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An Extract from Fathomfolk by Eliza Chan

An extract from Fathomfolk by Eliza Chan


An extract from Fathomfolk

Revolution is brewing in the semi-submerged city of Tiankawi, between humans and the fathomfolk – sirens, sea witches, kelpies, and kappas – who live in its waters. This debut fantasy inspired by East Asian mythology and watery folk tales is perfect for fans of Jade City, The Bone Shard Daughter and House of Earth and Blood.



A late arrival elbowed past Mira, knocking her out of position. His jaw was tight, and he wrinkled his nose as he met her eye. “Keep in formation, saltie.”

Mira fist- palm saluted sarcastically. She had heard it all before; got into fights with pettier human bureaucrats than him. The delegates continued at a snail’s pace, ambling as if perusing market stalls on a Tiankawi festival day rather than inspecting a rooftop military parade in the baking midday sun. The wax coat of Mira’s border guard uniform was akin to a simmering claypot. If she strained, she could hear the ocean below, but thirty floors up where they stood, the breeze didn’t provide much reprieve. Sweat dripped from her forehead and she cricked her neck.

The captain of the kumiho – the city guard, led the politicians down the line. “And this is Mira, newly appointed as captain

of the border guard.” The older man was de facto Minister of Defence, but he stroked his silver moustache like an indulgent grandfather offering candied lotus seeds. Mira had seen the other side of him. She saluted the delegates, the Minister of Ceremonies and two junior officials.

“Ah, we’ve heard a lot about you,” said the Minister of Ceremonies, a tall middle- aged woman. “Helping out the Minister of Fathomfolk. The siren.”

Helping out was not how Mira would have phrased it. It was more of a partnership really. She pushed a smile into the corners of her mouth. “Half- siren actually. I’m glad to be here today.”

“You should be,” the man on the left said. “First fathomfolk in the military and now the first to reach captaincy. Integration at its finest.” The words were well- meaning enough but she could hear the abacus beads clicking in his head. Not satisfied with putting her name out as a fathomfolk success story, now they wanted to paste billboards all over the city. Mira had refused. It was difficult enough to do her job without her face staring back from every skybridge, walkway and tram platform. “With all due respect, sir, I

hope to inspire fathomfolk to join all branches.” Her emphasis was deliberate. While she was a trailblazer, there were only four other folk in any aspect of government. All on the military side, all in her chinthe border guard rather than the more influential kumiho city guard. Titans forbid that folk get into the offices of agriculture or transport; the glamour and influence they could have . . .

The remaining official who had not spoken simply pinned Mira’s captain badge on the front of her coat: the golden liondog namesake of the chinthe. His hand shook, eyes decidedly not meeting hers. He was afraid. Afraid of the siren mutt without a leash. He did well not to flinch. Mira nodded and smiled, went through the motions of small talk the same way she got dressed in the morning: automatically, perfunctorily, with her mind sorting through endless lists and jobs that needed to be done. If she kept pretending it didn’t bother her, one day it might be true.

“Did you see the look on his face? Pale as a sail,” a voice whispered behind her as the delegates moved on. One of her lieutenants.

“Bollocks, he’d probably forgotten where he was. Doddering fools refuse to retire until they have to be carried out.” Lieutenant Tam’s baritone carried above the other voices.

Mira allowed herself a half-smile. At least some people had her back.

Despite everything, it had been a good day. Two of her good friends had been promoted and a rusalka had just completed advanced training. The border guards were never invited to the kumiho celebrations in City Hall. The steamed dumplings and free-flowing wine would be missed, but the entitled city guard would not be. They flaunted their ceremonial swords like children’s toys. The chinthe only got symbolic daggers, another slight to add to the heap. Mira ran her thumb down the worn hilt of hers.

This group had been with her for nearly as long as her chinthe dagger; patrolling the waters in the southern districts of the sprawling Tiankawi city state. The border guards’ jurisdiction was supposedly only around resettlement and trade. But over the decades, the city guard had refused to have anything to do with the folk- concentrated south. The whole region would have fallen into the hands of gangs had it not been for the chinthe.

From the rooftop training ground, sea level was quite a drop. In her younger days, Mira had clambered across buildings, vaulted and scrabbled through various shortcuts. But the long way had its own charm. The city stretched out, monolithic pillars a canopy above the shanty towns below. At low tide the planks of the walkways oozed with muddy water, threatening to warp faster than

they could be fixed. At high tide they were completely submerged, beholden to the mercies of the waters that surrounded Tiankawi. Not that this presented a problem for the folk.

