Daughters of the Storm
by Kim Wilkins
448pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 3.8/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.75/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.76/5
 

Daughters of the Storm, a sequel to the novella “The Crown of Rowan,” is the first novel in the Blood and Gold series by five-time Aurealis Award–winning author Kim Wilkins. Both this and Sisters of Fire, the second book in this epic fantasy series, were finalists for the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel during their respective publication years. About four years after its initial release in Australia, Daughters of the Storm was released in the United States for the first time just last month—and I’m so glad it was since otherwise I may not have discovered this engaging, character-driven tale centered on the royal family of a kingdom called Almissia.

When the king fell ill, his wife tended to him in secret, hoping that he would recover before it was necessary to tell even his counselor of his condition. However, he did not improve and the queen summoned her physician, who confirmed her terrible growing suspicion: the king is dying.

To make matters worse, the physician’s visit was noticed by those closest to the king, who decided they must send for his eldest daughter, Bluebell—a mighty warrior who despises her stepmother.

After Bluebell visits her father, she becomes convinced that his sickness is not natural and blames the queen. She requests that her sister Ash, who has the sight, use her ability to check for magical influence, and Ash discovers that Bluebell’s instincts were correct: their father is elf-shot. Only a powerful magician could possibly cure him, but Bluebell is hesitant to entrust a stranger with her father’s life. When her sister Rose reveals that she once received a true warning about the future from one of these magicians claiming to be her aunt—whom their father never spoke of and refused to speak of when asked about her directly—the sisters resolve to seek her since she may be their only hope of saving their father.

Daughters of the Storm starts slowly as it introduces the various characters and their situations, and though the king’s illness is immediately revealed in the opening, it takes time to bring together the five sisters who are the heart of the novel. The smooth, adept prose and intriguing glimpses into the lives of the main characters were enough to keep me reading despite the plodding beginning, and though it did ultimately seem to me that this book was setting up a larger story to be continued in the following installments, these siblings and their relationships are captivating enough that I do want to find out what happens to them next.

It primarily follows six main characters—the five sisters and their stepbrother—with a couple of brief sections from the perspective of the queen, all written from the third person point of view. This is a novel in which plot and the world, which is not particularly fleshed out but also has enough tensions stemming from cultural and religious differences to keep it from being thinly built, come after character. Each of the six has their own story, and it’s about these individuals, their relationships, and how they drive each other. All of these characters are changed by the end of the novel, whether that’s due to ending up in a different position or learning that their world or someone within it is not as they’d always believed—or both.

Although there are multiple main characters, I consider Bluebell to be the most central character: she’s the first of the five sisters we meet, she’s the one who drives the main story most, and she’s the best developed. Bluebell thinks the world of her father and wants to follow in his footsteps; she is a short-tempered, allegedly unkillable, coarse, fierce warrior princess (but don’t ever refer to her as a princess in her presence—she hates that!). Her main priorities are duty to family and kingdom, and she thinks she knows how her family members can best serve their kingdom, constantly making plans for them without considering their feelings. She has a soft spot for each of her sisters, but she also finds some of them frustrating since she doesn’t understand why they are not as dutiful as she or why they don’t simply resign themselves to unhappy marriages to keep peace between kingdoms. (Bluebell probably thinks that if her sisters did not want to be married off as peace offerings, they should have done as she did: on her sixteenth birthday, she had a friend break her nose in order to make her an undesirable bride.) Everything revolves around Bluebell—there wouldn’t be much of a story without her, and love her or hate her, the other characters all have strong feelings about her.

Bluebell is the most compelling of the sisters from a characterization standpoint, but my favorite character is the sister she herself likes most, Ash. Ash is a kind, gentle, curious soul and the only sister who doesn’t clash with her oldest sister’s force of personality. She doesn’t particularly mind Bluebell’s bossiness, but she can also understand her other sisters’ perspectives and serve as a mediator between the two sides. In addition to having an amiable nature, Ash also has the most interesting problem and potential destiny, making her sections particularly captivating. She has strong magic powers that she does not know how to control since others refuse to help her, as they fear her or choose to disbelieve that one as young as she could have such abilities, and has even had a vision of her own death. Much of her journey is discovering that it does no good to try to smother this part of herself and learning more about her talents.

