Author: Mindy McGinnis
Release Date: April 11
Fair warning, I did not like this book. But since I got an eARC from Penguin’s First to Read program and it’s also been included in the Epic Reads April Most Anticipated Reads list, I felt I should give it (and you all) due diligence and finish/review it.
Khosa has been raised knowing she will be Given to the Sea. To keep her homeland from being flooded by a cataclysmic wave, she must be sacrificed to the waves via a strange seizure/dance that will overtake her body and send her to her death. But before she can take the plunge, she must give birth to the next Given. Herein lies the issue: Khosa cannot stand to be touched by anyone.
When an attack from enemy fortress sends Khosa fleeing from her secluded childhood home to the capital, she gets tangled up in all kinds of court drama. She meets Vincent, third in line for the throne of Stille, and his adopted siblings Dara and Donil, who are believed to be the last surviving members of the fearsome Indiri race. Khosa, Vincent and Dara all serve as narrating Points of View (POVs), along with Witt, the Lithos (leader) of the brutal Pietra nation, sworn enemy of basically everybody. Lines in the Stille court are drawn between those who want Khosa to just pop a baby out and drown already and those that believe the traditional sacrifice may be unnecessary.
My issues with this book are twofold. First, the world seems to be fantasy-fied (i.e. made supernaturally fantastical) at different depths with seeming randomness. The Stille people seem to be basically “normal” with the exception that they are so long-lived that Vincent doesn’t anticipate taking the throne from his grandfather and father anytime soon.
The Pietra are also pretty “standard,” but at least their culture is enhanced with descriptions of their survival of the fittest lifestyle. Witt and the Pietra were actually my favorite part of the book, and unfortunately receive the least amount of attention. Things get progressively stranger from there.
The Indiri have a shared communal memory that allows Dara and Donil to remember their ancestors’ experiences, along with a magical connection to life and death. They’re described as having spotted skin, which continuously baffled me every time it was referenced. Maybe it was explained and I missed it, but I could not for the life of me deduce if it was simply referring to freckles or something more visually dramatic like Vitiligo (you can thank America’s Next Top Model for making me aware of that). Either way, the vagueness was distracting.
The Feneen people are where things really take a leap off a cliff. They’re said to be composed of the cast-offs of other races, but we’re not just talking about physical handicaps or other things that exist in the real world. Not by a long shot. Some of the Feneen are described as having two heads, extra arms, seven eyes, all of which culminate in a bizarre sort of fantasy acceleration that felt completely disjointed from the standard humanoids in the rest of the book. Some of the interesting natural elements (hello, blood-drinking trees) seem to fall more in line with the Feneen than the main protagonists.
My second, and more prominent, issue with Given to the Sea is this – literally EVERY PROBLEM revolves around sex. Who’s having it. Who isn’t but wants to. Who can’t. Who wants babies but gets caught up in motivations that are completely unbelievable to the point where you need a chart to keep track of it all. It doesn’t matter if the issue is politics, race and heritage, institutional discrimination, or THE STINKING WEATHER, the root of it is sexual. Not explicitly – this book is pretty tame in its romantic descriptions – but dang if they don’t talk about it in every other paragraph.
Don’t believe me? Here are a few examples (minorly spoilerish, but I really wouldn’t recommend actually reading the book itself):
- Khosa has to have a baby before she can prevent the wave drama. Too bad she can’t stomach the touch of another human being.
- Vincent can’t decide if he’s in love with Khosa or Dara, which relates to problem above and below…
- Dara refuses to have sex with Vincent, NOT because they’re adopted siblings but because she’s holding out to find another Indiri male to preserve her race. Small mercy that she at least isn’t going for her true blood brother. But you know, if that doesn’t work out then she’ll MARRY Vincent, but not just be his lover because she won’t just be a “kept woman.” MEGA MEGA EYE ROLLS.
- Vincent’s father can’t keep his hands to himself, ignoring his wife for literally any other female, creating family and political drama when he offers a reward for whoever impregnates Khosa. EW GROSS NO HE IS THE WORST.
- Witt needs allies if he wants to conquer Stille, but can’t offer his hand in marriage as part of the deal because the Lithos isn’t allowed to be distracted. Too bad he’s young and strappingly handsome.
I understand authors wanting to show characters that are empowered by decisions about their body, but all this book does is use it to flatten people. Khosa can’t just NOT WANT TO HAVE SEX, she has to be afflicted with a paralyzing aversion to touch. I struggled to infer if this was some sort of failed reference to Asperger’s or another condition, especially when considering her limited ability to express emotions. Then again, I may be completely off, so feel free to sound off in the comments if your knowledge base gives you a better picture. Dara is also reduced to an object, in what I deem this book’s greatest injustice. Her unmatched fighting abilities and unique magic should have been super fascinating, but instead she is bogged down by jealously pining after Vincent, which is dumb stupid gross and absolutely worthy of eviction from this book.
Sorry if you were excited about Given to the Sea and I popped your bubble, but that’s why I put my dislike disclaimer up at the top. It had potential, but the successes of this book were far outweighed by the failures for me. I thought it read like a bad debut from someone who tried to reach too far, so I didn’t realize until I read a few other First to Read reviews that Mandy McGinnis is an established author. I’m familiar with her other titles, though I haven’t read them (Not a Drop to Drink, A Madness So Discreet, Female of the Species), and more than one person suggested looking to those titles rather than this one. If I didn’t live in a landlocked state, I’d be giving this book to the sea.*
*Plus it was an eARC and I don’t feel like sacrificing my phone or laptop just to make a statement.