of either The Living Waters or The Isle of a Thousand Worlds w/ swag pack
– US ONLY
Starts: February 3rd, 2022 at 12:00am EST
Ends: February 5th, 2022 at 11:59pm EST
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