Genre: Fantasy Age Range: YA Star Rating: 5/5 stars Series: yes - first in duology
Adeluna is a revolutionary, and helped her parents overthrow Argrid and usher in the Grace Loryan Council. Devereux is a raider, a pirate selling Grace Loray’s magical plants on the black market. Benat is a heretic, hiding his interest in magic from his father – the King and head of Argrid’s religion.
When an Argridian ambassador goes missing, Adeluna pressures Devereux into helping her find him. The disappearance – Adeluna’s not convinced he was kidnapped by the raiders – throws the peace treaty between Grace Loray and Argrid into jeopardy. Worse still, it could bring about a civil war between the council and the raiders, threatening all the revolution fought for.
Meanwhile, Benat is tasked by his father to find a magical cure for an incurable disease. It’s a dream come true, but is his father’s change of heart real – or is the King simply after proof of Benat’s heresy?
As the conspiracies start to pile up, Lu, Vex and Ben have to decide what and who they’re fighting for.
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This book was one of the books I was most excited to read this year – and quite probably was the most anticipated read. There were three things that grabbed me in the description that made me want to read it. The fact that it was written by an author I love was an added bonus. The three things were:
- It contains magical plants. No, seriously – the entire magic system is based around plants. I thought that sounded super cool, and was very unique.
- Politics. I adore well-crated political books (particularly ones that involve religious politics because fanatics motivated by faith can be such interesting and terrifying characters) that have cunning plans in equal measure with adventure and action, and this book was marketed as such.
- Piracy, but on rivers in a tropical land. I immediately thought ‘Pirates of the Caribbean, but clever’. Also, who doesn’t love swashbuckling pirates?
Because I was looking forward to it so much, I was actually a little nervous when I got it. What if it was disappointing?
Well, it wasn’t. In fact, it more than surpassed my expectations on all three – and I devoured the book in three sittings (handily, it has three parts).
For one, the magical plants is such a clever magic system. There’s no ‘chosen one with ridiculously overpowered magic’, just plants that anyone can use, for good or bad, if they know where to look. It makes the playing field far more level and doesn’t prompt the feeling that the MC(s) is holding back because… reasons, I guess?
The magic had clear, defined rules – each plant had a specific use and only that use. Depending on how it was prepared or what it was mixed with, it might have a slight variant (like increasing potency from relaxant to sedative), but that was it. And there were consequences – and wow, that consequence… This sort of magic system is called a hard magic system (clear rules, costs and consequences), and it’s my favourite.
It made it much more satisfying when they pulled off a plan by cleverly using the herbs to facilitate their escape, rather than just blowing everything up with a wave of their hand. It also didn’t feel like herbs were thought up at every problem, because Lu and Nayeli (our main plant users) more or less relied on three plants and their brains.
But did I say it made the playing field more level? Yes, well it was still pretty slanted – towards the antagonists. Because of the politics (*slaps head at cringe-worthy transition*).
There are multiple factions in play here: Argrid, the Grace Lorayan Council and the raiders (of which there are four clans, but we only learn about two). They all had goals and motives and lengths that they’re willing to go to that we knew about (to some extent). For example:
- Faction: Argrid
- Goal: regain control over Grace Loray again
- Motive: Continue to purge the world of Gray Loray’s magic as they see it as evil, an affront to their god.
- The lengths they’re willing to go to: Spoilers, but we know from the start that it’s bad. Why? Because they’ve done it before and Sara Raasch teases all of that so perfectly that you want to know more, but are don’t want to know about the suffering the wonderful MCs underwent.
The political side of things was super well done. I can’t praise it enough. Despite all the adventure/action-y-stuff (commonly called plot!) going on, there was an underlying tension from the politics. Why? Because I knew that the MCs couldn’t control what was going on in the political sphere as there were all these plots and conspiracies going on (but I wasn’t sure what they were, who was doing it or why). The MCs were racing to uncover the plots so that they could then make a plan to stop them.
This sounds like the MCs were reactive, but they weren’t. Yes, on the macro level, they were reacting to the others’ plots, but on the micro level – on their level – they were very active, coming up with plans and ways to foil their enemies, but without really knowing who their enemies were.
And, oooo… the religious politics and all the religious fanatics doing horrible things in the service of their good. Argrid was a great antagonist because I knew there was no line they wouldn’t cross to carry out their holy mission, which made them terrifying.
(Can’t think of a good transition to the pirates so: *clumsy, awkward slide with jazz hands*)
Pirates, but not on the high seas. On rivers (and a lake) and swamps. And using steamboats.
It was fun, and engaging and gave a sense of swashbuckling adventure to the whole book (but cleverer and without a big show-down of who-can-use-a-sword-and-cannon-better). Sara Raasch described her inspirations as the golden age of piracy meets the Spanish inquisition (read her brief overview of her world building process here), and that showed.
It didn’t feel anything like the world of Snow Like Ashes, even if the map had the same style. It was one of those rare new series from an existing author that didn’t feel just like the old one rehashed and in shiny new packaging. The cultures were different, as was the feel of the land. Goodbye snow and hello horridly humid, sticky swamps.
I haven’t talked much about the characters because, for me, the best bit was the world building. But the characters were good, if a little predictable (the reason it’s half-a-star less than perfect). Adeluna was the kick-ass rebel with brains rather than brain, and very strong convictions and opinions that turn out wrong. Devereux was the charming rogue with secrets and a tragic past. Benat was the conflicted little prince who believes everything his culture says was wrong. They were clear-cut characters with well defined motivations, flaws and regrets. Sometimes these felt a little like I was being hit over the head with these (particularly for Lu).
The way they were all linked and the tragic/disturbing backstories that came out/started to come out at the end. I didn’t predict it (which is unusual) but the surprise value of that twist (which should have been amazing) was undercut by the fact that it felt a little far fetched (one word: irmáns).
However, overall, the characters were fun and engaging, the right characters for the world.
Wow, long review (also, the cover’s lovely and the meaning of that symbol is interesting and heartbreaking). Hopefully it’s testament to how much I enjoyed the book and I now can’t wait for the sequel after that ending – THESE DIVIDED SHORES.
Want to read THESE REBEL WAVES? Add to your Goodreads shelves here.
Read my reviews of other books by Sara Raasch:
Stream Raiders (this series):
- THESE DIVIDED SHORES (#2)
With Kristen Simmons: