This was a story full of grand ideas, exciting characters and an adventure on the high
seas grasses. For the most part, all of these things were pulled together beautifully. However, at times, they also became a struggle. I’m moving house this week and that may have added to the challenge but I often found myself excited by the story but desperately wishing it would just hurry up!
Title: The Forever Sea
Series: The Forever Sea #1
Author: Joshua Phillip Johnson
Publisher: Titan Books
Publication Date: 26th January 2021
Ownership: eARC provided by the publisher on NetGalley
Rating: 3.5 stars (rounded down to 3)
First off, this was an exciting world. All female trader/harvester crews roam the Forever Sea, an ocean of tamed and feral grasses that both remain somewhat wild. They are filled with strange plants and beasts that can be essential for human survival on the Mainland and the island of Arcadia, but harvesting these can come at a deadly cost. Not just of the creatures that live in the Forever Sea, or the pirates that roam it, but also the call to take the green dive to a sea-bed that no one has ever found. And in a world with all grass and little water, the latter becomes a commodity to fight for.
And how do ships sail on the Forever Sea? Why, with hearthfires. There’s a slightly inexplicable magic system in this world that means that some mages can use plants and herbs to cast spells – both defensive and attack – and other people can harness the power of the hearthfires. It seems to be a fire with a spirit and a language of its own, that only a few can speak or understand, and most people will use it like tool, creating constructs out of captains’ bones and hammering it to their will.
Except for Kindred. She’s the granddaughter of a ship captain who, early on, appears to have committed suicide by walking away into the Forever Sea. But a final letter to her granddaughter reveals that she was following a different calling, one that begins to ignite Kindred’s own hidden desire to find out what lies below the grasses.
This is what makes things a bit challenging to read though – Kindred is Special (although doesn’t know it yet). It means she has an instinct for how the hearthfires should burn, and listens to them in a way that no one else does. (And this is repeated over, and over, and over again). Her grandmother’s words echoing in her head, she also makes decisions that not only endanger the crew of her ship, but makes her directly responsible for their deaths – something that barely seems to register with her as she is so focused on her new path.
This alone makes Kindred a difficult character for me to love. But it’s also that she seems to be one of the only people who is thinking this way in this world that frustrates me. She has the feel of a YA heroine who becomes the Special One and is the only one who realises that maybe there could be a rebellion…
The narrative is also interrupted by a storyteller, who is telling Kindred’s story from a future where people no longer sea the sun and where they can no longer remember their own history. It seems like Name of the Wind style cleverness and I’m not certain how much it adds to the story at the moment, other than pulling the reader out of the narrative.
My main criticism was the repetition. The writing is really good and really beautiful but that fades quickly when you read the same sentence or same turn of phrase over and over again. A couple of times is emphasis, more than that needs some further editing. It’s very rich writing, but after a while rich can become sickly.
But I’m a little torn, because this was a good story. And a fantastic, imaginative and creative world. Kindred’s shipmates weren’t always fully-rounded characters but they were a delightful cast of interesting, powerful women. When we finally made it to the Once-City, I loved the feel of the place, although it felt as though there was still so much more to do there.
And I think that’s the main thing I’ve come away with from this book – there is still so much more to this world, and to this story, that I really want to find out what happens next.
My proper rating is 3.5 stars – because I did really like the story, but it wasn’t always easy to enjoy as much as I wanted to. And for that, I’ve rounded it down to 3.
I received an e-ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.