Rose is, in my opinion, the most sympathetic character. She was married to a king in return for peace with his kingdom, and she’s miserable since she is in love with her husband’s nephew—who is, unknown to her husband, the biological father of her three-year-old daughter. Though he has his flaws, Rose does believe her husband to be a good man and a good father even if she does not love him, further fueling her guilt about the past and her inability to stop wishing to be with his nephew. Rose has a complex relationship with motherhood that I think makes her the best developed sister after Bluebell, and she also has a complicated relationship with her older sister. Bluebell cannot understand how Rose could be so selfish as to put peace between two kingdoms for love, and this is often a source of friction between the two—yet it’s also clear that the two do care about each other despite their frequent arguments.

Ivy and Willow, twins and the youngest of the sisters, are more separate from the rest of the family since they are teenagers who have been living with an aunt and uncle. They are very different in some ways, but they are similar to each other in that they both have obsessive, narcissistic personalities: Ivy pursues the admiration of handsome men, and Willow pursues the blessing of a god of which her family would not approve. Ivy is the least likable, sympathetic, and interesting character, but though she is spoiled and self-serving, she is not malicious. When she causes trouble, it’s because she’s young, naive, and thoughtless, and she didn’t yet understand that society does not hold men and women to the same standards. Willow does worse things than her twin, but I found her more sympathetic since she converted to her religion due to hearing the voices of angels, and the impression I got was that she was being manipulated. On the other hand, she is rather quick to believe that her god has a special purpose just for her without much examination, so like her sister, she is ultimately rather thoughtless.

The five sisters’ stepbrother, Wylm, is actually the one I consider to be the most complex and compelling of the six characters, yet I didn’t find reading his perspective as engaging as the others since it was not as connected and the relationships between these five different women were the main reason to keep reading. Wylm is a villain and a murderer, but he does have lines he will not cross and even shows some sympathy for children and animals at times. Though he’s partially motivated by greed and power, it seemed to me that he probably would not have gone down such a vile path if not for the motivation of preservation of his own family, driven by a (rather valid) fear of Bluebell.

As much as I enjoyed reading about these different characters and did not think any of them were one dimensional, I also would have liked to see a little more dimension from some of them—especially considering that Daughters of the Storm is not a plot- or world-heavy book and suffers from some sluggish pacing. However, I did appreciate the variety of characters and their ties to each other, and I am eager to find out what happens to them in Sisters of Fire!

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt from Daughters of the Storm

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Happy Easter to those who celebrate, and happy April!

I spent much of last week unexpectedly buried under work projects with tight deadlines so I did not get to finish my review of Daughters of the Storm like I had hoped, but I’m hoping maybe I’ll have a chance to complete it soon.

The week after next will a busy week here, though: it marks the beginning of the seventh annual Women in SF&F Month!

More about that to come later, but for now, here are the most recent books in the mail—starting with one from my anticipated books of 2018 list!

From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris

From Unseen Fire (Aven Cycle #1) by Cass Morris

Cass Morris’ debut novel, the beginning of a new epic fantasy series based on Roman history, will be released on April 17 (hardcover, ebook).

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from From Unseen Fire, as well as a tour schedule for Cass Morris that includes events at bookstores in Richmond, VA; Kitty Hawk, NC; and Corolla, NC.

 

From Unseen Fire is the first novel in the Aven Cycle, a historical fantasy set in an alternate Rome, by debut author Cass Morris.

The Dictator is dead; long live the Republic.

But whose Republic will it be? Senators, generals, and elemental mages vie for the power to shape the future of the city of Aven. Latona of the Vitelliae, a mage of Spirit and Fire, has suppressed her phenomenal talents for fear they would draw unwanted attention from unscrupulous men. Now that the Dictator who threatened her family is gone, she may have an opportunity to seize a greater destiny as a protector of the people—if only she can find the courage to try.

Her siblings–a widow who conceals a canny political mind in the guise of a frivolous socialite, a young prophetess learning to navigate a treacherous world, and a military tribune leading a dangerous expedition in the province of Iberia—will be her allies as she builds a place for herself in this new world, against the objections of their father, her husband, and the strictures of Aventan society.

Latona’s path intersects with that of Sempronius Tarren, an ambitious senator harboring a dangerous secret. Sacred law dictates that no mage may hold high office, but Sempronius, a Shadow mage who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. As rebellion brews in the provinces, Sempronius must outwit the ruthless leader of the opposing Senate faction to claim the political and military power he needs to secure a glorious future for Aven and his own place in history.

