These Rebel Waves by Sara Raasch
Publication date: 20 September 2018
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Page count: 480 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This review is spoiler-free.
I had been hearing a lot of buzz around this book and was so excited to read it. I love a fun pirate book and These Rebel Waves sounded like it was exactly what I wanted. Then, I began to hear mixed reviews as proofs were released into the world. I was given a couple of warnings about this book and I am so glad I had them. My expectations were well-managed and I ended up really loving These Rebel Waves, but I think I would have been incredibly displeased if I hadn’t had those warnings, which I am going to pass on to you.
Adeluna is a soldier. Five years ago, she helped the magic-rich island of Grace Loray overthrow its oppressor, Argrid, a country ruled by religion. But adjusting to postwar life has not been easy. When an Argridian delegate vanishes during peace talks with Grace Loray’s new Council, Argrid demands brutal justice—but Lu suspects something more dangerous is at work.
Devereux is a pirate. As one of the outlaws called stream raiders who run rampant on Grace Loray, he pirates the island’s magic plants and sells them on the black market. But after Argrid accuses raiders of the diplomat’s abduction, Vex becomes a target. An expert navigator, he agrees to help Lu find the Argridian—but the truth they uncover could be deadlier than any war.
Benat is a heretic. The crown prince of Argrid, he harbors a secret obsession with Grace Loray’s forbidden magic. When Ben’s father, the king, gives him the shocking task of reversing Argrid’s fear of magic, Ben has to decide if one prince can change a devout country—or if he’s building his own pyre.
As conspiracies arise, Lu, Vex, and Ben will have to decide who they really are . . . and what they are willing to become for peace.
First things first, These Rebel Waves is not a pirate book. I don’t really know what they were thinking marketing it as such but I think it led to a lot of disappointment from readers, which has clearly affected the ratings of this book. The raiders in the story are definitely pirate-adjacent, but don’t quite fit what I, and likely many other readers, was looking for.
The second issue is that the first 100 pages or so are really difficult to get through. There are a couple of reasons for this, but I found that there are two main problems — the character nicknames and the info dumping. We have three point of view characters in this book — Adeluna, Devereaux, and Benat — and the POV changes rapidly in the opening pages. Each of these characters are almost exclusively referred to by their nicknames — Lu, Vex, and Ben. Additionally, every other character seems to have a nickname as well. When thrown together this was very confusing — I spent so much time flipping back to previous pages to figure out who the hell we were following and talking about at any given time. We also have a ridiculous amount of information to process before the plot can really get going, and I don’t feel like she gave us that information in the most effective way. For example, there is a scene in the beginning of the book in which Lu is speaking to a merchant. The pair say a couple of lines of dialogue, then we get two pages of background information. Then they’ll say a few more and we get a page and a half of more backstory. This is so ineffective, and when you put all these issues together I very nearly put the book down for good.
I ended up sticking with These Rebel Waves and I am so incredibly glad I did. If it weren’t for these problems in the beginning of the book, it would have been one of my favourite books of the year. The politics are beautifully plotted, the world building is lush and gorgeous, and the characters are just spectacularly written. I cannot get enough of the world of Grace Loray and need more! There is something about this book’s setting that feels so incredibly fresh. Set in a muggy, humid jungle climate rather than a standard Euro-centric setting, this was a book I didn’t know I needed until I had it in my hands. The magic system has such a unique feel and I loved that the characters were able to slowly realise the full potential of Grace Loray’s weird and wonderful plant life.
The world building pairs so well with the political climate and revolution. The people of Grace Loray are recovering from a war and revolution that they have won, but the power of their oppressor looms over them. I absolutely loved the politics in this book because they’re so well-plotted and realistic. I feel like Raasch really looked at the way people react after revolutions and war and incorporated that into her book. Every action and reaction felt so incredibly real, like this was something that could have actually happened.
The characters are really what sold this book for me. All three of our POV characters are incredibly strong, although you may not realise it at first, as well as complex and flawed. I don’t want to say too much because part of the joy of this book is seeing their story arcs unfold, but here’s a short list of things you’ll find in this book:
- Friendships between male and female characters
- Friendships between female characters
- Queer characters and love stories
- Characters who examine and try to change their prejudices
- A male character who actually believes in the abilities of his love interest
- A female character who is actually as capable as the authors tells us
This is a slightly complex review because I really think that the first 100 pages or so are poorly executed. However if you can get through the beginning, These Rebel Waves is the fresh YA fantasy adventure I’ve been hungering for. I absolutely loved (most of) this book and am eagerly awaiting the second installment.
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Have you read These Rebel Waves? What did you think? Did you have the same issues as me? Let me know!