Mira’s usual after- work haunt was nothing more than a street stall near the port in Seong district. An elderly couple of stallholders

seared skewers of spiced tiger prawns and whole fish over coals, bottles of moonshine floating in the water by their feet.

“To the new captain, Mira o’ the chinthe, we are not worthy,” Lieutenant Tam said with a mock bow.

“Oh piss off.” Mira prodded him with the toe of her boot.

“Don’t forget about us when you’re a lofty council member,” he added. Mira rolled her eyes, not wasting her breath on a retort.

“He has a point,” said Mikayil, her other lieutenant, his thick eyebrows wiggling at her from an amiable brown face. He wiped his hands neatly on a square of cloth from his pocket.

“They want you for leadership,” Lucia agreed. She was one of the newest ensigns, her uniform still pressed every morning and her face free from the worn river lines the others had. She held her sheathed dagger like they’d given her a nugget of gold. Mira remembered that elation. Wished she had a little of it left.

“They want a tick box in the Council; a head- bobbing, arsekissing recruitment pamphlet. Well, what do you think?” Mira said, posing with her hand on her hip, a caricature of an enrolment notice. They laughed, clinking bottles and turning to talk of other things. Mira took a long swig of the local brew. She wished it was that easy to brush it off inside as well. The faces of the delegates today confirmed what she already knew. All they saw was a half- siren. No matter the uniform she wore, the exams she passed, the ideas she brought to the discussion; they always saw her as fathomfolk first. She’d never lived in an underwater

haven – the semi-submerged city was her only home – and yet she’d always be an outsider.

She helped herself to another bottle, raising it until the stallholder auntie nodded in acknowledgement. Heard the merrymaking

fall silent suddenly.

A group of folk made their way down the walkway. Walking four abreast, they took up all the space. Mira recognised some of them: the whiskers of the ikan keli catfish twins, the swagger of the broad-shouldered kelpie leader in front. Drawbacks: a group of dissident folk who had been openly sceptical of her appointment. They walked with confident purpose, stopping too close to the border guards’ celebration for comfort. Mira felt the wariness of her colleagues, drinks being placed down on tables, hands inching towards baston sticks.

“Congratulations are in order, Captain,” Lynnette, the Drawback leader said. Sarcasm tugged on the edges of her words. As if she wasn’t tall enough, her tousled mohawk added inches to her height, like the crest of a wave.

Mira stood slowly, closing the distance in their heights a little, trying to defuse the situation with a light-heartedness she did not truly feel. “My thanks, you’re welcome to join.” Eyes glanced over the makeshift seats; nothing more than upturned wooden crates. The table a couple of damp pallets, mildewed around the edges.

The younger catfish twin was staring at Ensign Lucia, baiting her to look away first. He bared his teeth with a sudden hiss, barbed fins fanning down otherwise human-looking forearms. The effect was startling. Disquieting. Lucia toppled off the wooden crate she was sitting on. Only the quick reactions of those beside her prevented her from falling entirely into the water. The folk cackled.

“We’ve somewhere to be,” Lynnette said.

“Another time perhaps.” Mira kept her voice steady. Neutral.

The kelpie flexed her generous biceps, the sand god amulet around her neck swinging. “Unlike some, we’re busy making a

difference for folk in the city.” Mira heard Tam curse quietly behind her, the tension thick. Despite the alcohol, she suddenly felt very sober. Of course, just because she’d been made captain didn’t mean all folk approved her appointment. “Should you have any suggestions for change, I’d be glad to hear them.”

“Try changing yourself,” a whisper from the back of the new group snarked. Loud enough for all to hear. Not enough of an insult to warrant anything really. What was Mira – the first folk captain in the history of the city – going to do? Arrest the most vocal protest group on her first night? The Drawbacks knew it as well, Lynnette seemingly swaggering up to make this exact point.

“Good night, Captain. I’m sure our paths will cross again soon.”

The Drawbacks did not wait for the response. They jumped, cannonball-diving and flipping from the walkway into the water on either side with whoops and jeers. Making splashes so big that the border guards were drenched completely.

Saltwater ran down Mira’s face and coat as her colleagues swore and stood up around her. She sat back down, taking a sip of her now salty beer. She’d hoped to enjoy her promotion for at least one day, but there would be no such respite.