As politics draw them together and romance blossoms between them, Latona and Sempronius will use wit, charm, and magic to shape Aven’s fate. But when their foes resort to brutal violence and foul sorcery, will their efforts be enough to save the Republic they love?

Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson & Kevin Hearne

Kill the Farm Boy (The Tales of Pell #1) by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

This novel, the first book in a comedic fantasy series by New York Times bestselling authors Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne, will be released on July 17 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

 

In an irreverent new series in the tradition of Terry Pratchett novels and The Princess Bride, the New York Times bestselling authors of the Iron Druid Chronicles and Star Wars: Phasma reinvent fantasy, fairy tales, and floridly overwritten feast scenes.

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, a hero, the Chosen One, was born . . . and so begins every fairy tale ever told.

This is not that fairy tale.

There is a Chosen One, but he is unlike any One who has ever been Chosened.

And there is a faraway kingdom, but you have never been to a magical world quite like the land of Pell.

There, a plucky farm boy will find more than he’s bargained for on his quest to awaken the sleeping princess in her cursed tower. First there’s the Dark Lord, who wishes for the boy’s untimely death . . . and also very fine cheese. Then there’s a bard without a song in her heart but with a very adorable and fuzzy tail, an assassin who fears not the night but is terrified of chickens, and a mighty fighter more frightened of her sword than of her chain-mail bikini. This journey will lead to sinister umlauts, a trash-talking goat, the Dread Necromancer Steve, and a strange and wondrous journey to the most peculiar “happily ever after” that ever once-upon-a-timed.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Though there was no review last week, I am working on a review of Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins that I’m hoping to have finished this week. In the meantime, I’ll just say that I enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

And now, last week’s new book arrivals!

Before Mars by Emma Newman

Before Mars (Planetfall) by Emma Newman

Before Mars, Hugo Award–winning podcaster and author Emma Newman’s third novel set in the Planetfall universe,  will be released on April 17 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook).

An excerpt from Before Mars is available on the publisher’s website. Their website also has excerpts from the other two Planetfall novels, Planetfall and After Atlas.

 

Hugo Award winner Emma Newman returns to the captivating Planetfall universe with a dark tale of a woman stationed on Mars who starts to have doubts about everything around her.

After months of travel, Anna Kubrin finally arrives on Mars for her new job as a geologist and de facto artist in residence—and already she feels she is losing the connection with her husband and baby at home on Earth.

In her room on the base, Anna finds a mysterious note, painted in her own hand, warning her not to trust the colony psychiatrist. A note she can’t remember painting.

When she finds a footprint in a place that the colony AI claims has never been visited by humans, Anna begins to suspect that she is caught up in an elaborate corporate conspiracy. Or is she losing her grip on reality? Anna must find the truth, regardless of what horrors she might discover or what they might do to her mind.

The Nightfall Duology by Mickey Zucker Reichert

The Nightfall Duology (Nightfall #1–2) by Mickey Zucker Reichert

This omnibus edition, which contains both The Legend of Nightfall and The Return of Nightfall, will be released on April 3 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook).

The publisher’s website has a “Look Inside” excerpt from The Nightfall Duology.

 

Legendary thief, lethal assassin, powerful sorcerer… this epic fantasy duology follows the adventures of the elusive man known as Nightfall as he struggles between his criminal past and his present obligation to protect the King.

Darkness comes where Nightfall goes….

He has been known by countless names and terrifying deeds throughout the lands of mankind–thief, magic wielder, swordsman, assassin, adventurer. But chief among those names and perhaps the most dangerous of his personae is that of Nightfall, a man–or perhaps the legendary demon himself–gifted with unique powers which any sorcerer would kill to possess.

Yet though Nightfall has always escaped his pursuers by moving on to new realms, new identities, and new enterprises, even the cleverest of beings must occasionally slip. And when this master of the night finally falls prey to a royal trap, he finds the consequences beyond even his ability to evade. Bound by sorcery and oath to guard and guide a young prince on his quest, Nightfall will need every trick and talent at his command to keep both himself and his idealistic young charge from death at the hands of unknown betrayers.

Additional Books:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Last week ended up being too packed for me to finish writing a review so, without further ado, here are the latest book arrivals!

