Sworn to the Sea is a complete rewrite of a book I reviewed previously, Slave of the Sea, so Dawn reached out to me during re-release to see if I would share my review as someone who has the experience of having read both versions. It took me longer than I’d hoped to have the time to say yes, but I slotted in Sworn to the Sea as soon as I could in order to support Dawn and read this new version of a book that I’d enjoyed.
Disclaimer: I was not required to leave a positive review and all opinions are my own.
What is Sworn to the Sea about?
He faced Levanine with the intensity of flames. “You must swear that you will not try to escape. You will not die by your own hand.”
“I swear it.”
Levanine’s life as a servant for the Ehrenfeld Family is not an unfortunate one. She has food, a place to sleep, and her best friend, Putra. But as they prepare for the suitors of Miss Leoni Ehrenfehld to arrive, the worst happens: pirates ransack the home.
And they demand Leoni Ehrenfehld, the family’s only heir, as payment.
Bound by duty, Levanine offers herself as a surrogate for the girl, and the frightening captain accepts her offer. But there is one condition. She must swear that she will never leave.
The world is bigger and more frightening than she could ever imagine. The men are dangerous, the seas even more so. Levanine has one of two choices: to become stronger or to die.
And she has sworn to the captain that she will not die.
It’s been long enough since I read Slave of the Sea that I can’t remember much of it, but based on my review… Sworn to the Sea is extremely different. Which was by design; Dawn makes clear in her acknowledgements section that she wanted this to be a lighter story than it initially was, something hopeful rather than cynical and dark. So far as it goes, she accomplished that goal. Sworn to the Sea is a light adventure story rather than the hard-hitting look at morality that Slave of the Sea was.
Unfortunately, I think Sworn to the Sea is a lot weaker as a story–and in its writing.
There is no real story arc in this book. I get the impression it was intended to be a character-driven story, in which we see Levanine’s growth from timid and unsure servant girl to capable and confident pirate… but we don’t really get to see that. The events of the story feel disconnected from one another and disconnected from Levanine and her arc, which gives the whole thing a disjointed feel and keeps the reader distanced from the story and the characters. (Of course, a large part of this was the writing. There is very, very little “showing” in this book; everything is told, from the actions to the feelings to the settings to everything in between, which prevents any deep connection between the reader and any element of the book.) The potential was there, but the execution was not.
In fact, a lot of the elements of this book were just fine. When I say this is a “light adventure story,” that doesn’t mean nothing bad happens; there are cannibals, a sea monster, a marooning, and plenty of near-death experiences. The characters, too, are clearly outlined in unique ways and clearly hold to differing belief systems and whatnot that would have been fascinating to see further fleshed out. The setting and the differences between nations were interesting. Each of these pieces could have been a great contribution to the whole, but none of them got to shine through and none of them were tied together in such a way as to support a compelling, cohesive storyline. It felt like having all of the raw ingredients for a cake set out on the counter instead of having a ready cake to enjoy.
All of that said, I wouldn’t say this book was unenjoyable. It wasn’t a slog and it wasn’t terribly confusing. It just kind of… happened. Some of the characters and events were still interesting despite the uninteresting way in which they were presented, and it is a fun adventure at its core. But there was so much untapped potential, and it was disappointing to see it go to waste in the way it was put together and presented. The elements of Levanine’s faith, especially, would have been so interesting to see explored in the way she thought about things–in practice, not just how we’re told she thought–and in deeper conflict both within herself and with her surroundings and the other members of the crew. I would have loved to see more about her views on femininity and a real struggle when she’s asked to set those convictions aside.
I think Sworn to the Sea has the makings of a really effective lighter counterpart to the previous Slave of the Sea. It seems to keep the heart of the characters (as far as I can recall and see in my previous review) and the heart of the pirate story while shifting the focus into something more hopeful for Levanine and into a world that is freed from some of the darkness present in Slave of the Sea. Unfortunately, I think it needed more time to develop as a story and more time and support for the actual writing itself.
Rating: 2 stars
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