My rating: 3 of 5 stars
ARC provided by NetGalley for an honest review. All quotes are subject to change with the release of the final copy.
Rate: 3.5/5 stars, rounded up.
My synopsis (spoilers beware!):
The Girl the Sea Gave Back centers around two warring clans in what appears to be a an Icelandic-like place (only guessing based on the names of people and the villages), This book is told from two perspectives, Tova and Halvard to give you their perspectives from their clans of the growing battle tensions. Tova’s perspective narrates her clan, the Svell, whereas Halvard’s is the Nadhir clan. Both clans have been at odds for centuries. The Nadhir were once made of two separate clans, the Aska and the Riki, until they put their qualms aside and chose to unite to form a stronger clan, the Nadhir, against the Svell. The Svell had remained in their territory, trying to avoid war with the new Nadhir clan as both recognized a battle against each other would result in massive blood shed and loss due to their military’s strength. But when 40 Nadhir are found slaughtered by the Svell, the Nadhir prepare to go to war.
They weren’t afraid of battle. They were afraid of losing what the loved. And that’s what made them brave in battle.
The leader of the Svell had not sent out men to kill the Nadhir, believing that some of his people had acted on their own will behind his back. He arranges a meeting with the Nadhir’s leader, only to have his right hand and brother, Vigdis, betray him. They betrayed their chieftain for their own hunger for war and there was a price to be paid for it. Vigdis leads a group of rebels within the Svell that slaughter the Nadhir’s leader at this meeting to start a war between their clans, believing that they are guaranteed to win and take the Nadhir’s lands. When Halvard, the new leader of the Nadhir, and a few of the Nadhir men escape to alert the rest of the Nadhir, Vigdis sets off in a blind rage and wants him dead. Only Tova, a Kyrr girl that is basically forced to help Vigdis or he will kill her, can find Halvard with a few Svell men at her side to kill him before he succeeds in alerting the rest of the Nadhir.
As Tova travels through the land on her search, we are given flashbacks as to how she came into the Svell’s arms and why she has stayed with them so long. What is the significance of the sea giving her back? The Kyrr are believed to be bad omens to the Svell because the Kyrr are covered in tattoos that tell a story of who they are and what they have seen, but also because they can “cast stones” to predict the future, which in poor Tova’s case has been the death of Bekan, the former Svell leader, daughter, and the future demise of the Svell. It would appear Bekan kept her around just because her ability was still of use to him. But Vigdis despises her very existence and one wrong move by Tova could result in Vigdis ordering her head. Tova’s caretaker, Jorrund the clan’s Tala, responsible for “interpreting their god Eydis’ will, is a vindictive and controlling man that tries to play off that he cares for Tova’s best intentions but really only sees her for who she is, a Kyrr. He only tolerates Tova because he relies on her stone predictions to answer what he can’t or won’t to the Svell leader.
Halvard is conflicted with the looming war. After having succeeded the former leader, Espen, he is afraid to bring his people into a battle after they have enjoyed a long break of peace. He saw his older brothers go off to war before the Nadhir clan was made in a peace treaty, and he fears not only losing her brothers and friends to another war, but also of forcing his people to go to war.
Tova feels a strange connection to Halvard, but she keeps it to herself. When she finally finds him, in a split second she chooses to help him against few Svell that were trailing her, and Halvard lives. She chooses to lie bring back the severed head of a random body to Vigdis to lie of Halvard’s death. This buys Halvard time to set up an army in waiting of the Svell’s arrival to the Nadhir’s main village. Upon the beginning of the main battle, Tova sets off to help Halvard, having seen that the Svell are doomed to defeat from her stone casting and visions – that Vigdis blatantly ignored – that the Svell are doomed to die. The Svell are officially defeated when the surprising arrival of the Kyrr arrive on the Nadhir’s shores and fight alongside them. It is here that all flashbacks are brought to a close: Tova had drowned as a young child while still living with her Kyrr family. As was their tradition, they set her off in an ablaze boat at sea. However, the boat washes ashore in Svell territory only partially burned, and Jorrund takes her in as sign from Eydis. When Kjeld, a cast out Kyrr who befriended Halvard and became a part of the Nadhir years ago, discovered who Tova was, he returned to the Kyrr to inform them of her living. The Kyrr’s leader, Svanhild, is Tova’s mother and Kjeld’s sister. Tova is finally reunited with her people. Also, let’s not forget that she exacted revenge against Jorrund for basically being a POS. The sea gave her back to be something much bigger in her future. To help the Nadhir win against the Svell. To perhaps further help them in the future (?)
We gave you to the sea, Tova. But the sea gave you back.
I had been so excited to get an ARC of this book! It was one of my top 10 anticipated novels for the second half of 2019 ( https://booksincombatboots.wordpress.com… ). Prior to reading, I had put so much faith and anticipation for the book that I wanted to rate it a 5/5. It was not that the book was bad. But here is why I could not give it a 5 star rating…
There was so much going on with the conflict. The flashbacks were helpful in providing back story of Tova and Halvard, but their connection to each other made little sense. The story felt more focused on the battle, which I am totally for, but this romantic connection between Tova and Halvard felt really rushed and thrown in, like Young had forgotten to include romance and chose to just shuffle it into the chapters where she could find room.
Besides the 2 MCs, there are mainy other characters thrown in. It became hard to keep up with who was who, and what side they fought for, because there was little character development to them. Even Jorrund or Vigdis could have been better developed/described. I prefer to read books where the characters are described so well that I can picture them exactly as written in my head. I was left creating my own image of them just off of what little I had known about the Icelandic clans. The scenery was well described, in fact quite beautifully, but the people were lacking.
The scenes following the battle felt hurried. This also includes the romance, but Tova finally meeting her mother and people was rushed. Answers are given to the immediate questions the reader has, but if I was in Tova’s shoes and had been living among the horrible Svell basically my whole life, I would have had a plethora of questions for my mother.
But besides these 3 problems, it really was a good read! The battle scenes were written so vividly. The movements of battle and fighting were able to be followed like watching a scene in a movie. The overall plot line of the story was great! The only real twist in the story was the initial betrayal prior to the war. The rest flowed just about how I had imagined it would.
I will definitely buy a copy of this upon its release! I hope that perhaps my problems are just because it was an ARC and that they had been fine tuned between the ARC and the final copy. Also, I really hope there is a pronunciation guide because names, villages, and basically everything in between were really just a guess of me jumbling their pronunciation.