Apocalypse Nyx by Kameron Hurley

Apocalypse Nyx (Bel Dame Apocrypha) by Kameron Hurley

This collection by BSFA and Hugo Award–winning author Kameron Hurley contains the following five novellas about Nyx from the Bel Dame Apocrypha series (which begins with her Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke Award–nominated novel God’s War):

  1. The Body Project
  2. The Heart Is Eaten Last
  3. Soulbound
  4. Crossroads at Jannah
  5. Paint It Red

Apocalypse Nyx will be released on July 17 (trade paperback, ebook).

 

Move over Mad Max—here comes Nyx.

Ex-government assassin turned bounty-hunter, Nyx, is good at solving other people’s problems. Her favorite problem-solving solution is punching people in the face. Then maybe chopping off some heads. Hey―it’s a living.

Her disreputable reputation has been well earned. To Nyx’s mind, it’s also justified. After all, she’s trying to navigate an apocalyptic world full of giant bugs, contaminated deserts, scheming magicians, and a centuries-long war that’s consuming her future. Managing her ragtag squad of misfits has required a lot of morally-gray choices.

Every new job is another day alive. Every new mission is another step toward changing a hellish future―but only if she can survive.

Apocalypse Nyx is the much-anticipated print edition of Kameron Hurley’s five newest Nyx novellas, as well as the first e-book collection of her gritty, exciting adventures.

The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer

The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer

This Celtic fantasy novel by Tiptree Award–winning author Nancy Springer will be released on May 15 (trade paperback, ebook).

 

In the ancient moors of Scotland, the king of Calidon lies on his deathbed, cursed by a ring that cannot be removed from his finger. When a mysterious fey stranger appears to save the king, he also carries a secret that could tear the royal family apart.

The kingdom’s only hope will lie with two young men raised worlds apart. Aric is the beloved heir to the throne of Calidon; Albaric is clearly of noble origin yet strangely out of place.

The Oddling Prince is a tale of brothers whose love and loyalty to each other is such that it defies impending warfare, sundering seas, fated hatred, and the very course of time itself. In her long-awaited new fantasy novel, Nancy Springer (the Books of Isle series) explores the darkness of the human heart as well as its unceasing capacity for love.

The Underwater Ballroom Society edited by Stephanie Burgis and Tiffany Trent

The Underwater Ballroom Society edited by Stephanie Burgis and Tiffany Trent

This anthology of stories with underwater ballrooms will be released on April 30. It includes Stephanie Burgis’ novella “Spellswept”—a prequel to Snowspelled (my review) focusing on Amy—plus stories by Laura Anne Gilman, Cassandra Khaw, Ysabeau S. Wilce, Y. S. Lee, and more.

 

An anthology of sparkling adult f/sf stories featuring underwater ballrooms of one sort or another, from a 30s ballroom to a Martian hotel to a grand rock ‘n roll ball held in the heart of Faery itself. Edited by Stephanie Burgis and Tiffany Trent.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

The Freeze-Frame Revolution (Sunflower Cycle) by Peter Watts

This science fiction novel by Aurora and Hugo Award–winning author Peter Watts will be released on June 12 (trade paperback, ebook). It’s related to the stories in the Sunflowers universe (“The Island,” “Giants,” and “Hotshot”). These three stories and more can be found on the author’s website.

 

She believed in the mission with all her heart.
But that was sixty million years ago.

How do you stage a mutiny when you’re only awake one day in a million? How do you conspire when your tiny handful of potential allies changes with each shift? How do you engage an enemy that never sleeps, that sees through your eyes and hears through your ears and relentlessly, honestly, only wants what best for you?

Sunday Ahzmundin is about to find out.

Bandwidth by Eliot Peper

Bandwidth (Analog #1) by Eliot Peper

This near-future science fiction novel will be released on May 1 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The Verge has an excerpt from Bandwidth.

 

A rising star at a preeminent political lobbying firm, Dag Calhoun represents the world’s most powerful technology and energy executives. But when a close brush with death reveals that the influence he wields makes him a target, impossible cracks appear in his perfect, richly appointed life.

