This is Julie with the CSFF Blog tour!
Storm Siren by Mary Weber (Facebook)
Ridiculously simplified summary:
Nym, a 17-year-old girl with Elemental control over weather, is made slave to a depraved aristocrat. Nym must try to control her powers, overcome her past failings, and save a kingdom that kills Elemental boys at birth.
Content: This is a dark world, and I think the content might be too much for some readers (or parents!). There are countless deaths (many, though not all, a result of war), with horrific treatment of a young child, apparent abuse of a disabled character later on, and other horrors and threats of horrors.
The main character has been a slave most of her life and struggles with cutting/self-harm. At the start, she takes comfort in cutting herself, and the immediacy of the viewpoint made me as a reader almost think her actions made sense. While she works to overcome that self-destructive habit, parents may want to know that the attractive tattoo-like marks on the character's arm on the cover are in fact Nym's scars from cutting.
The 17-year-old main/point-of-view character spends quite a bit of time detailing her longing/lust for a man who struck me as being substantially older, though I believe it's actually a 5-year difference. Her thoughts about doing things like "drinking him in as fast as (she) can" were more sensual than I'd expected to read.
I don't recall any actual cursing, but there is lots of made-up cursing that sometimes sounds like real curses. Notably, the word "hulls" is used more than 30 times as a pretty obvious substitution, as in "What in hulls?" "Oh hulls," and "The world is going to hulls."
I see from other reviews online that some people have said this wasn't intended to be a Christian book. I'd say the Christian content is present but understated. I didn't notice any of it until Chapter 22, more than halfway through. I basically saw mentions of a creator and being created for a purpose, a little talk about good and evil, and an act of self-sacrificing love. CSFF Blog Tour members usually tease out more Christian meaning than I do, though as of about 8 PM PST Monday, I didn't see anyone mentioning anything I haven't.
Rating: (Due to circumstances beyond my control, I read the Kindle copy, not the printed one, but the formatting was fine and I don't think that will affect the rating.)
Characters - 6 out of 10. Due to Nym's close first-person narrative, she was an interesting enough character to follow, though more than once I wished I could have seen parts of the story through someone else's eyes. The heroes seemed fairly realistic to me, which isn't really what I like, because with the single exception of Nym's fellow-elemental/friend Colin, I didn't find any of the characters particularly likable. The heroes are imperfect and for the most part don't seem particularly noble, and the villains are completely wicked to the point that their actions often seemed insane to me.
Perhaps hardest for me was that I didn't care at all for the man Nym completely falls in love with, which made it hard for me to sympathize with her irrational choices involving him. (That said, I am unusually unemotional, so I'm sure others with stronger passions or who liked the man would sympathize more.) Other than a cast of maybe 5 main characters, I thought the others were rather thinly drawn, though that will probably be remedied in the sequel.
Bonus points because I did like Colin and several of the characters felt realistic...and it did hurt some when harm befell a few characters. One more special point for Breck, a blind servant, not acting particularly nice or kind. (Most people with disabilities in books, particularly blind women, seem to lapse into stereotypes of being perfect people aside from one disability.)
Suspense/stakes - 3 out of 5. At first, the immediacy of Nym's narration kept me reading. Later, one character notes, "I'm pretty sure the world's not worth being saved...But I love a good challenge." That actually kind of sums up my feelings. I don't like this world and don't really care for most of the characters, so I slowed down reading near the middle. When I picked it up again, with the building stakes and the immediate style, I was still interested to know what happened next.
World building - 3 out of 5. I appreciate how Weber puts us into the middle of a new world. Some negative reviews I read complained that the world building was weak, and I agree that a lot of things weren't spelled out, but I felt that was mostly a style choice, keeping in the immediacy of Nym's mind. I didn't get the impression that the world wasn't properly built--more like explanation was held back--but I could have benefited from a bit more detail and explanation. There were some interesting touches, like the almost steampunk nature of the warring kingdom Bron.
