THE GIRL THE SEA GAVE BACK by Adrienne Young (Book Review)
Let me start this review with a quote from Kanye West: “I didn’t want to play it boring and safe. I also didn’t want to innovate too much. Second albums, man, they’re even scarier than first ones.”
Well, this is exactly the same across art forms. It applies to books just as much.
Adrienne Young’s Sky in the Deep (which I reviewed here) was a tough debut to follow since it was well received and got a lot of love (aka screen time all over bookstagram). So when I got the offer to read an Advanced Reader Copy of the follow-up book The Girl the Sea Gave Back, I jumped at it, excited to see what Young would deliver.* And let me just say, I was definitely surprised.
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…
The Girl the Sea Gave Back is a sequel in the sense that the world is the same as in Sky in the Deep, only the reader gets to see more of it. There are cameo appearances of Sky’s protagonists, only now they are older, wiser, and, well, bystanders. The newcomers are titular Girl Tova and Fiske’s now 18-year-old little brother Halvard. Personally, I love it when series turn out to be, not direct continuations of the first book, but of the same family. They share the world, show us the wide-reaching consequences of the events we know happened, while also having overlapping characters. This is not a book about the continuation of Eeyln and Fiske’s love story, which might have been what many readers would have expected. They might have expected, nay, desired, the same kind of storyline, the striking YA viking romance amid cinematic battle scenes, with a dash of the fantastical (I did!). This is not that book, though. And to be honest, at first I was a bit disappointed.
However, it’s Tova’s story, through and through.
It’s always a bit mean to compare siblings with each other, but I feel I have to. In Sky in the Deep, we followed the story of warrior girl Eeyln’s transformation to become more than she could ever believe she’d be. Eeyln is an agent of change and sets in motion a series of events that culminates in a radical transformation of the two villages both she and her counterpart originate from, and which beautifully highlights the theme of change from within.
However, The Girl the Sea Gave Back is a bit like the inverse of that storyline. A life-altering event happens at the outset of the book, and we then follow Tova’s inward journey among the upheavals happening around her. Her story is told through two parallel narratives, one in the past and one in the present, and this is a huge step away from the very direct, linear approach of Sky in the Deep. Along with the addition of Halvard’s POV chapters, this structure gives Girl a less urgent, more thoughtful pace.
I believe this is because The Girl the Sea Gave Back is a story that’s trying to say something entirely different. It’s again a story about love and family, yes, but also about the implications of fate, and how we choose to shape our lives. It is permeated with a sense of healing, of being at one with oneself, in a manner that Sky in the Deep just couldn’t provide. This is a book about a young girl whose life and environment is a mess when we meet her. She has no place where she’d fit in. On the one hand, she is feared for her otherness, while on the other, it is exploited.
Tova’s story is not a slow burn romance such as Eeyln and Fiske’s was. It’s not a story of how love overcomes even the most entrenched hatred. It’s a story about a young person who discovers that she isn’t just an observer of her own life, doomed by a pre-ordained fate, but can and should take action to get what she truly needs: a sense of belonging.
A true homecoming.
Adrienne Young has written a ballsy second book, and I really respect that.
In conclusion: if you’ve read Sky in the Deep, you might really enjoy The Girl the Sea Gave Back. It’s a gorgeous return to the lyrical prose and world Young has set up in her first book, beautiful and brutal at the same time. But you might also not like it, because it is a very, very different book.
If you haven’t read Sky in the Deep, but appreciate lush imagery, dense storytelling as well as the epic battle sequences, you might really enjoy this viking-inspired Norse fantasy story (that doesn’t require you to have any knowledge of the prior book).
*My thanks to Titan Books for the ARC, especially Sarah Mather
The Girl the Sea Gave Back is out in ebook and paperback TODAY