Like everyone else, Dag relies on his digital feed for everything—a feed that is as personal as it is pervasive, and may not be as private as it seems. As he struggles to make sense of the dark forces closing in on him, he discovers that activists are hijacking the feed to manipulate markets and governments. Going public would destroy everything he’s worked so hard to build, but it’s not just Dag’s life on the line—a shadow war is coming, one that will secure humanity’s future or doom the planet to climate catastrophe. Ultimately, Dag must decide the price he’s willing to pay to change the world.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Both books added to the pile last week sound amazing: one continues the story begun in one of my favorite books read last year, and the other is the start to a new series that sounds fantastic!

In case you missed it last week, I put up a review of Beneath the Haunting Sea by Joanna Ruth Meyer. It’s a wonderful story—even a book I found myself racing through during the second half—but I didn’t feel it was a wonderful novel due to some issues with pacing and the integration of the world history/mythology. However, it was a pleasant, enjoyable book even if it was not one I found especially memorable.

On to the latest new arrivals!

Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Grey Sister (Book of the Ancestor #2) by Mark Lawrence

The second novel in the Book of the Ancestor trilogy, following Red Sister, will be released on April 3 (hardcover, ebook).

The publisher’s website has excerpts from both books in the series (links below the cover images):

  1. Red Sister
  2. Grey Sister

Grey Sister is one of the 2018 releases I’m most excited about: I absolutely loved Red Sister, which was toward the top of my favorite books of 2017 list.

 

The second novel in a brilliant fantasy series from the international bestselling author of Prince of Thorns.

Behind its walls, the Convent of Sweet Mercy has trained young girls to hone their skills for centuries. In Mystic Class, Novice Nona Grey has begun to learn the secrets of the universe. But so often even the deepest truths just make our choices harder. Before she leaves the convent, Nona must choose which order to dedicate herself to—and whether her path will lead to a life of prayer and service or one of the blade and the fist.

All that stands between her and these choices are the pride of a thwarted assassin, the designs of a would-be empress wielding the Inquisition like a knife, and the vengeance of the empire’s richest lord.

As the world narrows around her, and her enemies attack her through the system she is sworn to, Nona must find her own path despite the competing pulls of friendship, revenge, ambition, and loyalty.

And in all this only one thing is certain: there will be blood.

A Study in Honor by Claire O'Dell

A Study in Honor (The Janet Watson Chronicles #1) by Claire O’Dell

A Study in Honor, the first book in a new science fiction mystery series that the book’s blurb describes as Sherlock Holmes with a feminist twist, will be released on July 31 (trade paperback, ebook). A sequel, The Hound of Justice, is scheduled for release in summer 2019.

Claire O’Dell is a pseudonym for Beth Bernobich, author of Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award Best Epic Fantasy winner Passion Play and the rest of the River of Souls series and The Time Roads.

 

Set in a near future Washington, D.C., a clever, incisive, and fresh feminist twist on a classic literary icon—Sherlock Holmes—in which Dr. Janet Watson and covert agent Sara Holmes will use espionage, advanced technology, and the power of deduction to unmask a murderer targeting Civil War veterans.

Dr. Janet Watson knows firsthand the horrifying cost of a divided nation. While treating broken soldiers on the battlefields of the New Civil War, a sniper’s bullet shattered her arm and ended her career. Honorably discharged and struggling with the semi-functional mechanical arm that replaced the limb she lost, she returns to the nation’s capital, a bleak, edgy city in the throes of a fraught presidential election. Homeless and jobless, Watson is uncertain of the future when she meets another black and queer woman, Sara Holmes, a mysterious yet playfully challenging covert agent who offers the doctor a place to stay.

Watson’s readjustment to civilian life is complicated by the infuriating antics of her strange new roommate. But the tensions between them dissolve when Watson discovers that soldiers from the New Civil War have begun dying one by one—and that the deaths may be the tip of something far more dangerous, involving the pharmaceutical industry and even the looming election. Joining forces, Watson and Holmes embark on a thrilling investigation to solve the mystery—and secure justice for these fallen soldiers.

Beneath the Haunting Sea
by Joanna Ruth Meyer
400pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 6/10
Amazon Rating: 4.8/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.11/5
 

Beneath the Haunting Sea, Joanna Ruth Meyer’s young adult fantasy debut novel, is a tale about fate, love, courage, selflessness, and determination built upon forgotten history, myths, and family secrets. It’s a lovely story—even a book I found rather difficult to put down during the second half—but there are some issues with its execution despite being enjoyable overall.

