I can't help but be moved by this book. Like its protagonist, the novel churns with beauty amidst its flaws. I know it's not as strong as it could be, and I hungered for more than it was willing to give, but I also saw much to admire that will hopefully grow into a respectable series.
In the world of Storm Siren, time periods, genres, and mythologies mesh on one cramped little island containing the slave Nym. Many owners have passed her on to the next bidder due to her unique destructive powers, which if more widely known would put her to death. But this island nation is in peril of war from forces seen and unseen. The Lady Adora choses Nym and another powerful misfit to train under her mysterious servant Eogan to create a new defensive force. But the dangers to them all are more than any could anticipate, including the lure of forbidden desire.
The island nation Faelen is at once too cramped and too undeveloped, much like the story itself. There are plenty of strange oddities for even the most voracious fantastical beast lover, coupled with every genre concept one could conceivably fit into the 333 pages. None, however, get the attention needed to really give more than surface level emotional thrills. Some stories felt rushed forward, some never really grow into the menance they teased. The emotional beats at times felt forced, as if the story was so enthuased with itself that it just had to tell you the good parts as soon as possible.
Modern language and sensibilities melded onto more traditional fantasy conventions in ways that didn't always jive well. The political machinations of Faelen's dectanct nobility should have been a strong plot point to rachet of the tension, but never developed beyond a background buzz that sometimes oddly interrupted an otherwise straightforward adventure tale. By the end I wasn't sure who was serving who, or how all the various parties intersected.
Yet this story is also full of wonderful imagery. Even if their heft fades with time, the visuals and emotional stakes author Mary Weber creates are visceral and at times lyrical. All the characters' emotions are worn on their sleeves without much attempt at subtlety; there are few real surprises until the very end, which offers reveal upon reveal in such a dizzying succession that I feel like a reread is due to fully understand what happened. And yet, for all their lack of mature development, the characters never feel carictured or stale, their emotions never trite but somehow imbued with the sparkle of guileless youth, even the villains.
Nym, for one, is a far better young adult female heroine than many a one that's been metted on the market in recent years. Weber gives her just the right amount of spunk and vulnerability, treating her as a fully fleshed out human being rather than a statement. I felt for her, ached with her, recognized her joys and griefs in the very real emotional landscape she flitted around. Considering her age, I have to wonder if her occassional oddness abd immaturity isn't warranted, and look forward to how she'll develop in the sequel.
Also, kudos to Weber for being willing to risk her darlings with her peril rather than artifical drama and actualy offer up truly tragic deaths that have meaning.
I heartily enjoyed many moments in this novel, even as I wished it had offered more than the very limited portrait drawn. Perhaps it's best to view Faelen and her people like that other mythical island Neverland, "nicely crammed" as Barrie described it, without searching for too much grounding in the world as we know it. There's certainly enough beauty and adventure to offer repeat visitors something to savor.
This review will be crossposted at Goodreads, Amazon, and the Speculative Faith library. I received a copy from the publisher website in exchange for this review. The cover was designed by Wes Youssi at M80 Design. The book is currently available from Thomas Nelson as a Hardback ($15.99), Paperback ($9.18) or eBook ($9.99 on Amazon).