Review: The Forever Sea by Joshua Phillip Johnson (The Forever Sea #1)

Rating: 8/10

Synopsis:

The first book in a new environmental epic fantasy series set in a world where ships kept afloat by magical hearthfires sail an endless grass sea.

On the never-ending, miles-high expanse of prairie grasses known as the Forever Sea, Kindred Greyreach, hearthfire keeper and sailor aboard harvesting vessel The Errant, is just beginning to fit in with the crew of her new ship when she receives devastating news. Her grandmother–The Marchess, legendary captain and hearthfire keeper–has stepped from her vessel and disappeared into the sea.

But the note she leaves Kindred suggests this was not an act of suicide. Something waits in the depths, and the Marchess has set out to find it.

To follow in her grandmother’s footsteps, Kindred must embroil herself in conflicts bigger than she could imagine: a water war simmering below the surface of two cultures; the politics of a mythic pirate city floating beyond the edges of safe seas; battles against beasts of the deep, driven to the brink of madness; and the elusive promise of a world below the waves.

Kindred finds that she will sacrifice almost everything–ship, crew, and a life sailing in the sun–to discover the truth of the darkness that waits below the Forever Sea. 

Review

Thank you to Sarah Mather at Titan Books for granting me an ARC of this wonderful book. All review thoughts are mine only.


The Forever Sea is the start of something special. A new wave of environmental fantasy that I think is a unique start. It explores the fragility of human nature, but it also isn’t afraid to show the impact that humanity has wrought on mother nature. The real characters of this book are the ocean of grass itself, the beasts lurking in the depths of the underground seas, and the hidden mysteries that lie beneath. That said, I did find a few flaws here and there. Some parts of the novel I believed could have been trimmed. More interactions between Seraph and Kindred would have been nice because that is where I think the strength of the novel shines, and I shall explain why. Kindred in many ways, is a free and volatile character that wants to achieve her Grandmother’s dreams. In a way, the relationship between her Grandmother and Kindred lies fundamentally at the core of this novel. There are subtle hints given which unlock further mysteries as you read onwards. You will soon start to see the strengths and the weakness of this narrative effect. I am not an expert, but let’s say for example, without giving too many spoilers away. Strength can be that as Kindred burns the hearth fires, bones of former dead captains that have sailed the sea, you might see a clue or a visual memory that relates to her Grandmother. Her Grandmother was a tough pirate.

But a weakness of that then draws on constantly reminding the reader of her Grandmother’s vision. That is something you’ll soon see, but it can get a bit repetitive. This is where I would have focused on what Kindred wants to achieve from doing what her Grandmother would have done, but in a much more different way. As a result, Kindred’s focus on her Grandmother’s legacy neglects another problem. When the novel goes from Kindred to other characters, as a result, the side-characters like Seraph, Captain Jane, Cantrev become more interesting. Kindred then, is focused on her Grandmother which detracts a little bit in my opinion. But this is typical of any fantasy novel at the start of a new series. I’ve read many, where sometimes main characters don’t need to be the main center of the action. Other side-characters drive the plot too. As this is a fantasy series, it takes time for characters to mature. However, I think a good focus in the next sequel would be to focus on what Kindred wants because as you’ll see many times in this novel, her end-game goal is shifting. Constantly wanting. She’s not always being satisfied with what she has in my opinion. Without discussing too much on the spoiler boundary, as she discovers clues within the rumored Once City, her viewpoint changes. Things get out of hand for all characters. Big battles occur between dreadnoughts and massive ships. Pirates plunder and steal. I feel the main story of this first novel focuses on a water war between two cultures. (And that’s the only way I can stop myself from spoiling too much). Moving onto the romance, I think it was well built, but it was rushed in my opinion. I am now finding myself of the opinion that romance in fantasy needs to stop happening so quickly. I need time to build myself with a character and feel they need to get together. Little Sarah and Kindred are a great couple together, but I would have wanted more emphasis which I think will be followed in the next sequel.


Another flaw I could see was, the worldbuilding is excellent. There is enough distinction between cities, factions, kingdoms, and cities. The story isn’t afraid to tell you where it’s going, it’s very clear. It uncovers hidden lore, and Arcadia reminds me of Orisinium and Glenumbra from when I played Elder Scrolls Online. Many locations of this game I played, had a direct resemblance to what was being described in the novel. The Once City reminded me of an advanced civilization mixed with some interesting content. To put it this way, it reminded me of Clockwork City and the Ancient Dwarver Ruins of Tamriel being mixed. That’s as much as you’re going to get. The politics are interesting in this novel, but there isn’t enough of it. And this is a fundamental problem Kindred will face.

I do not doubt that she wants to be free, I do not doubt that she wants to travel the world. But in that, politics will consume her quickly no matter where ever she goes, it is human nature. But you know, I am excited about the numerous worlds involved in this series. We could be going to exotic places. Heck, I would like to see a Mesoamerican world within this series. But we will see. The writing is superb, the side-characters are written to their exact purpose, and the novel’s lore and its unique ability to create a new system of magic are well thought out. In many ways, it resembles the Elder Scrolls Online for me, in scope and size. The dialogue and the narrative is well explained, and the story itself has a straight focus. I would want to see Kindred becoming and evolving more of her personality throughout the series, and I want to see what her goals are as opposed to following others. I think, in time she will. But she has much to learn. I liked Seraph. I also think I know who the storyteller is, but that’s me.


Overall, it’s this novel that you need to have on your bookshelf in 2021. Fantastic work. I can’t wait to read the second sequel!

One Comment Add yours

  1. alburke47 says:

    I used the term “eco-fantasy” for Blood of an Exile.” I believe it should be a thing. 🙂

    Like

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