THE GIRL THE SEA GAVE BACK by Adrienne Young
Titan, pb, £8.99
Reviewed by Irene Rosenfeld
I chose Adrienne Young’s The Girl The Sea Gave Back because I loved the title. When I received the review copy, I fell for the cover – the back of a long-haired, wind-blown young woman emerging from stormy waves, about to shoot an arrow at an unseen target before her. The novel itself was a mixed bag, pleasant, innocuous, and fine for a YA readership who may also be into fantasy gaming.
The story is mostly told in first-person narrative. Many chapters alternate between Tova (the girl) and Halvard (the lad). Tova is little more than a loathed, abused and sometimes attacked slave, found by a tribal ‘Tala’ – a priest of sorts in a world strongly reminiscent of the Vikings. Even as a six-year-old, she is covered in tattoos that indicate she comes from a tribe with strong divinatory powers and that she, herself, is gifted with the ability to foretell the future. As a result, she is lied to and kept for the use of the tribe who both revere her powers but also treat her with fear and loathing. Tribal warfare ensues from one of her predictions, until, at the end of the day she has to make some tough decisions which, obviously, I won’t reveal in case you’d like to read the novel for yourself.
In the opening chapters, I felt I was ploughing through several hours of well-meaning prose where I kept asking myself if this had been written by a real person. There seemed to be two people writing it. One appeared to be a little inexperienced; characters did not convince me and action was externally observed and hard to relate to. But the other author, the author who dealt with the more mystical parts of the story – reading runes, foretelling the future, feeling at one with symbol, time and nature, well, that was a fine writer, convincing and gifted.
I found it interesting that the publishers offered this novel with the tag ‘For fans of Sarah J. Maas’, whose early writing style is popular, detailed, vivid and enjoyably kitsch.
Adrienne Young, on the other hand, is an author of promise, caught in the overstated style and commercial world of Young Adult fiction, where readers will happily read on for a potential of romance – in this case, the structural fact that the boy and girl narrators interweave.
On checking reviews on her previous work, I realised there are two camps with little in-between: a majority who loved her writing and a minority who were not convinced. It all goes to say, it’s all a matter of readership and taste. I must say, however, that I warmed up to it the more I read.
So, YA Fantasy fans of Viking cultures, wildings, magical thinking and tribal warfare, this novel is for you.