Mira had almost succeeded in putting the Drawbacks out of her mind by the time she caught the tram. It was mostly empty apart from a drunk sleeping in the corner and a fathomfolk couple talking in whispers by the doors. The carriage lurched forward on the raised rails as it headed towards the central Jingsha district. Here stood the proud buildings at the heart of the city, the steel-boned monuments to humanity’s prowess. Built during the Great Bathyal War, when it became clear that fighting between humanity and fathomfolk would not change the rising water levels; before the decades of floods. Built to endure. The rest of the city was made up of scattered semi- submerged neighbourhoods sprawled around Jingsha. Mira herself came from one of those districts, a shanty town really. She’d never thought that one day she’d live in the centre.

When she opened the door to her apartment, it was snowing. A layer of white covered everything as if a flurry had passed through the room. It was like the stories her ama had told, tales set in winter palaces on top of mountains she’d never known. Flakes like tiny flowers drifted towards her and despite herself, she stuck out her tongue. The cold sliver melted and sharpened her senses.

She could’ve stayed there all night, head tilted as if towards the sun, and let it fall on her face. The sound of familiar footsteps made her turn. Her partner Kai stood waiting for her to notice.

“You have no idea how much I love you right now,” he said with a smile that spread from his mouth into his warm brown eyes. He soaked the scene in, clearly pleased with himself.

“What did you do, you mad fool?” she said, unable to stop herself from laughing.

He came towards her, hugging her tight and warm.


“What, what is all this?” she said again. Insisting this time. She extracted herself briefly, even though she just wanted to bury her nose in his shirt. He smelt of home. Of soup broth and lemongrass soap. Though he was impeccably dressed, his fingers were nonetheless stained with black ink. She took one of his hands, rubbing at the smudges as he talked.

“I have to be impartial, I know. And you didn’t want it to be a big deal. But how can I not celebrate this? You made captain!” he said. Mira cupped the side of his jaw, the bristles on his chin tickling her palm. He could still make her heart sing after two years. “So,” he continued, turning to plant a gentle kiss on her hand, “we can celebrate your promotion here – at home – with all

the fuss I want to lavish on you.”

“Yes, but what is this?” She gestured around. Now that she had a moment to look, she realised he had covered the furniture with blankets, rendering the sofa and the dining table into soft white mounds. The snow falling around her was real though. It was all

Kai. He demonstrated, flicking water into the air and using his waterweaving powers to freeze the droplets as they fell in perfectly defined snowflakes. It hardly looked like he was putting any effort into it, a level of skill that would make any other fathomfolk

sweat with exertion. Delicate precision that only someone of his upbringing could achieve.

“You wanted to see snow; you’ve never been north. Honestly, I want to take you there. I will take you there! But for now, this will do.”

Despite the cold, Mira felt her skin tingle where it touched his. Her head spun with his words. Kai was never one to do things by halves. Even after all this time together, he could still surprise her. She wondered if all folk born in the sea havens were like this, but she doubted it. He was pure sincerity and joy.

He presented her with a scroll in both hands, bowing ceremoniously. The lotus-leaf paper was protected by a glass tube. It had become a tradition of theirs to give each other mock documents: salacious newssheets, penalty notices for missed dinners, or

strongly worded complaint letters about the quality of lingering glances. His eyes laughed merrily as she struggled with the wax, finally cutting it loose with her ceremonial blade. He’d made a certificate in flowing legalese, a document verifying that she was captain not just of the chinthe, but of all fathomfolk. And beneath it, images brought to life by a couple of deft brushstrokes. Mira leading a parade of dancing, laughing, singing folk along a riverway. His light touch had captured familiar faces, the idiosyncrasies of people they both knew.

“It’s, it’s . . . ” she began.

“I know,” he quipped.

She pushed him lightly onto the sofa, the snow puffing up on impact and making them both laugh as she sat across his lap. A tremor ran through her, the whole room swaying. Kai’s face was the one clear thing. “Look at me, I’m shaking,” she said in a whisper.

“As much as I’d like to take credit, that’s an actual earthquake.” He put his hands on her hips and anchored her.

