The Forever Sea by Joshua Phillip Johnson
Titan, pb, £7.37
Reviewed by Mikaela Silk
Kindred is a Keeper; she keeps (and builds and controls) the hearthfire which keeps the ship afloat above the Forever Sea, a sea made entirely of grasses and with unknowable and fearsome depths. Having been raised aboard her grandmother’s ship, under her masterful but unyielding tutelage, Kindred is now trying to find her own place in the world. She thinks she has found it on board The Errant. Captain Caraway, Ragged Sarah, Little Wing and the others have become family, her own crew that she has earned her place in. But then she learns that something has happened to her grandmother, something shocking, and the island of Arcadia is not what it was when last they docked. Kindred is drawn into an adventure like nothing she had expected. It has more dangers than even a normal, pirate infested, harvesting voyage on the Forever Sea. And more mysteries too. As her journey progresses it seems that one direction keeps calling her to it: down. Down into the Deep.
It took a few chapters to acclimatise myself to this world, especially to change the picture of the sea in my head from one of water to one of wild grasses. However this was not due to any inadequacies in the writing, Johnson reminds us of the scenery often enough, but more due to the highly unique and original nature of the setting. From the hearthfire fuelled by bones, to the grass sea, to the water deficient island, to the intense individuality of each character and their unique names; nothing in this book is something that can be found elsewhere. Probably my favourite of these details is how the hearthfire is built. The combination of bones and song are beautifully macabre and I really enjoyed the depth of detail provided with regards to the different builds, techniques and rules.
Although this is Kindred’s story, we do learn a little bit about the other characters. Not enough to distract us from the main events, but just enough to explain the relationships that Kindred has with them and how those relationships evolve. I am glad this is the beginning of a series as I would definitely like to learn more about Ragged Sarah. Her relationship with Kindred has not yet been fully explored and the hints of her past are intriguing, but small enough to be lost amongst bigger discoveries.
My only complaint with this book is the pace. Whilst every element of the plot held its own interest, it did feel like a really long build-up to the main event which only happened in the very final pages. This first book seems to have acted as a world-building foundation and a tool of suspense to get us ready for what I can only hope will be the main events of the sequel.