*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
Published by: Daw Books (Jan 19, 2021) | Genre(s): Epic Fantasy, ecopunk | Series: The Forever Sea #1
🌈 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.
Match with readers who love:
🌱 Unique worldbuilding
🌱 Sapphic slow-build romance
🌱 Ghibli-esque atmosphere
🌱 Sinisterness, betrayal, secrets
🌱 Creative and creepy magic systems
🌱 Morally-gray characters
Life and freelancing have truly caught up to me this first month of the year, and I haven’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 Johnson’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 😀 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!
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Connect with Joshua
Hi! I’m Josh. I’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.
If you have the means to, consider buying me a ko-fi in support of the blog and my work!