This post uses affiliate links and I may receive a small commission for purchases made through my links at no additional cost to you. Click here for more info.
None of this was a game. War was a necessity.
If you are looking for an action-packed story full of political intrigue, colonization, oppression, war, disillusionment, and religious fervor… this is the first-in-duology book for you! These Rebel Waves is not quite what I expected (pirates sailing the open seas 🏴☠️), but fortunately for me I love books like this! I think that if you have expectations about this being your typical pirate adventure you will be disappointed, so it is important to go in knowing what to expect with this one since the blurb doesn’t really help in that respect and the rumors circulating about this being about gay pirates are setting people up for disappointment.
So what’s this book about?
The prologue sets the stage five years in the past and begins strong with snippets of the harsh world and conflict through the eyes of the three young main characters and their stations within the world. I was swept away into the narrative with this engaging and well-written introduction; I was hooked and ready for more!
Following the prologue we jump to five years into the future after Grace Loray overthrew Argrid and becoming independent, but we learn that things post-revolution aren’t full of sunshine and roses. Tensions are high within Grace Loray and we are brought in as peace treaty negotiations between Grace Loray and Argrid begin (I am confused as to why it took 5 years after the war ended for this, but okay).
It is important to note that there is a LOT of backstory and worldbuilding that happens in this book and I will admit that following the prologue I felt a bit overwhelmed. I struggled for the first 16% or so with the rapid-fire alternating perspectives and trying to keep everything together. Here’s a brief breakdown of the main historical context that will help situate you while reading:
➡️ Argrid is a theocratic society that is ruled by the King chosen by the Pious God. The regime is oppressive and absolute, and is violently opposed to the magic of Grace Loray, seeking to purify everyone that doesn’t repent by fire. Argrid controls its citizens not with an army but with the Church, and its control on its citizens is complete. The Pious God has vilified magic used by Grace Loray and the punishment for sins is purification by burning. Much like the Salem Witch Trials, the citizens inform on one another and clamor to be purified. It’s frightening and heavy-handed in its fervor and made me very uncomfortable.
➡️ Grace Loray is a magic-rich island that is a melting pot – not unlike the United States – whose revolutionaries overthrew the oppressive Argridian government with the help from the unified support of the Stream Raiders.
➡️ Stream Raiders are the pirates of this world and are broken down into syndicates that closely align with their heritage. They are mistrusting of other syndicates as well as the Council established by the revolutionaries, and tensions are high between them and the new government of Grace Loray. The raiders on Grace Loray essentially live in squalor since the Council established after the end of the war monetized and legalized the sale of magical herbs, cutting into their livlihoods. The Council lives essentially in a bubble that is unaware of the really bad conditions many of its citizens live in.
I wish that the information been spread out a bit throughout the book rather than presented largely at the front of the book to give me a bit more time to acclimate to the world and its cast of characters; however, I am really glad that I stuck with it because I definitely settled into the narrative around 20% in, and it was around that time that the POV shifts weren’t as frequent.
While I will admit that I struggled a bit with having three perspectives, I really appreciated having the points of view from a raider (Vex), a revolutionary (Lu), and an Argridian royal (Ben) as it humanized each side. In a world where another war is brewing and conspiracies abound, it is hard to know who to trust and falling in love with characters from each side helps to blur the line a bit for the reader. I once read a section of Talal Asad’s On Terrorism for one of my theory of religion courses in university and the main takeaway that stuck with me that this book reminds me of is that one person’s terrorist is another group’s revolutionary. History is written by the winners, and each of these sides feel justified in their actions. I found this incredibly thought provoking and something I look forward to seeing developed further in book 2 of this duology.
I adore these characters completely; I found each of them to be complex with their own motivations and experiences that shape their worldview, and it is interesting to see their reactions when they encounter the harsh reality that challenges those experiences. While the blurb doesn’t really ready the reader for what this book is truly about (and rumors of this being about gay pirates circulating the book blogging community don’t help), it does give a fantastic introduction to the three main characters so I won’t reiterate that. I appreciated the cast of secondary characters and their relationships with one another, especially Jakes and Nayeli, and I cannot wait to see what is in store for everyone. While I was a bit frustrated with Lu’s repetitious revelations in her mind, it did feel very human and the way a person’s mind would be reeling – it just didn’t translate well in writing (I kind of wish the POVs were in first person rather than third). As a fun note, one of my tweets mentioned that I kept picturing Vex as Vex from Lost Girl and Sara Raasch commented to let me know that it was an intentional homage! So that’s pretty cool, although it didn’t help the whole picturing Vex to look like this.
tfw your weird mental connections turns out to be an intentional easter egg from the author. 🤣🤣🤣 https://t.co/kqDUJY2JIx
— Kaleena 📚 Reader Voracious (@kalventure) August 4, 2018
‘Ours is a family of tragedy,’ Elazar would say. ‘The Pious God ordained us in blood.’
This is as much about the period following a revolution, when the revolutionaries succeed in ousting out the oppressive government and set out to create a better society for all, but as is often the case it isn’t better for everyone and sometimes the people trade one oppressor for another. Each character struggles to reconcile their view of the world with the reality others experience.
Grace Loray was a country of second chances. So Lu believed, with all her heart.
In my reading I saw an allegory for what it means to live in an assimilated culture like the United States. The characters grapple with identity – either holding onto their cultural heritage or forgetting it completely. This is definitely a coming of age story as well as a tale about growing up to realize the reality of the world is different than your idealized version. I see so much of myself in Lu’s character and I love that her idealism motivates rather than cripples her. She is not one that will simply accept the world as it is!
I love the diversity of this book, especially that the Church doesn’t care about sexuality. For all of this world’s faults and oppression, same sex relationships are normative (provided you aren’t sinning before marriage, that is!) and I appreciate fantasy worlds that have LGBT+ representation. While yes there are technically gay pirates (f/f), they are side characters and there isn’t much dedicated to that relationship (yet). While two of the three main characters are men, I definitely feel like the women of this story take center stage and would love to see more of Vex’s skills being used because I feel like he was just going along with what everyone thought (and that doesn’t jive with the reputation he has).
If you are looking for a good pirate fantasy, this book isn’t it (yet) but I think the duology is building to it. This first-in-series lays down a lot backstory and worldbuilding and is largely focused on the political posturing, intrigue, and threats. I have a feeling that the second book will be a lot better with the bulk of this book being backstory and set-up. But be warned that this ends rather abruptly with probably one of the worst cliffhangers I have ever read and I am going to sit here anxiously for the second book to find out what happens! Overall I enjoyed this book and recommend it to those who enjoy political fantasy with themes of oppression, colonization, and disillusionment.
Many thanks to HarperCollins for providing me an electronic ARC of this book via Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review. Quotations were taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon publication. You can find information about my rating criteria here.
About the Author
Sara Raasch has known she was destined for bookish things since the age of five, when her friends had a lemonade stand and she tagged along to sell her hand-drawn picture books too. Not much has changed since then — her friends still cock concerned eyebrows when she attempts to draw things and her enthusiasm for the written word still drives her to extreme measures. Her debut YA fantasy, SNOW LIKE ASHES, the first in a trilogy, came out October 14, 2014 from Balzer + Bray. It does not feature her hand-drawn pictures.