The overhead light was swinging but nothing else was out of place. Growing up on the water, Mira barely noticed the minor tremors, but in the imposing towers of Jingsha she felt them more acutely. They waited for it to pass. She piled the fluffy snow

on Kai’s topknot, dabbing it into his dark facial hair and on his nose. Giddiness bubbled up through her as he shook himself free, the snowflakes flicking onto her face and down the front of her top. And when he complained of cold, she kissed him better; butterfly kisses down his neck and shoulders. Her hands untied his robes to reach down across his smooth skin, her lips caressing the pearlescent smattering of scales on his collarbone, across his torso and down one arm. She loved that he wore his true colours even when in human form. A water dragon, the only one in the whole city state. The notion still took her by surprise now and then. The closest thing to fathomfolk nobility, and here he was, looking up at her with hungry eyes.

He ran his hands across the fabric of her chinthe green uniform, tracing the braiding, rubbing the brass buttons in a way that made Mira involuntarily exhale. “I’m supposed to be treating you, remember?” he murmured. The coat fell away and his hands ran down her back. Their lips met and she leaned in, pushing her hips, her chest, her mouth into him, pressing close so he could feel the ache that filled her entirely. “So . . . how do you want to celebrate?” he asked. Her response required no words.



No one said it was going to be easy to steal the dragon pearl.

“Hurry up,” Nami said, sinking down to the ocean floor beside Dan. He looked up at her, his kappa’s beak pursed tight as he glared back. Gills opened and closed in exasperation. He might be her best friend, but he could still snap bones with one bite. She hastily swallowed her next comment.

“Is it . . . supposed to be doing that?” Hong- Gi asked, the jangjamari so nervous that the kelp covering his whole body quivered in the warm eddy. He inclined his head towards the shield generator. The lights had started to pulse in vivid blue waves like bioluminescence. Even Nami could guess that wasn’t a good sign.

“It’s fine.” She was bluffing. She didn’t really know the workings of topside machinery, taking only the minimal classes to pass at the Academy. She jabbed randomly at the buttons again. “Besides, you’re supposed to be keeping watch!” The fronds of seaweed floated with him through the water as Hong-Gi drifted back to position. Once there, he was undetectable, another rock covered in seaweed and barnacles along the passageway.

In the comfort of their old student dive, the Anemone Club, it had seemed straightforward enough – sneak into the Peace Tower and steal the dragon pearl. Except they weren’t stealing – liberating was more accurate. The last unhatched dragon egg, which the humans insisted on rebranding as the Peace Stone, a symbol of the post- war armistice between humans and fathomfolk. To Nami, it was a symbol of betrayal. One that loomed over the underwater haven, a watchtower rather than a lighthouse. Dan swam back. “It won’t open.”

The lights were no longer flashing; the blue hue was simply getting stronger, like staring into the sun. A series of pipes ran like fault lines in jagged right angles. Dan had bitten through the outer casing of the shield generator, but inside things weren’t any clearer. A mess of welded metal, knotted wires and moving parts. Nami remembered now that she’d failed the practical exam at the Academy spectacularly, and that was merely tinkering with a simple mechanism for a boat. She poked a finger at some wires, feigning a knowledge she did not have. Why didn’t they just label things? Humans had to overcomplicate matters. But the other students had assured them it would work. The same students who’d failed to show up tonight, in fact . . .

Not for the first time, Nami wished she was naturally smart, like her older brother Kai. First in his year at the Academy, finished his overseas studies in two years when it should have taken three, and a skilled waterweaver to boot. He’d know exactly what to do – though he wouldn’t even be in this situation in the first place. Not that it mattered; he wasn’t here to bail her out any more. Kai had been topside for years now, ambassador to the human city state of Tiankawi.

“Just cut it,” Dan said, crossing his webbed hands, “I know you can.”

“Will you be able to handle any other problems?”

He barked with laughter, the deep sound peculiar from his slight frame. After years of friendship, it still took Nami by surprise. “Let them come.”

Nami forced more oxygen through her gills. The water tingled around her, responding to her call. It flowed through her open palm movements as she moulded it. She could feel the energy growing, vibrating between her fingers like nibbling fish. Still she pushed it, forward and back, lifting more of the water with each sweep, magnetising and focusing it between her hands. Waterweaving. A skill all fathomfolk had to some extent, but Nami had two distinct advantages: an endless stream of tutors and the latent power of her dragon form. She pointed one finger at the door and released the water through a controlled jet. Strong enough to cut.

As soon as the crude hole had been etched, Dan kicked it in with his foot. He smacked his beak together in satisfaction, peering up through the darkened doorway.

