The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young.
I’ll start off by saying I absolutely adored the cover for this book, it was what first attracted me to it. A girl in Viking-esque style stepping out of a choppy sea? Amazing. As usual I did no research on this book before reading it, and therefore had no idea this was the second in a series. Thankfully it doesn’t directly follow on from the previous book, because that would have been very confusing. Instead the main character from the previous book appears as a very minor relation to one of the main characters in this book, Halvard. This review is a bit messy, but so were my thoughts about this book so it couldn’t be helped. The synopsis:
For as long as she can remember, Tova has lived among the Svell, the people who found her washed ashore as a child and use her for her gift as a Truthtongue. Her own home and clan are long-faded memories, but the sacred symbols and staves inked over every inch of her skin mark her as one who can cast the rune stones and see into the future. She has found a fragile place among those who fear her, but when two clans to the east bury their age-old blood feud and join together as one, her world is dangerously close to collapse.
For the first time in generations, the leaders of the Svell are divided. Should they maintain peace or go to war with the allied clans to protect their newfound power? And when their chieftain looks to Tova to cast the stones, she sets into motion a series of events that will not only change the landscape of the mainland forever but will give her something she believed she could never have again—a home.
Now, if you’ve read the first book, I’m assuming you went into this book knowing about the history between all the clans and who the Svell are. I didn’t, and if you are going to read this book, I highly recommend reading The Sky in the Deep first. You can read this one and understand it, but it takes some detective work to have any idea what’s going on.
Some basic details I picked up were that Tova comes from a territory not connected to the mainland, from a people called the Kyrr. They’re mysterious and no one messes with them. On the mainland there are the Svell, who Tova lives with, and the Nadhir, who are made up of two joined clans, the Aska and the Riki. Some people called the Herja attacked the Nadhir a while ago. While this book is described as a standalone, I think I would have got less distracted by random details if I had read the first one.
The book is written in first person from two perspectives, Tova and Halvard. Tova is a Truthtongue, which means she can read the runes. The Svell hate her and think she is an insult to their god, so want to kill her while their Tala (holy person) keeps her alive for his own uses. Tova is uniquely in tune with the spinners, who control the destiny of gods and men. She can sense the web the spinners weave, and occasionally hears things. I did a bit of research and while the spinners are called the Norns in Norse mythology, they are roughly equal to the fates in Greek mythology. This book definitely felt more historical fiction than fantasy. Halvard is the heir to the Nadhir chieftain and the link to the previous book.
The writing of this book was the best bit about it. There were some stereotypical features such as memory flashbacks to provide background to Halvard and Tova and some outsiders who save the day, but the plot got better as the book went one, with the mysterious Kyrr who Halvard knows and the brief encounters between Tova and Halvard before they meet properly. I really enjoyed the simple, evocative descriptions of setting and the vivid writing of action, the mixture of fate and free will, inevitability and brutality.
The ending was my favourite part of The Girl the Sea Gave Back. That sounds like an insult, but I don’t mean it as one, it’s just the book took me a while to get into and everything pulls together very dramatically near the end. It had the contrast between Tova and Halvard tentatively trusting one another, Tova finally not feeling like an outcast and a great final battle. There was a bit of romance if you like that kind of thing, although I slightly thought Tova and Halvard should be left as friends. Overall I would recommend this book, but only after reading the first one. Would I survive? Maybe not, I’m not a particularly violent person.