Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Perez | Review

Publisher: Imprint
Release Date: June 5, 2018 (out now!)
Source of my copy: publisher
Series: Sweet Black Waves #1
My rating:

Not you without me, not me without you.

Two proud kingdoms stand on opposite shores, with only a bloody history between them.

As best friend and lady-in-waiting to the princess, Branwen is guided by two principles: devotion to her homeland and hatred for the raiders who killed her parents. When she unknowingly saves the life of her enemy, he awakens her ancient healing magic and opens her heart. Branwen begins to dream of peace, but the princess she serves is not so easily convinced. Fighting for what's right, even as her powers grow beyond her control, will set Branwen against both her best friend and the only man she's ever loved.

Inspired by the star-crossed tale of Tristan and Eseult, this is the story of the legend’s true heroine: Branwen. For fans of Graceling and The Mists of Avalon, this is the first book of a lush fantasy trilogy about warring countries, family secrets, and forbidden romance.

Sweet Black Waves was one of my most anticipated reads in the first half of 2018, so my expectations were pretty high, and while I had a few issues with it, I am happy to report that I really enjoyed it and I'm very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

The writing. My favorite part of the novel is definitely Kristina Perez's writing. Her writing is the type you can really breeze through. It has weight and substance that makes you slow down and take it in but still very readable. It was never purple-prose-y with weird metaphors that pretend to be "beautiful writing" because Ms. Perez actually does write beautifully in a way the conveys the dark atmosphere of the novel.

The characters. Sweet Black Waves centers on the character of Branwen, who was the cousin and lady's maid of Princess Eseult (aka Essy). I thought she was a fascinating character with her tragic past that left her an orphan, then falling in love with a man whose people killed her parents, her at-times fraught relationship with her cousin, and then she acquires some serious magical powers that further complicated things.

I loved that the women in Sweet Black Waves (Branwen, Essy, and Essy's mother Queen Eseult) were front and center--they were the ones making things happen. It's apparent that the author put most of her energy in establishing their characters, and I appreciated that. I found the women fascinating, and I enjoyed the push and pull in their relationship with each other. However, this meant that the male characters suffered in that they're not nearly as interesting.

Our main male character is Tristan and he didn't really made much of an impression on me for most of the novel until the very end.

The plot and world-building. Sweet Black Waves was inspired by the tragic tale of Tristan and Iseult, which to be honest, I wasn't familiar with at all prior to my picking up the novel. I've since Wikipedia'd it, and while the author took some elements in the original tale, Sweet Black Waves is its own story.

Sweet Black Waves is not an flashy, fast-paced fantasy. It's evenly paced throughout, and while it never dragged it is a slower-paced book.

From the author's bio, it say she has a PhD in medieval literature, and her background in history and literature is really apparent in the world-building. From the languages to the type of makeup Branwen and Essy used, no small detail ever felt manufactured out of in thin air--we got a rich setting and every factor in the story was grounded in research.

Final thoughts. My biggest issue in the novel was actually the romance between Branwen and Tristan. I had a hard time believing their declarations of love when they hardly spent any time together and only had super quick conversations here and there until they're inevitably interrupted. Even in the beginning after Branwen rescued Tristan from the ocean and she nursed him back to health, we were mostly told rather than shown them spending hours together. Branwen was also constantly hot and cold towards Tristan, which is one of my biggest pet peeves in a romantic plot line. Tristan and Branwen's romance is a big part of the novel and it should've felt big and all-encompassing, and it didn't so I took off a star for that in my rating.

However, the twist in the end that turned the story in a new direction had me wishing for book 2 right effin' NOW. I am so eager to see where the author will take the story and the characters next. Book 2 is called Wild Savage Stars, and with a title like that I have high hopes it's going to be epic.

Recommendation.  Sweet Black Waves is a superbly written female-centered take on the Tristan and Iseult tale and I recommend it to everyone who likes darker, atmospheric, and slower-paced fantasy novels grounded in research.

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