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Review: These Rebel Waves - Sarah Raasch

Genre: (YA) fantasy Published: Balzer + Bray, August 2018 My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Once upon a time, in an office far-far-away, a marketing employee sat down at his desk with this book in their lap. “How do I cheaply and effectively label this book, to appeal to the masses and sell the most copies” they pondered. After much deliberation, an idea sprouted root: “a fast paced fantasy featuring gay pirates at sea” they declared, and thus a misleading blurb was born.

This person is an idiot, and needs to be fired.

If you just came here for the gay pirates, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. There are gay characters in this novel, as well as pirates, but they are not the same people, and neither of them are the focus of this novel. This was reason enough for me to question whether that marketing person had actually read this book. The more important reason however, was that there is so much else to love in here, that I can’t see the need to mislead people like this.

What These Rebel Waves does offer is a slower paced fantasy story, focused on political intrigue, a beautifully built Caribbean-esque world, stealing plants to perform botanical magic, and strong-willed and smart characters that absolutely stole my heart. And I loved it…

World and atmosphere Our story is set on the tropical island of Grace Loray, a recently liberated colony where alchemically potent plants cover the riverbeds and shores. Tensions are high and tempers short within the newly installed council in the aftershock of the civil war that liberated them. The mysterious shaking-sickness that wreaking havoc over their people, nor the increasing presence of Stream Raiders (pirates who steal Grace Lorays plants to perform botanical magic) do anything to ease that tension. The worldbuilding and magic system were one of the major selling points of this book for me. Integrate, well thought out and completely up my alley: I have nothing to add.

Characters Although they often fall within the standard YA-tropes, I really enjoyed the characters. We follow 3 main POV’s: Lu, the smart and family-oriented daughter of an important council member, Vex, the savvy captain of one of the Stream Raiders ships, and Ben, crown prince of a nearby island. I didn’t quite care for Bens perspective as much, but I loved reading from the perspective of Lu and Vex. They are smart, whitty and likable, Sara Raasch manages to elevate them above their “tropes” by adding realistic motivations and character depth.

Writing-style This is my fourth book by Sara Raasch, after having read the Snow Like Ashes trilogy some years ago. At the time I wasn’t a big fan of her writing, but I do feel she’s improving with every book. Her writing is not too special, but quite enjoyable. It’s simple, without any unnecessary flourishes, which allowed me to fly through the book. I feel like Raasch’s strength it definitely in writing dialogue, and the banter between the characters was (at times) just a joy to read.

Plot Like I mentioned: the plot is slower paced than you might expect going in. Luckily for me, those are often the fantasy plots I enjoy most, if they are done well. While it is a little predictable at times, I did really enjoy the political themes that are perfectly woven into the worldbuilding and history of the different islands. It’s not all dry-talk and politics though, as there are quite some action scenes to mix things up as well. To me, it was the exact right balance between the two, although I can see how you might be disappointed if you went in expecting a mostly action-packed story. The story has a few twists, some of which I saw coming, but the cliffhanger at the end has me desperate to get my hands on book 2.

I will 100% continue this series, and I will recommend this series to others, with the disclaimer that you need to go in without the expectations set by the marketing. Don’t expect sea shanties, ocean travels, and wooden legs. Think more along the lines of: water-based thieves that steal plants for botanical magic and a cast of sassy but lovable characters set in and around Island shores. If, like me, that would have sold you on this book just as much as the “gay-pirate-thing”, be sure not to miss These Rebel Waves.

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