Review: The Forever Sea by Joshua Phillip Johnson

*My warm thanks to DAW and Netgalley for the ARC of the book in exchange for my honest review. Being an ARC, some content and quotes may not make it to final publication.

Cover & Details

The forever sea by Joshua Phillip Johnson cover
Cover by: NAME

Published by: Daw Books (Jan 19, 2021) | Genre(s): Epic Fantasy, ecopunk | Series: The Forever Sea #1
๐ŸŒˆ Bi MC, Sapphic romance

Kindred Greyreach is the hearthfire keeper aboard one of the harvesting vessels sailing across never-ending grasslands and reaping the bounties of the sea. When she receives news of her grandmother’s disappearance, Kindred embarks on a daring adventure towards mythical sights and the truth of what lies beneath the dark depths of the Forever Sea.

The Storygraph | Goodreads

Match with readers who love:

๐ŸŒฑ Unique worldbuilding
๐ŸŒฑ Sapphic slow-build romance
๐ŸŒฑ Ghibli-esque atmosphere
๐ŸŒฑ Sinisterness, betrayal, secrets
๐ŸŒฑ Creative and creepy magic systems
๐ŸŒฑ Morally-gray characters


Life and freelancing have truly caught up to me this first month of the year, and I havenโ€™t been able to finish a book, much less write about it. But in the short free time I found in this chaotic life, I made swift work of Joshua Phillip Johnsonโ€™s The Forever Sea. And let me tell you, I am so glad this was my first book of the year because it’s indication I’m off to a great start.

This book is so extremely imaginative that I loved every second of it. It’s rooted in ecological metaphors, creating a very interesting allegory of this vast, unknowable sea with which different characters have very different relationships, and which is basically the source of all life in this world.

It’s got that very timely, very intriguing ecological discourse wrapped up in a world that’s so intensely magical, and explores many personal messages like dreaming, living, staying true to yourself while being divided as to who exactly that yourself is, and daring to go beyond what is known.

So, there’s all the greatness of a magical childhood-reminiscent world filled with floating cities, ravenous pirates, mythical sea beasts from the deep, hidden worlds beneath darkness, overflowing handfuls of mythical lore… But at the same time builds this story that is so political, in the ways that it envisions, for example, how an endless sea of grass would affect resources, and how that scarceness of resources, like water, would affect society and culture, and all the involving political interests and wargames.

After reading the book, I heard this podcast interview where the author mentions how the main magic system alluded to the use of oil, which was honestly a detail I missed but I think it just speaks to how well-crafted and fascinating this world is.

The magic system is a delightfully macabre one where the bones of ship captains are burned, then spurred by song to serve as fuel for the ships. Even the different approaches that the characters have towards this system, which is not universal by any means, acts as a questioning of the way we view Nature as either a wild, untamable force or a tool to control.

Such obvious thought and detail put into this worldbuilding, that is so unique it reads unlike anything I’ve ever encountered, really swept me aside (sea puns! Couldn’t resist). I really love stories that have a churn of contrasts and intricacies and I really believe this story had both in bounties.

It gets to explore so much of that through Kindred, who is such a complex person exactly because she’s full of so many dualities. Her relationships, as well as her own gray morality, really allow the story to expertly blur many lines.

Through her, Joshua transports us to an intoxicating adventure of Ghibli-esque atmosphere and just unceremoniously plunges us into a world that feels both so imaginarily fantastical as it does familiar.

I felt like a kid again reading this, with those same stars in my eyes and that same excitement but also constantly being reminded by the author that I’m an adult now and a lot of things hurt ๐Ÿ˜€ Which yeah, this story knows how to hurt but in that satisfactory way I seek (I’m looking at you, YEARNFUL sapphic romance and harsh complexities of found family bonds!!).

A fascinating story whose depths I was glad to plunge into.

Really, the sum of my thoughts would more accurately be something like: grrahhhgh please read this book! It is so beautiful and it clasped around my heart like a barnacle to a hull! And yes, I had to slide in that sea pun even though it makes absolutely no sense in the world of The Forever Sea since barnacles do not appear to be, in fact, a thing there…

Possible trigger warnings:Death, slight body horror

I’m counting this book as the Somewhere I Belong prompt for Timy’s The Sound of Madness Reading Challenge!

