I wasn’t sure about The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young. I almost didn’t read it. I almost didn’t finish it. I wasn’t enthralled by Sky in the Deep so I wasn’t sure if I would care enough about the companion novel. But I stuck with it and I was surprised to find myself enjoying the story and characters.
The Svell are all Tova has known since she washed up on their shore as a child, but the symbols and images inking her skin mark her as a Truthtongue—someone who can cast rune stones and tell the future. But when she the stone she casts influence the Svell to attack a neighboring clan, everything changes. Torn between loyalties, Tova seeks the truth of the stones, her past, and her future.
The biggest pitfall of The Girl the Sea Gave Back is that the first two-thirds of the book are slow. There is some action here and there, but the book is overwhelmed by the characters meandering from place to place as they talk and think about the upcoming battle between the viking clans. Which isn’t always a bad thing in a story, but it’s one of the problems I had with Sky in the Deep as well.
In addition, the story is straightforward and simple. The characters do this. The characters do that. Bada-bing, bada-boom, the story is over. There isn’t a lot of room for surprises or plot twists. And there isn’t room for solid explanation.
While I didn’t mind that the world-building was steeped in the idea of gods and spinners creating fate, I wanted a bigger explanation than simply “It is what it is.” Yeah, Tova and Halvard have a connection, but why? Because the Spinners carved it into the tree long ago? Cool, but their relationship—their attraction to each other—needs something more. Humans need more than just “because the gods willed it.” You don’t reject everything you’ve been taught and betray those who raised you for the past thirteen years simply because a boy looks at you. Same goes for the battle. I understand the gods and Spinners decided the Svell were going to attack the Nadhir, but why? What human reason was behind it other than simply because they can and they will? I needed something more to propel the characters to their actions and decisions. Even if it’s simply, they were scared or greedy or full of blood lust.
The ending, however, was good. There’s a gut-wrenching, bloody battle. There are exciting character interactions and beautiful moments of hope and healing. If the first two hundred pages of the book were like the last one hundred, this book would have blown me away. The writing is beautiful, and Adrienne Young has great ideas for characters and world-building and plot. Those ideas just never reached their full potential.
Like most books, The Girl the Sea Gave Back won’t be for everybody. Some readers will adore it just like they adore Sky in the Deep. Other readers will enjoy the story for what it is but won’t come back to it again and again. And some readers won’t even bother to finish the story. I thought I’d be of the latter group, but I’m glad I stuck with it for the ending. Because the beginning of the story promises an exciting and hope-filled ending, and the stones don’t lie.