Have you ever read a fantasy novel that has a magic system based around plumbing? Me either, so when this review request slid into my email, I couldn’t resist giving it a listen.
Thanks to the author for the review copy.
For as long as she can remember, Seg has lived in the Orphanage. She was brought there by her spiteful mentor, Plumbess Roc, to learn the art and danger of Plumbing—to become a Plumbess. But when Seg struggles, when she finds nightmares in Plumbing’s dark recesses, she always turns to another Plumbess—the warm, caring Plumbess Zag—for solace.
Until Zag dies.
Seg blames Eck for Zag’s death—Eck who was raised by snakes, Eck who left a scar on Seg’s neck when they were children. When Seg finally leaves the Orphanage, to find a Pipe Lord and do her work, she’s weighed down by loss, hatred, and the heavy Lead around her neck, which reopens her old scar. But she takes her plunger in hand and follows the pipes, even though they lead back to her nightmares—and back to Eck.
Alright. This is a world where life is sort of based in and around pipes and plumbing. Imagine it was the Mushroom Kingdom, only more like our world and not full of turtle monsters, and way more serious….
This isn’t going well, lol. This world is very hard to explain in a way that doesn’t make it seem like a comedic fantasy setting. It isn’t, really.
Plumbesses, who are always orphans, and always female, seem to be somewhat like priestesses in this world. The Pipe Lords, who are the rulers of the land, each have a Plumbess in their employ to deal with any leaks or clogs in their pipes. They are a very important person in the household of a Pipe Lord.
There is a bit of magic here as well though. Each Plumbess has a plunger, and that plunger works on pretty much any pipes that it comes in contact with, whether they be copper pipes, lead pipes or… human intestine pipes. These women even deliver babies from time to time, using their plumbing skills. This magical plunger was an interesting concept that was used a few times throughout the story to different effects.
This book follows two young Plumbesses, Seg and Eck. Seg’s mentor Roc was always mean to her, while Eck’s mentor Zag was always so nice, and so Seg often finds herself in the company of Zag and therefore Eck. Eck was raised by snakes, and is… very odd, but despite their differences, Seg and Eck become friends. But then Zag dies, and Seg blames Eck for it. They leave the orphanage and go their separate ways, but not all Pipe Lords are nice, and not all young Plumbesses can see that. Dun Dun Dunnnn.
The book was well written, with some really nice prose, but I often found myself a little bit lost, especially at first. This is a very strange world, with very strange laws and practices, and right in the beginning, I found myself sitting there with a ‘I have no idea what is happening right now’ look on my face as I listened. I did, however, get there though. It took a little time, but eventually I was on board. I do wish that there was a tad more worldbuilding though. I have no idea why or how all this plumbing appeared in this world, but I got a real ‘alternate Earth’ vibe from it, and I wish that had been expanded on. We do some skipping around time, back and forth between the present and the past, seeing Seg and Eck grow up, and I thought that was handled well, and that each character, especially Eck, was well done.
The narrator, Alison Campbell, did a great job. She has a voice that is quite pleasant to listen to for long periods of time, and so this 7 hour long book went by quite quickly for me, and I listened to it all in one sitting. She gives each character their own voice, and made the antagonist’s voice rather chilling at times, which helped immerse me in the story a lot.
So, all told, I thought this was a well done story with a rather weird, and sometimes confusing world. The premise was unique, and once you get past the sheer strangeness of it all, it’s quite an interesting story about two young girls making their way in the world. It’s definitely worth a listen if you’re up for something strange and unique! 3/5 stars.