Support independent businesses and buy a copy at: US | UK | Blackwell’s

The above contain affiliate links for Bookshop and Blackwell’s. This means I will earn a commission off your purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Connect with Joshua

Joshua Phillip Johnson's author photo. The author is smiling wide, in the background is a prairie of light brown grasses.

Hi! Iโ€™m Josh. Iโ€™m a writer living in a small green house in the Prairie Pothole Region of Minnesota. During the day I teach English and Creative Writing at a small university on what used to be the prairie, and the rest of the time I go on adventures with my partner and child.

My debut novel, The Forever Sea, is out now in the US and will be out on January 26th in the UK! It features, among other things, a fantastical prairie populated by miles-high grasses, magical, bone-burning ships, and a lost pirate city.

I am represented by Alexander Cochran of the C+W Literary Agency.


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16 thoughts on “Review: The Forever Sea by Joshua Phillip Johnson

  1. Hi Arina! Okay first of all, I ADORE your blog setup and the name (long blog names ftw!!) Second of all, I have this book ready to read sometime hopefully this week and you just made me want to thrown down my current book and get started on it ๐Ÿ˜† The comparison to Ghibli just makes me so giddy and ughhh the worldbuidling!! I can’t wait!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi! Omg you had me smiling all over, thank you so much for reading and the kind words! Is there any better feeling that inciting a bookwyrm to neglect their tbr for the sake of one specific book? ๐Ÿ˜ I rly hope you enjoy it!
      (gotta admit the long name can be a pain for blog tour banners however much I’m attached to it but yes, long blog names unite :p)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Is there any better feeling that inciting a bookwyrm to neglect their tbr for the sake of one specific book?”
        *searches though the Encyclopedia of Feels* i MEAN, none that I can see ๐Ÿ˜† And yeah long names do come with their share of struggles haha. I’ve had publishers write mine incorrectly for tours a couple of times

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Rin @ The Thirteenth Shelf

    Oooh, another good review! I’ve been eyeing this for awhile, and now it seems like everyone is reviewing it! That magic system, YES. I am absolutely on board with it. This is a TBR for me, for sure. I’m a big sucker for ships that are sailing through things that aren’t water (which is maybe why I like SF so much?) This kind of reminds me a bit of China Miรฉville’s Railsea, which is another imaginative not-sailing-on-water book.

    I love your nuanced rating system, BTW. It really grabs you and tells you what you want to know right away. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When book twitter sees a book w an intriguing premise we all swarm Netgalley like sharks ๐Ÿ˜‚ But rly this one was v worth it. V heartwarming and exactly what I needed.

      I’m with you there. I think it’s because anything that reimagines an existing aspect of the world into something fantastical is always so fascinating. Even a tiny thing like ships on seas of sand or wtv. And thanks for rec, I gotta check that out!

      Ahh thank you for the kind words! Have to admit your reviews definitely inspired me to come up w something… more, than what I had. Absolutely love how yours manages to be concise and thoroughly intriguing all at once.


    1. Ahah same! And I don’t think I would have gotten there if not for that interview, maybe I’m just not that clever a reader ๐Ÿ˜‚ But it’s such a great construction… I’m always amazed by these little ideas authors get from the world around them when I hear them talk abt their work…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ahhh this sounds like everything I want it to be! Glad you started 2021 on the right reading foot! Also, sounds like the cover matches the tone perfectly. I just logged into Netgalley to see if itโ€™s still up for request and saw the other cover, which isโ€ฆ less Ghibli-esque ๐Ÿ˜…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree! I think I like the US one better because of that, it rly captures the magical essence and the dreamy tone of the book. I managed to snag it on Netgalley US for some trick of the devil :p Nevertheless, I hope you like the book! Thanks for reading, Jake


  4. I am reading this now and I have to admit I’m struggling with it a bit. But I have seen so many glowing reviews on Goodreads, that I will hopefully change my mind when I finish. I do love the worldbuilding and the imagery, though. It’s stunning!


    1. Nothing wrong with that, I can see how it’s definitely a bit slower paced! Had my share of instances like that, where I rly like the premise or one thing abt the story but then something abt the execution just doesn’t click. Frustrating to a point but happens ๐Ÿ˜ฌ Curious to hear what you think when you’re done


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