“After you, princess,” he said with a mock bow. She didn’t even waste the time retorting, simply glaring until he shrugged, used to her rage. “We’re stealing your mother’s pearl, and she’s practically royalty.”

Dan liked to goad her. He had three sisters and was used to giving as good as he got. He’d stepped on a lot of webbed feet and bowed to a lot of rotten fish to get into the same academy, the same classes that Nami had attended, no questions asked. The scholarship student, in a hurry to start earning. They had graduated together a year ago and Dan had been grafting ever since, scraping together money to feed his family. Two months ago, he’d lost his job. The company he worked for folded, out-competed by cheap surface labour.

“Hong-Gi, we’re going in!” Nami said. It was impossible to tell which of the seaweed- covered rocks he was until he moved. She almost wished the jangjamari hadn’t come. An artless newcomer from the depths of the kelp forest, he’d sponged up the words of the Anemone Club radicals as if parched with thirst. Nami hadn’t the heart to dissuade him, thinking him safer in their circle than being led astray by others. Now she was less certain. Too many things had gone wrong already.

A long, narrow corridor dripped with ribbon- like fringing. Before she could register Dan’s warning shout, she’d swept a handful of the strands aside. Sudden pain shot up her arm. The innocuous strings wrapped vice-like around her wrist. Tentacles. She looked up to see a bloom of jellyfish. Their translucent bells twinkled blue like starlight, the same as the shield generator. This was what it had alerted.

Her right arm was completely paralysed, red through from hand to shoulder. Too late, her scales hardened over the top, doing nothing more than making her arm hang heavy at her side. She swore under her breath.

“Did you never play with sea jellies growing up?” Dan slapped the tentacles aside with the back of his hand, peering down the densely curtained corridor. The kappa’s thick skin was immune to most stings and poisons. A small consolation for not being able to shift into a human- passing form. When Nami didn’t answer, he shrugged. “Of course not. Too busy learning three languages and how to arrange seagrass.”

It wasn’t exactly how her childhood had gone, but there wasn’t time to disagree. Dan cut a path through the stinging corridor and they reached a huge open chamber. Other doors led off on the seabed level, but there was only one way up. A series of handholds spiralled around the walls of the central room, emerging through the water and continuing towards the lighthouse eyrie above. Nami pulled her paralysed arm in close to her body. Dan was about to make another remark, a sudden brightness in his round eyes as he looked at the handholds then back at her useless limb. Nami gritted her teeth and kicked off before he could start, using her legs to swim towards the surface. Out of the water, the cold penetrated her skin. The spiral staircase continued upwards, nothing more than stones jutting out of the walls.

“You’d better wait here,” she said to Hong-Gi. The jangjamari was slow at the best of times, but above water, he was glacial. As conflicted as Nami felt about her human form, it was a lot more practical in circumstances like these.

Many fathomfolk had land forms and water forms, but Dan only had one shape – another reason why fellow students at the Academy had looked down at him. His small stature meant it would be a long and tiring climb.

“I could throw you,” Nami said. “A couple of rotations and launch you upwards, boost you with some water arcs?” She tried and failed to keep the merriment from her voice.

“Like I’m some slingshot pebble? Get your head out your arse, I can climb,” Dan said, pushing past her. He jumped from stone to stone, webbed hands and feet splayed, adhering to the walls.

“It’d just be like an immense whirlpool spat you out.” Nami was provoking him now. It was only fair given his earlier insults.

“I’m already target practice at home for my sisters, never mind you.”

“You’ve plenty of experience then.” She heard only an echo of his response. A choice curse word.

As they continued up, her numb arm wiped the mirth from her face. The climb was difficult and the growing height filled her mouth with bile. Landing in the water would be of no consequence, it was hitting the walls on the way down that worried her.

Nearing the top, she could see the beams that held up the flying eaves on the outside. The humans had made their watchtower beautiful. With multiple tiered roofs it was the only structure in the Yonakuni sea haven that broke through the surface of the water.

Only one place left to go. She hesitated a moment. Her mother would never forgive her. But nor would she forgive herself unless she tried. Humans had done this. Their pollution spilled through the oceans, bleaching the coral of the underwater havens into bones. Their mechanised floating cities vomited out waste. And rather than fight them, the Yonakuni elders traded with them!

No wonder people were leaving. Folk swam from the thickest kelp forests and deepest brine lakes for tickets and papers. Endless emigrants desperate to get out of the water. It was only a matter of time before Yonakuni fell like the havens before. That was what the other students had said. It spurred Nami on.