Shortly before her sixteenth birthday, Talia learns that the dying Emperor is her biological father and that he intends to announce that she is his official heir at her coming of age party. However, he does not appear during this occasion, and the celebration is instead interrupted by a young woman long rumored to be the Empress’ daughter herself, bearing the news that the Emperor has passed away. She claims that he declared her to be the new Empress before his death, accuses Talia and her mother of plotting to take the throne, and punishes the two alleged traitors with banishment to a distant island.

During the months-long sea voyage, Talia’s mother becomes strangely obsessed with the ocean, insisting that she can hear the waves singing and that she must keep watch because of an angry sea goddess. Talia dismisses her mother’s ravings—and the story she tells her supposedly explaining them—as nonsense, having long ago ceased to believe in the old myths. However, she finds she can’t escape these legends even after she’s brought to a Baron’s home on the island, which is said to be a significant site from these ancient tales. As she tries to discover why the Baron fears the sea, how his trepidation relates to the deaths of the two former Baronesses, and what’s hidden away in the mysterious locked library, Talia also discovers her own connection to the ocean—and that her destiny may be far larger and more important than being Empress of half the world…

Beneath the Haunting Sea is a wonderful story with some drawbacks that hold it back from being a wonderful novel. Although I did race through the second half of the book wanting to know what happened next, it did take around 150 pages to become at all immersive, largely because pacing earlier in the book is extremely uneven. The first 2–3 chapters are a whirlwind: Talia discovers she’s to be the next Empress, and then she’s overthrown and banished before she can even take the throne. After that, it seems to drag for quite awhile, and the sea voyage seems long even though it does skip over much of the mundanity of the half-year spent traveling to focus on the most relevant parts. At this point, not enough information about the world’s mythology has been revealed, and it lacks a tantalizing hook to inspire speculation and more than vague curiosity about Talia’s mother’s agitated state.

After Talia arrives at her destination and begins trying to unravel the mysteries and secrets of the Baron’s house, it becomes much more engaging. The household includes the Baron and his two sons, who are complete opposites, and there are some rules and family tensions that Talia does not yet understand as a newcomer. The elder of the two young men, Caiden, is at odds with his brother, Wen, a composer who turned down the opportunity of a lifetime because of a vision from the gods—to the dismay and puzzlement of the rest of his family. Furthermore, Talia hears whispers about the house being cursed and the deaths of both Baronesses, but no one seems eager to share details with her.

There is a love triangle involving Talia, Caiden, and Wen, and I actually thought this was one of the better aspects of the book. Though it at first seemed to be a way to add drama (and did, of course, add drama), it also showed a lot about each character and their personality. I don’t want to give away too much about how it unfolded, but I thought Talia’s feelings made perfect sense and her reactions along the way demonstrated who she was. The resolution is satisfying, and it does end up being a sweet love story.

Other than Talia, I didn’t feel that any of the characters were especially fleshed out, but I did find her to be well characterized. She’s curious, stubborn, rebellious, and courageous, and she’s also a heroine who grows, changes, and learns from her mistakes. In particular, she struggles with her beliefs about the gods and fate, which changed when her father (not the Emperor but the man who raised her) died.

Though the world mythology was compelling, I thought that the introduction and integration of these elements were among the weaker aspects of the novel. As I mentioned earlier, the old stories (and Talia’s disdain for them) were first referenced without adding much spark to them, and the foundation of the world was told via a flashback of Talia’s mother relating a rather generic legend to her as a child. As these tales progressed, they did become less standard and took on more of a life of their own; however, they continued to be conveyed through chunks of text via flashbacks or Talia’s reading rather than being seamlessly woven into the novel. Like the rest of the book, the prose is polished and readable (even if it didn’t stand out to me as particularly beautiful or unique), but I found this to be a dull way of discovering the universe. That said, the mythical parts of the novel that took place in the present are more vivid and interesting, although I did feel the climax was rushed, especially when compared to earlier in the novel.

Beneath the Haunting Sea is a wonderful story, and it’s also a complete story with a solid ending. Personally, I felt the romance and the mysterious atmosphere surrounding the house by the shore worked better than the fantasy part, which takes some time to develop into more than a bland tale surrounding uninspired gods and goddesses. Regardless, it does hit its stride and improve later, and I am glad I read it even if it’s not quite strong enough to be a memorable book I expect to revisit in the future.

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from a publicist.

Read an Excerpt from Chapter 9