Sea

Sea was written in 2017 and is Sarah Driver’s debut novel. It is a middle grade fantasy story, focusing on a young girl’s quest to unite the warring tribes of Sea, Land and Sky. The book forms the first part of The Huntress Trilogy and its sequel – Sky – is expected to be released later this year.

Ever since the death of her Ma, Mouse has grown up aboard The Huntress. Her people are the Tribe of the Sea and her Grandmother still leads them in the old ways. They give praise to the whales as their gods and only take what they need to survive. Mouse is proud to be part of the crew as she knows that it is her destiny to one day take her Grandmother’s place as captain of the ship.

However, things start to change when a stranger called Stag comes aboard the ship, bringing with him the blood-stained cloak of Mouse’s Da. Life must continue on the Huntress and so Stag joins them to take her father’s place as navigator. However, when Mouse finds a hidden message in her father’s belongings, she begins to suspect that he may not be dead at all. Her father is hunting for the Storm Opals – three legendary treasures with the power to end the war between the Tribes. Yet, if that is true, why would Stag lie about his death?

Her question is answered when a fierce mutiny wrenches control of The Huntress from her Grandmother. The new captain is quick to assert control and his first act is to sell Mouse’s brother, Sparrow, into slavery. With her destiny torn from her, Mouse sets off on a daring mission to retrieve the missing Storm Opals. Yet how can she hope to succeed when her enemies are everywhere?

Before I begin, I think it’s time for one of my words of warning. For a middle grade novel, Sea can be surprisingly violent in places. It is clearly written for younger readers, but around the half-way mark the story suddenly takes a bleak turn. In one particularly gruesome scene, the mutineers embark on a whale hunt. What follows is one of the most unpleasant, bloody acts that I have ever read in a middle grade novel. It’s made even worse by the fact that Mouse can understand the language of the whales, and the poor innocent creatures have no idea of why their human friends have betrayed them. Yeah, it’s grim stuff and sensitive readers might find it distressing. You have been warned.

Yet if you don’t mind books that are a little bit dark, Sea is a novel that has a lot going for it. The strongest thing about this story is its world-building. The setting is simple, but breath-taking. The world of Trianukka nicely evokes the feel of Icelandic legends. It’s a half-frozen world where every person is named after a different animal and everyday life is a constant adventure. It’s a world seeped in magic – from the flashy elemental powers of the mystiks to Sparrow’s whale song in physical form.

Driver’s written style might not be to everyone’s taste. It’s entirely told in first person from Mouse’s perspective and captures her rather unique dialect. While I personally didn’t find this too distracting, it should probably be noted that Mouse does speak a lot like one would expect a child to. She sometimes doesn’t explain herself too well and her story is light on descriptions. To me, this felt rather fitting. Why would Mouse need to explain what a Moonsprite is, or what Terrodyl looks like when she sees them every day? The simple prose added a sense of the uncanny to the story. For me, it gave it all the feel of a faerie tale – a world where magic was common place and even the most mundane of things seemed whimsical.

The plot is slow to start but gradually drew me in. While it’s focus on a girl’s quest to find a mythical artefact felt a bit familiar in places, the book still built to a tense pace and the action sequences were relatively easy to follow. The thing that I liked most about the plot was that it was certainly unpredictable. It’s full of twists and turns, often making it appear that things are going Mouse’s way before it throws more obstacles in her path. The usual morals of middle grade literature are all but absent here. Mouse has to fight tooth and nail every step of her journey, and a certain death waits for her if she fails at any juncture.

Yet, as dark and depressing as Sea can be, the novel still ends well. While it’s not a solid ending, the book does wrap up the first stage of her journey quite nicely. My only real fear about the plot at this stage is if it’s strong enough to carry another two books. While Mouse still has two Storm Opals to find, this really isn’t much substance to fuel a whole trilogy. Hopefully, Driver has something large planned to help flesh out the remainder of this series.

The characterisation in the story is a bit mixed, so let’s start with the positive. The female characters in this book are fantastic. Mouse is a truly wonderful protagonist. She’s stubborn and fiery, channelling the bravery and sense of duty of Lyra Silvertongue. Although she starts off the story as a selfish and entitled twelve-year-old, she slowly grows over the course of her adventure. Her quest causes her to discover what makes a strong captain as she slowly gathers her own crew. Yet it’s Mouse’s wise grandmother that really stole the story for me. She’s another wonderfully powerful figure, coming across as being strict but fair. For me, she was absolutely perfect.

However, not all of the characters get this much chance to shine. We never really discover much about what’s going on with Sparrow. He seems to have some pretty terrifying powers, yet we don’t know exactly what their limits are or what toll they are having on his health. Stag also suffered rather badly, coming across as being a rather 2-dimensional villain. While there are hints that he has some history with The Huntress (and Mouse’s mother in particular), he doesn’t seem to have much to him. Mouse took a disliking to him on sight and his increasingly vile actions just prove that her instinctive loathing of him is justified.

Still, if you’re a young fantasy fan and don’t mind a story that’s a bit dark, I’d definitely recommend Sea. It has a few problems with characterisation and pacing, but it’s a wildly imaginative novel that’s packed with whimsy and strong female protagonists. While I do have some concerns as to where the series is going next, I’m certainly curious to find out what new adventures Driver has planned for Mouse.

Sea can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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