Her hand looked human in its aspect. Pale- skinned and lithe. Weak. She hardened her scales, watching the iridescent silver gleam coat the back of her hand, her nails turning to talons. She pulled the door open.

The room was as extravagant as her mother’s finest chambers. Identical windows on each of the eight walls, shutters closed against the afternoon sunlight. Between these and on the supporting pillars were a series of artefacts. Archaic human script Nami did not recognise. Fading woodblock prints depicting humans and fathomfolk. A curved ceremonial sword with a tassel of finely knotted seasilk.

Dan stood in front of one triptych. His height made a difference out of the water; he had to crane his neck to see the image. It showed a mermaid brushing her hair, confident and free, the waves behind caressing her scales. Then swooning in the arms of some human man, a fisherman or a prince or anyone in between.

And the last picture . . .

The kappa spat.

The last picture showed the man cradling the body of the mermaid. It didn’t matter why she’d died. A sacrifice for him, for their child, for some unwitting sin. The story was always the same. “Equality above and below the waterline,” Nami said, the words curdling in her mouth. She echoed the official line they’d been taught. Her remaining doubts burned away like morning mist in the glare of the sun.

A carved lacquer box intricately decorated with mother- of pearl serpentine dragons lay atop a central pedestal. Light shone out, warm and joyful, as Nami opened the lid. As the white spots in her vision dissipated, she could see the single pearl, as big as a newborn’s head, within the box. It swirled opalescent and as familiar as the scales on her mother’s skin.

“Jiang- Li’s last pearl, nothing more than a lighthouse beacon,” Dan said.

Nami nodded, not trusting herself to speak yet. The lighthouse had been erected when she was only a child. A beacon of human and fathomfolk friendship, she’d been told every time she’d asked the officials, her teachers, her mother. To stop the ships from damaging one of the last underwater havens. But Nami knew what it really was. The whispers bitter in the abyssal zone of Yonakuni haven. A bargaining chip. As long as they could see the light twinkling in the distance, the humans were reassured that folk were being obedient little neighbours, circling their oversized fish tank. And the folk were helpless. Staring at their hope but never able to use it.

She picked the pearl up, gingerly holding it outstretched in both hands, wanting to bring it close and yet afraid to have it near her. It throbbed, warm to the touch. Her hands were suddenly damp with sweat, and she nearly dropped it. Dan was saying something, but she couldn’t hear him past the rush in her ears. Her heart was beating so fast she could feel it straining through her chest to break free. A long moment passed as she waited for something else.

It could have been her.

“Hello, little one,” she whispered into the shell.

A roar slammed into the back of her head, sending tremors like ice melting down her spine. The surprise made her jump, throwing the pearl into the air. A flash of green hide knocked her off her feet and she dropped to all fours, reflexively transforming her skin to hardened scales. She rolled to one side and countered, pushing past her attacker to catch the falling pearl. It was instinct, the way she’d been taught by the best martial tutors in the haven.

One of the same former tutors faced her now: Sobekki, Protector of the Realm. His crocodile skin was tough, near impenetrable, and he had brought half a dozen guards with him. “You’re in trouble,” he said, voice emotionless as his weather- beaten face.

There was no way Nami could win against Sobekki in a fair fight. He’d trained her, knew every one of her weak spots, and that was before considering the minor issue of her paralysed arm. “I outrank you,” she said. She put force behind her voice and noted that some of the soldiers wavered in their positions; one even took a step back.

Sobekki said nothing, simply baring his sharp teeth as he took a step forward.

“My mother will—”

“Who do you think sent me?”

Dan chipped in. “She’s fighting for her people! That’s a lot more than the Senate have done in decades!”

“I’m not arguing with a couple of children. You only see the surface, not the whole issue. Hand over the pearl.”

It was the same platitudes they always gave: it’s complicated; you’ll understand some day. Nami threw the pearl to Dan. Her body lengthened, her argent scales gleaming as spines grew down her back. Antlers curved out from her brow and her eyes dilated to see into every shadow. Her hands turned to full claws and her face to her true self. In dragon form she could reach all corners of the small room. With a whip of her tail, she knocked three of the guards to the ground. Even with one injured arm, she was more steady on her feet.

“I won’t hold back,” Sobekki warned.

“Bring it, old one,” Nami responded as she leapt.

