"..if there's one thing Driftwood can't take from us, it's stories. As long as we tell them, and go on telling them, they live."
'Driftwood' by Marie Brennan is one of those rare stories you don't quite see coming. I don't mean in the sense that the twists of the tale itself are unpredictable, though at times.. that too is true, but rather in the way that it is so much bigger, so much more impactful and moving than one might ever suspect.
Last, a one-blooded survivor of Driftwood who acts as a guide across the lands, has lived more lifetimes than anyone could ever imagine. Long before we learn his story, he lived to see his world end.. taking with it the rest of his people and for some reason leaving him behind. Driftwood is a strange place surrounded by mist where worlds enter the Edges having just suffered their apocalypses, pulled slowly toward the middle.. called the Crush, breaking apart bit by bit along the way.
Once these worlds reach the Crush, they disappear or disintegrate.. taking with them any remaining people that belong to that world. The memories, the artifacts, the language.. all gone, never to return.
"Driftwood is where worlds come to die."
Between the Crush and the Edges lie the Rings.. a swath of lands referred to as the Shreds for the crumbling condition of the worlds passing through them. It's here where the Drifters, those of mixed blood who belong to no land, gather together in response to the rumor that Last has died. Drawn to a place of great reverence.. and no small amount of risk in its own right, to commemorate him. To share stories of great deeds, unbelievable myths, even accusations. To debate him as a mercenary, an immortal, a liar, a legend.. and even a god.
Told in a shifting narrative through many points of view, we learn of Last primarily through the eyes of those who knew him. Those who felt he helped them or theirs, those who believe him to be less than honorable, and those who may worship him. Though some stories came from his perspective as well and those were especially dear to me.
Each small tale is a gift of sight, told with the passion and often fondness of those who I dare say, considered him a friend. There's a great deal of love for him in their words and so I found it easy to love him too, very early on. There were moments of great kindness, loyalty, deep pits of despair, and sometimes even regret for his attempts to aid those who he came across.
"He doesn't like to be hunted," the creature said. "Hired, yes. Hunted, no."
To a degree, we do get to know some of those who knew him. Through their recollections, we learn their motivations and how his actions influenced their lives. Our time with each of them is brief, but it isn't really about them. This is the story of Last.. and honestly within just a few pages, he was the purpose for reading. I waited eagerly for each glimpse of him, each appearance, each choice he made.. and always seemingly with the intent to better someone's circumstance.
There is one scene that I was particularly fond of.. because it felt like I stumbled across a secret. A place called. Quinendeniua, where he went to make a trade. A gift of memories for her, in exchange for the gift of forgetfulness for himself. A place where he and the person he hoped to aid.. had to "move as one." They literally had to move as one in dance, to make this happen.. and a song sprung to mind.. a handful of lyrics. 'Hotel California'.. where "some dance to remember and some dance to forget."
I don't know that it was an intentional reference, but I loved it all the same. It really set the mood for me.
"I should have known better than to think Quinendeniua would be so simple. Letting you in my head like that... you understand me too well now, don't you?"
Each world was wildly different from each other. Each had its own special culture and many of them bore some kind of magic exclusive to them, that would exist only as long as they did. I thoroughly enjoyed learning of them, learning of the people, and all the amazing things that passed through Driftwood before succumbing to their end.
Initially, the first couple of pov shifts felt unclear, but beyond the opening pages that never occurred again. Actually, this is easily one of my favorite reads this year and I had no idea it would be. I thought it a quaint sounding story with an interesting premise, but my hopes could not have readied me for what it really was.. an absolutely stellar tale.. and I desperately hope there will be more.
Certainly, I have my own opinion about what happened to Last. I wonder what yours will be..
Read it and see...