I love a good theme. If someone invites me to a themed party, I will go all out to fit that theme. I once went to a party dressed as an Ancient Roman, and spent my time getting ready listening to the Pompeii soundtrack while following a historically accurate Roman makeup tutorial.
Like I said, I go all out.
Sometimes that theme can take over my reading plans and, in all honesty, it shouldn’t. I don’t like to read something that’s very similar to something I’ve only just finished reading, but that’s not going to stop me from putting a list together. I thrive on lists. (You have to find joy in the little things during a pandemic.)
I’ve never really gravitated towards books set either at or under the sea—as much as I love pirates, I’m more likely to watch Pirates of the Caribbean for the billionth time than read a new pirate book (and I also think a lot of pirate books aren’t done very well)—but I’m currently living very close to the sea and I often go walking along the coast and it’s so beautiful and humbling to watch it crashing against the rocks. I do also love a lot of the history and folklore around the sea and dockyards—I love dark tales of Cornish smugglers or Scottish selkies—and being near the sea over the past year has had me itching to read some stories that leave the taste of salt water on my lips.
Near the end of 2020 I read Rebecca Roanhorse’s new high fantasy novel, Black Sun, which I really enjoyed, and quite a lot of it just happened to take place on a ship. I’ve managed to accumulate quite a few fantasy novels in which the sea plays a central role and I’d love to cross all of them off my TBR this year, so I thought I’d share them with you!
Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb
From the author of the classic Farseer trilogy, Ship of Magic is the first part of the Liveship Traders. Set in a land bordering the Six Duchies, Robin Hobb begins her epic of pirates, talking ships, magic, sea serpents, slave revolts, dashing heroes and bloody battles.
Wizardwood, the most precious commodity in the world, comes only from the Rain Wilds. But only a liveship can negotiate the perilous waters of the Rain Wild River, and liveships are hard to come by. They quicken only when three family members from successive generations have died upon their deck.
The liveship Vivacia is about to undergo her quickening: Althea Vestrit waits for the ship that she loves more than anything in the world to awaken. But her dream of taking her father’s place at Vivacia’s helm is not to be, for her family have other plans…
And the dark, charming pirate Kennit also lusts after such a ship: he well knows the power of wizardwood and has plans of his own…
I finally started Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series last year and read the first trilogy, but decided to take a break from the series after finding Assassin’s Quest disappointing. Ship of Magic is the first book in the next trilogy, following completely different characters, and it’s the series of Hobb’s I hear praised the most. I don’t think I’ve seen a single bad review. I’m very excited to start it asap!
These Rebel Waves by Sara Raasch
Adeluna is a soldier. Five years ago, she helped the magic-rich island of Grace Loray overthrow its oppressor, Argrid, a country ruled by religion. But adjusting to postwar life has not been easy. When an Argridian delegate vanishes during peace talks with Grace Loray’s new Council, Argrid demands brutal justice—but Lu suspects something more dangerous is at work.
Devereux is a pirate. As one of the outlaws called stream raiders who run rampant on Grace Loray, he pirates the island’s magic plants and sells them on the black market. But after Argrid accuses raiders of the diplomat’s abduction, Vex becomes a target. An expert navigator, he agrees to help Lu find the Argridian—but the truth they uncover could be deadlier than any war.
Benat is a heretic. The crown prince of Argrid, he harbors a secret obsession with Grace Loray’s forbidden magic. When Ben’s father, the king, gives him the shocking task of reversing Argrid’s fear of magic, Ben has to decide if one prince can change a devout country—or if he’s building his own pyre.
As conspiracies arise, Lu, Vex, and Ben will have to decide who they really are . . . and what they are willing to become for peace.
This YA novel is the first in a fantasy duology which I believe is partially inspired by the Spanish Inquisition, and that’s the main reason I haven’t unhauled this one yet. I received this in a Fairyloot box and I have tried to start it a couple of times and simply haven’t been invested, but it’s a novel I’d really like give a fair chance to because, despite the fairly meh reviews I’ve seen, I feel like I could love it. I have quite a few YA fantasies I’ve received in Fairyloot boxes that I need to get to, so here’s hoping I can at least cross this one off my TBR in 2021!
The Bone Ships by R.J. Barker
Two nations at war. A prize beyond compare.
For generations, the Hundred Isles have built their ships from the bones of ancient dragons to fight an endless war.
The dragons disappeared, but the battles for supremacy persisted.
Now the first dragon in centuries has been spotted in far-off waters, and both sides see a chance to shift the balance of power in their favour. Because whoever catches it will win not only glory, but the war.
I’ve heard so many good things about this series—both imyril and Tammy have sung its praises, and are the reason I picked up a copy—and with the second book now out and also receiving 5 star reviews here, there, and everywhere, I need to cross it off my TBR. I’ve said before that I’ve never been a fantasy reader who’s drawn to books with dragons, but I’ve seen far too many good things about this series to not try it.
The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar
Aleja whiles away her days in her family’s dusty tavern in Seville, dreaming of distant lands and believing in the kind of magic that she’s only ever read about in books. After all, she’s always being told that girls can’t be explorers.
But her life is changed forever when adventure comes for her in the form of a fabled vessel called the Ship of Shadows. Crewed by a band of ruthless women, with cabin walls dripping with secrets, the ship has sailed right out of a legend. And it wants Aleja.
Once on board its shadowy deck, she begins to realize that the sea holds more secrets than she ever could have imagined. The crew are desperately seeking something, and their path will take them through treacherous waters and force them to confront nightmare creatures and pitch-dark magic. It will take all of Aleja’s strength and courage to gain the trust of her fellow pirates – and discover what they are risking everything to find.
I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of this MG novel last year after hearing Gavin @ How to Train Your Gavin mention it. Not only does it open in Seville, which I visited almost two years ago and is a city I’ve always been interested in, but this is a tale of a girl who joins a crew of ruthless women and that is the kind of energy I need in 2021. I want to read more MG this year and this one sounds right up my street!
Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
Thief and con-man extraordinaire, Locke Lamora, and the ever lethal Jean Tannen have fled their home city and the wreckage of their lives. But they can’t run forever and when they stop they decide to head for the richest, and most difficult, target on the horizon. The city state of Tal Verarr. And the Sinspire.
The Sinspire is the ultimate gambling house. No-one has stolen so much as a single coin from it and lived. It’s the sort of challenge Locke simply can’t resist…
…but Locke’s perfect crime is going to have to wait.
Someone else in Tal Verarr wants the Gentleman Bastards’ expertise and is quite prepared to kill them to get it. Before long, Locke and Jean find themselves engaged in piracy. Fine work for thieves who don’t know one end of a galley from another.
I finally read The Lies of Locke Lamora in 2019 and loved it, but for some reason haven’t picked up this second book in the series even though I’ve owned it for a year. I love fantasy novels about con artists and I love Italian-inspired fantasy so this series is basically my dream, but Lynch is writing the novels so slowly I’ve been pacing myself. With the fourth novel coming out this year, though (I think), I should continue with the series before I forget too much from the first book and this one looks piratey!