‘For as long as she can remember, Tova has lived among the Svell, the people who found her washed ashore as a child and use her for her gift as a Truthtongue. Her own home and clan are long-faded memories, but the sacred symbols and staves inked over every inch of her skin mark her as one who can cast the rune stones and see into the future. She has found a fragile place among those who fear her, but when two clans to the east bury their age-old blood feud and join together as one, her world is dangerously close to collapse.
For the first time in generations, the leaders of the Svell are divided. Should they maintain peace or go to war with the allied clans to protect their newfound power? And when their chieftain looks to Tova to cast the stones, she sets into motion a series of events that will not only change the landscape of the mainland forever but will give her something she believed she could never have again―a home.’
The Girl the Sea Gave Back is an immersive read written from the points of view of Tova, a young woman with the power to see the future, and Halvard, who is destined to lead his clan. I’m informed that Halvard featured in Young’s first novel, Sky in the Deep, which I haven’t read, but I will be picking up ASAP! The worldbuilding is not so detailed as to require a vast amount of exposition in the opening chapters (which is something I feel a lot of books are suffering from these days) but clear enough that it’s easy to reach an understanding of the clan systems and the environment, the focus more on key characters and the more magical elements, such as truthtelling. I’ve written many an essay on the use of prophecy and oracles as story devices in ancient literature, and I loved the use of it here and the exploration of whether fate is absolute.
Tova’s existence within the Svell community is ultimately an uncomfortable one, both in how she is treated like an outsider and openly despised by many, and in how those around her, even those who might claim to care for her, manipulate her for their own means. The threat of death hangs constantly over her head and so she is driven to cast the stones even when she has no desire to, though the threats against her physical safety are perhaps the least of what she suffers. It’s the emotional manipulation by her father figure that, to me, is the worst of what she has to live with, feeling a duty to him for ‘saving’ her (thanks to his constant reminders of what would have happened to her without him) while he uses her future sight to maintain his position within the clan. He deliberately withholds what he knows of her history to ensure that she is reliant on him, knowing full well that she has no other source of information if she is ever to learn the truth about the circumstances in which she was found. The violent threats against Tova that push her to do as she’s told even when she can face no more are certainly awful, but it’s Jorrund’s manipulation and treatment of her more as a tool and trophy than a daughter that is more abhorrent. It’s brilliant to see her grow in confidence and start to defy both him and the clan’s leaders in clever ways to forge her own path.
Though it takes quite a long time for Tova and Halvard’s paths to cross in more than the actions of their tribes impacting the other, I was glad to find that it was not a case of them instantly falling in love with a sudden shift in narrative to romance. They do wonder about each other, but it seems built more on curiosity and, in Tova’s case, a need to know more and understand the path of fate rather than romantic pining. I really appreciated that the novel stuck with what I feel is its strongest thread, being the exploration of fate and destiny, and while the two do show affection for each other in their brief interactions, their story remains one more concerned with hope for the future and claiming what they believe will be happiness rather than falling into the insta-love trap of many YA novels.
If there’s one thing that I wish we could have learned more about, it’s the Kyrr, and I hope that there will be future instalments in this universe that let us spend more time with them!
The Girl the Sea Gave Back is out on September 3rd! Thank you to Titan Books for sending me a copy!