It is a powerful world-builder who can create a tale where incidental characters have a viable back-story—and more so when that character is a carving.
In South Coast, Nathan Lowell has written the opening novel in a new series about a young man's discovery of his own power to succeed at life. Those who have read the author's previous novels set in the "Golden Age of the Solar Clipper" are familiar with this theme.
Without any spoilers, we can share that in the Trader's Tales from that age (Quarter Share, Half Share, etc.), young Ishmael Wang comes of age through a series of positions on merchant spaceships. Wang's "spirit guide' on these voyages is a dolphin-shaped whelkie, rough-carved and finished with a deep purple bit of shell by a shaman on the south coast of a planet named St. Cloud.
The Shaman's Tales from that age show us how the power to imbue the whelkie with a guiding spirit is given to the shaman. To start, as we are told many times, "the son of the shaman is a shaman." But we gradually learn that this power does not come easily, and is hard for even a willing son to learn from his father.
And when the son is not certain he wants to be a shaman?
As with Lowell's Trader's Tales, and Tanyth Fairport series, with the fantasy elements there is a strong theme of economic reality woven throughout this novel. The deep-sea fishing business is part of the tale of St. Cloud's South Coast, as is the comfortable village life of a remote fishing community.
South Coast can stand on its own, but it also adds depth to the space-going side of Lowell's Solar Clipper universe. I can hardly wait for the next in the series (Cape Grace) to appear as a book.