Sobekki sidestepped her easily, grappling her, twisting his whole body in a graceful cartwheel. Nami did not resist, flowing with the move and disentangling herself as she flipped over his head. She landed hard, her foreclaw slipping under her. Two of the other guards were behind her, approaching with caution. She rolled into a knot, moving in a whirlwind of coiled scales, fast and dazzling. One guard lunged, then the other. They aimed for flesh, but she curved her body out of the way, sending them crashing into each other.

Sobekki ran straight at her with a rain of fists. Nami could only dodge so many before the blows struck her head ridge and across the jaw. Her tricks would not work with him. He was not

dazzled by the sight of a dragon the way others were. Her whisker alerted her to his movements, but she couldn’t act quickly enough. She growled low, even though the protective spines were surely hurting her former tutor just as much as her. She snapped at him, but Sobekki was faster, much faster. Nami could hear his voice ringing in her head. Your true form is bigger, but that also makes

you a bigger target. Fast, agile opponents will wear you down.

A strike on her shoulder blades, another to her side, and she felt her body tiring. The waterweaving, the paralysis, the shape-shifting; it had all taken its toll. She shrank herself down, reflexively turning back into human form, but Sobekki had been waiting for that. The barrage continued unabated, leaving Nami shielding her head from the blows. The dragon scale was the only thing keeping her in one piece.

“You hate them, say you’re different, and yet here you are, hiding in human form!” Sobekki was usually a person of few words, and Nami knew he was furious. She didn’t have the breath to respond. Her ribs ached and she was gasping just trying to dodge his hits.

“I’m nothing like them.” The energy to muster a response distracted her. Long enough for Sobekki to punch her in the side of the jaw. Nami tasted bitter iron in her mouth and sank to her knees. A drop of blood dripped down her chin. She felt the pearl watching her, glowing weakly in Dan’s hands as he cowered between two guards. Sobekki loomed over her, a sneer across his features. Then, abruptly, sensing perhaps that she was defeated, he turned his back. Prised the pearl out of Dan’s grasp and held it up to his eye. His grip, although reverent, nonetheless dented the pearl’s surface. She felt it as though he were pressing nails against her temples. She sucked in a breath through her teeth.

“Soft,” he said. Then, looking back at Nami, “But not as soft as their sister.”



Fathomfolk by Eliza Chan

‘A vivid, textured tale of migration, prejudice and change. Wonderful and breathtaking’
Aliette de Bodard

‘Life is better down with the fathomfolk. I was dazzled by this novel, which has as many turns as the tide, and hope to see much more of this world and this author’
Sarah Rees Brennan

‘A richly envisioned world and finely crafted tale, Fathomfolk is a luxurious and thrilling story full of political intrigue, heart-wrenching characters and edge-of-your seat tension. A glittering and magical novel from a glorious new voice in fantasy’
Bea Fitzgerald

‘From the glittering city heights to the criminal underbelly on the seafloor, the world of Fathomfolk feels deeply plausible and satisfyingly complex. If you want scheming sirens and snarky sea dragons then this is the book for you’
Thomas D. Lee

Fathomfolk is a compelling tale about cultures colliding, set against a city backdrop that feels familiar yet fresh. Eliza Chan deftly and compassionately writes about the depths we’ll plunge to, to change our world’
G. V. Anderson, World Fantasy Award winner

‘A thrilling, incisive fantasy of diaspora and dragons, Fathomfolk is an unmissable debut. if you’re hungry for a beautiful Southeast Asian influenced fantasy with razor-sharp edges, this book is for you’
Tasha Suri

‘Eliza Chan’s Fathomfolk has all the feels-furious, bittersweet and heart wrenching. Gripping to the last page, the story stayed with me long after I finished the book. A tour de force!’
A. Y. Chao

‘Gloriously imagined and full of heart’
Claire North

‘Eliza Chan is not just a writer; she is storyteller. In her deft hand Fathomfolk bursts with complex relationships, original world building, and timeless questions. With the confidence and command of a seasoned master, Chan weaves a riveting tale which seized me from the first word and did not let go until the end. A triumph of imagination, birthed from the mind of one who loves stories and knows how to tell them well’
Tobi Ogundiran

‘A thrilling tale set in a unique and inventive fantasy world peppered with East Asian and Southeast Asian myth and lore. With complex, daring characters and layered storytelling, Chan’s heartfelt and nuanced exploration of diaspora survival will resonate deeply with readers’
June CL Tan