YA Weekend Audio: The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 2.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone, Book 2 of Sky in the Deep
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (September 3, 2019)
Length: 8 hrs and 23 mins
Narrators: Caitlin Kelly, Dan Bittner
Oof, it stings a bit to write this review, since I gave such unequivocal love to Adrienne Young’s debut, Sky in the Deep. However, The Girl the Sea Gave Back was an enjoyable standalone follow-up but nowhere near as memorable or impressive.
Taking place some years after the events surrounding Eelyn of the Aska and Fiske of the Riki, the novel opens on a somber scene as a grief-stricken family gathers on the shore to say goodbye to a departed loved one. Later, a young girl is found washed up on the lands of the Svell, adorned with the distinctive tattoos marking her as a Kyrr Truthtongue, an enigmatic people who hail from the Headlands. Tova is her name, and it is said that her powers allow her to read the future. But having grown up among the Svell, the ways of the Kyrr are a mystery to her, and she cannot remember her own past.
Meanwhile, Halvard is an 18-year-old chieftain in training, preparing for the day he will lead his people, the Nādhir. However, war is not something he is ready for. The Svell, acting on a misguided interpretation of one of Tova’s predictions, decides to attack the Nādhir, catching them unawares. An inexperienced warrior, Halvard tries his best to protect his loved ones even as his skills as a leader and fighter are tested beyond his limits. And Tova, who is shunned for being different and an outsider among her adoptive people, is forced to confront her role in the chaos and violence that follows.
As I said, The Girl the Sea Gave Back was enjoyable and not a bad book by any means. That said, it failed to capture my attention like the way Sky in the Deep did. The author’s debut was an atmospheric, epic journey that mesmerized as the plot ebbed and flowed with intrigue, suspense, and passion. Suffice to say, I feel this one lacked the same kind of magic, providing nothing I couldn’t get from a vast majority of the YA offerings out there, and as such, I don’t think it stands out. In a nutshell, this was decent but nothing special, which was disappointing especially since Sky in the Deep had led me to expect a higher caliber of storytelling.
But let’s start with the things that I did like. While The Girl the Sea Gave Back can be read as a standalone, I think having Sky in the Deep under your belt before tackling it will lead to a greater appreciation for the world-building and lore behind the setting of this novel. Because the books take place in a shared world, the glorious love story between Eelyn and Fiske was mentioned a few times. And of course, readers familiar with the first book will know that the environment as well as the culture of the people suggests a link to Vikings and Nordic mythology. Young crafts a gorgeous picture of this time and place, including plenty of elements inspired by Viking history and tradition. I’m also happy to report that cinematic tableaus and heart-pounding battle sequences are strengths that are shared between both books.
As for the things that didn’t work as well for me, I’ll begin with the format of the novel. Told in dual timelines that flip back and forth between the past and present, the narrative structure was a bit of a mess. You never really get enough time to settle into one thread before you’re picked up again and kicked to the other. It made following the plot confusing and a bit frustrating because of the emotional detachment that resulted. And secondly, I didn’t connect with Tova or Halvard the way I did with Eelyn and Fiske, nor did I care as much about their relationship. I suppose there was a romance in this book, but because of the way it was handled, the love story felt like such an afterthought that I don’t even know if it should count.
All in all, I’m sad I couldn’t drum up more enthusiasm for The Girl the Sea Gave Back, but at the same time, it also didn’t give me too much to work with. A part of me feels like this book would have worked better if it had been longer, so that the POV characters would have more time to develop, giving their lives and their relationship more depth and meaning. I still think Adrienne Young has a lot of talent and she writes beautifully, so it pains me to say this novel simply did not live up what I know she’s capable of. Nevertheless, I am optimistic about her future work, and I will be keeping my eye out for her next novel to see if it will be better.
Audiobook Comments: The one saving grace of this novel was that I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the talented team of Caitlin Kelly and Dan Bittner. That said, not even their superb performances could overcome some of the issues I had with the book, but I do love that they got two stellar narrators reading Tova and Halvard’s parts because I think it made the experience quicker, more enjoyable, and a lot more immersive than if I had read the print edition.