Thursday, December 31, 2020

Review - The Cursed Sea

Original Title: The Cursed Sea
Series: The Glass Spare, #2
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Published: December 18th, 2018

Publisher: Balzer + Bray


It took a while, but I finally reached out and grabbed this book. It was long overdue; I dragged my feet for too long before finally deciding to read it, and get some closure on this story.

In general terms, I think The Glass Spare duology is one of those fantasy series meant to end up underrated. However, after an intense, promising first instalment, I’m not happy to say the next one fell short, and that it definitely could have been better. Although as a whole, it’s not bad, and the writing is absolutely gorgeous, I still believe that the story would have worked perfectly well as a stand-alone. A long one, that is, but a stand-alone nonetheless.

As I have said before, Lauren DeStefano’s writing is amazingly beautiful, she has this poetic way of saying things, the way they are perfectly understandable, and still stir something inside of you. Although things may twist and turn in the span of a few pages, they still make sense for the reader to understand what’s going on, and that is honestly well done. For example, I truly felt the scene in which Wil is dying after being stabbed by Loom, under Pahn’s control; I mean, my goosebumps, my accelerated heartbeat, and my true concern, were not fictional at all. However, that isn’t exactly constant in the entire book. Sometimes, the writing would get so flowery, that I would find myself losing track of what was happening in the scene. Again, the style is really beautiful and I really admire it, but it can (and does) get a little exhausting from time to time.

Also, I think the story would have greatly benefited from a first-person narrative, instead of a third person one (more so, with the dual perspective). Although you can perfectly follow Wil through her transformation, seeing how she may be alive, but her old self definitely dies as the story moves on, and she can’t go back to being the kingdom’s princess just like that, I still believe that a raw, intense narrative from her own perspective would have made the story ten times better.

In general, the character development is well done. Although there’s a small cast of them, the author makes sure everyone plays a part. Wil is a strong heroine, perfectly capable of surviving on her own, and even though she’s deeply in love and feels everything so intensely that the reader feels it too, she doesn’t let that stand in the way of other important things in her life. As for Loom, I liked him, and admired how his willingness to sacrifice anything for his kingdom’s wellbeing –even his own right to the throne–, in despite of having been banished by his own father. Both him and Wil are selfless and have a strong sense of duty towards their people, like any self-respecting royal should, and that’s really well written.

The only character I wanted more from was Zay, as she played such a big part in the first book, being a fiercely strong badass, but practically becoming background noise in this one. She’s only there to steer the ship, and I frequently forgot she was there.

On the other hand, in this book we got a lot more on Espel, the princess from the Southern Isles, turned into a deadly weapon by her own father. She’s the statement that monsters are not born, but made, and that it doesn’t matter who you were born to, but who and what you grow to be. Raised to consider her own brother an enemy, we learn that Espel’s life is mostly a façade, her cruelty hiding her most vulnerable point, which is being in love with Masalee, her personal guard. I think it is well done how Loom let her be the one to take their father’s life, and thus appoint herself queen, not only exacting revenge on what he did to her, but also, making her own decision for once, instead of following orders, and basically acting as his puppet. I just wished we could have gotten a glimpse of her on the throne, because I’m sure she would not want to rule the way her father did.

As I said, the character development is well done, and it’s visible in the love story. Wil and Loom take their romance to the next level, and you can tell they truly love each other. Their moments together are beautifully written, and when they finally sleep together, the author knew how to write it for us to be focused on their feelings, instead of making the whole thing overly physical and graphic, which is always a bonus point for me. But, as always, when these happy, peaceful moments take place, it’s not difficult to guess that something horrible is about to happen. And I wasn’t wrong. Things went downward from then on, and I liked how Lauren DeStefano was able to imbibe the story with the gloomy darkness she uses to describes the crude Northern Arrod winter. It’s like you are there, and the environment is also noticeable in the storyline itself, everything being colder and darker with each turn, just as winter settles. Bravo, Lauren!

Overall, this book seems to be some sort of steampunk fairytale. At one point it strongly reminded me of Snow White, and specially, the Evil Queen. Through a series of dreams, Wil learns the reason behind her kingdom’s curse, and upon reading it, I had mixed feelings about it. I mean, come on, cursing an entire kingdom and dooming an entire family, because your wife cheated on you? I get that people do crazy things over a heartbreak, but killing an innocent little girl who’s done nothing wrong, after years and years of bitterly ruminating his pain… It’s the childish attitude of “I’ll make everyone miserable just because I’m unhappy.” It’s exaggerated, self-centered, and it speaks of a person who isn’t mature enough to be king. I mean, his wife cheated on him, and him alone, right? That is why I want to slap the guy and yell “grow the hell up!”. Your descendants have not even born yet, and you are still going to make them pay the price of your tantrum when things didn’t go your way!


Ok, the worldbuilding… I was left with some questions about it, because, although the story isn’t exactly set in our own world, in this dimension, they still divide the calendar in our twelve months, as it is said Wil was born in October, during the Northern Hemisphere’s fall. And I wonder, which is it? Ours, or a completely different, made-up world? It’s not the most important part, but I didn’t know where to draw the line. I guess this is a little too nitpicky of me, but I couldn’t help noticing.

One of the things I didn’t like about this book is how the story jumped back and forth all the time, getting confusing at certain points. Because, when Wil comes back to Northern Arrod, she says that her power doesn’t fully work, because the kingdom is cursed. Later, she tells Gerdie:

Usually, if I can’t use my curse, there’s a horrible pressing feeling like there’s an animal trapped in my blood that wants to burst free. But it isn’t there now.

Perhaps this is me, misreading or missing something, but how can the curse not work, when in the previous book, the very plot starts because Wil accidentally kills her brother Owen with her crystallizing power? In her kingdom. The very one that later prevents her from fully using it. So… which is? How is it? It’s difficult to ignore the lack of clarity in that regard.

Also, Baren! What happened to him? Things were going great, because he was a dark, mind-twisted character, in a position of power, with a lot of potential for further development (something that his own grandmother saw, but apparently, not the author herself). Lauren DeStefano was clever enough to reveal, as a slap in the face, that his attitude and behaviour were the product of his unhappiness, origin of a fragility that their grandmother used to manipulate him and exact her revenge. He didn’t have much of a personality, and as his family didn’t pay attention to him, he was the perfect pawn in the game of others. However, DeStefano built so much around him, telling us about his attitude, his fears, his mental instability, his bad relationship with his siblings, how much he hated Wil… And by the epilogue, the last thing we knew was that he was king, as the rightful heir being the second son, and suddenly, Addney (a character who is barely there) has both given birth to Owen’s daughter, and taken the throne as regent queen. So? Knock knock. Is someone there who can tell where the hell Baren is? What happened to him? Did he leave? Is he dead? Did he forfeit the throne just like that? Please, tell me something! Anything!

And on that note, that is one of the things that most bothered me about this duology: the lack of details when the reader most needs them. So far, the author has told me all about curses, bloodlines, places and feelings, in full detail, but when she had to wrap up the story, she delivered a rushed ending that left me with more questions than answers, that I needed to patch up the plot holes scattered all over the place. On the bright side, it’s not your typical ending, even when at one point, you think that’s where the story is going, upon Wil finding her family dead, and hence being the rightful queen. Lauren DeStefano did a good job avoiding that cliché, but still, I think the ending as a whole could have been better written.


Anyway, that’s it for this review!
Thank you for stopping by, and I wish you a great start of the new year!
‘til next one!


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