Writing/editing - 5 out of 5. This is in first-person present, which might turn off some readers. I thought it overall worked, well enough that I started wondering if that's what I should do for my own work in progress. Nym has a strong voice, and I liked some of the flowery descriptions she put in there, as well as some of the humorous, cynical lines, especially about the bizarre parties thrown by her sadistic master. The only quibble I had with the actual writing was Weber's style choice to make Nym use sentence fragments repeatedly. We're in her head, and even third-person narrators in close third-person are using sentence fragments nowadays, but the sheer number of fragments distracted me a bit.
I thought Nym was sometimes distanced from her own pain, even reading as a bit cold as she's suffering massive physical pain...that's how I tend to write, so I assumed Weber was a personality type kind of like mine and it spilled over onto Nym. But reading Weber's gushy acknowledgements at the end revealed that no, while Nym and Weber have the same knack for fancy language, their minds look to be in rather different places, so any distance was surely intentional. In light of that, I'm rather impressed by how Weber rendered Nym's voice, since it's got some differences from her own.
Clarity - 2 out of 5. With all the twists and turns and betrayals and secrets, I got rather lost at the end. A lot of that could have just been bad timing on how I paused a week or so between the first half and the last half. An important character was referenced a fair amount in the first 20 chapters, then once in chapter 23 in passing, and then all over chapters 30-36 (the end). If I'd read straight through, I might not have stumbled. Other points--particularly that Colin is bald and Eogan has black/dark skin--are repeated so often it was annoying, though I know from critique groups that if a character has dark skin, you have to reference it repeatedly or readers will miss it... It's a tricky road to walk, how to be clear enough without being repetitive, and I get the feeling that the second book in the series will handle it better.
Plausibility/believability - 2 out of 5. I felt like some of the characters behaved unexplainably, especially when a bit of critical thinking or even talking with someone they cared about would have probably revealed a certain problem rather early, before it all came to a head to cause major problems for our characters in the climax. Unfortunately, the characters' outright ignoring what struck me as an obvious peculiarity/problem hindered my enjoyment of the rest of the book. I also had a hard time with Nym's insistence on showing mercy to one villain, even while the rest of that villain's men were left to die. Christian forgiveness and/or forgiveness prompted by the Holy Spirit is one thing, but Nym doesn't seem prompted by anything I could wrap my head around. (Although, now I can see why my writing partner gets irritated when my characters want to go too soft on some bad guys!)
Positive - 1 out of 5. Anyone who's read my reviews at all should know I like happy endings. The world here is overall dark; even a third of the way through, I found myself frustrated that there was nothing much to like about the world. Yes, Nym starts to get over some of the darkness inside her, but even as she starts to reach towards the light, her world turns so much darker. I saw no mention of heaven or any eternal hope, just love that's in this
world, which left me with kind of a hopeless feeling more than
If you've read my other reviews, you may know that I can't stand endings where everything turns horrible at the VERY end, to compel readers to eagerly anticipate the next book, and this is quite a cliffhanger. The more I look into the ending, the more I see that everything might not be completely lost, particularly if you believe believe that one character really does have prophetic powers...but I think one could make a good argument that the ending of the first book in the Hunger Games trilogy is more optimistic than this ending.
Gut reaction - 2 out of 5. A well-written book that's not written for me.
Free points: 5 out of 5.
Recommended for: Older young adults (or regular adults) who like fantasy but don't need/want happy endings...? From the reviews I saw online, there are many, many people who adored this book, so there's obviously something to like. But aside from the strong writing and excellent imagery, the immediacy of Nym's point of view, and the suspense nearer to the end, I can't really figure out the appeal. If you like your fantasy on the dark side, this might be a great read for you.
Total Rating: 2.9 out of 5 stars
Here are the other participants on the tour, who surely have different opinions than me!
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Michelle R. Wood
*In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I was sent a free copy of this book.