Book Reviews · Fantasy

The Forever Sea by Joshua Phillip Johnson

Kindred Greyreach keeps The Errant afloat. She sings the language of the hearthfire and builds complicated structures of bone to prevent the ship from sinking below the prairie grasses. Kindred learned everything she knows from her grandmother, the legendary Marchess. But the Marchess has disappeared, walking into the forest-sea as if she were walking down a set of stairs. Kindred needs to find the truth: why and how did the Marchess disappear? Can Kindred trust her own people? And most importantly: what lies below the sea? 

Thank you to NetGalley for providing an early reading copy in exchange for an honest review!

Before I go into what this book is about, I just want to say what an incredible debut this is, so if you read no further, you will at least have my whole-hearted recommendation to read this if you’re looking for a new and original fantasy story!

The Forever Sea is set in a world in which the ocean is not a great expanse of water but rather an endless carpet of grassland, prairie, and forest that stretches out over the horizon and down into the depths. The ships that sail over this grassy sea are held up by magical hearthfires, controlled and guided by those who can sing to the fire to affect the ship’s speed, direction, and ability to stay aloft. Kindred, our main character, is one of those people, a hearthfire keeper, and she is one of only two who can actually hear the fire’s music and understands the flame’s words. She is our bridge into this magnificently strange world, since she has enough knowledge to be a good guide, but is young enough that she is also learning alongside the reader.

There are a lot of plots twisting through the book, the main one being that Kindred’s grandmother, the famous Marchess, has walked off of her ship and into the sea, from which no one ever returns. This sparks in Kindred a desire to understand why, and she gives in little by little into the call of the prairie sea, trying to find a way to reach the bottom without dying, in the hopes of finding the Marchess and discovering what lies beneath the surface. There are a lot of other factors pushing the story forward, and Johnson has done a really good job balancing everything together so that it is all connected and all important enough that the reader wants to follow every path to its completion.

The world is also really well built, and there are a lot of allusions to other places that we don’t explore in the narrative, and mentions of legends and stories that have influenced this society; myths of what lies beneath the prairie grasses, of those who have gone beyond the horizon and found a land of magic, of the mysterious Once-City, home to the pirates that terrorise the seas.

The story is also framed in a way I really like, by having someone called ‘the storyteller’ travelling in a dark and dangerous land, eventually coming across a camp full of people trying to survive their harsh surroundings, and they are the ones listening to Kindred’s story alongside us, the readers. I won’t say too much about this setting, because it is slowly revealed over the course of the novel between breaks in the storyteller’s tale, and presents its own intriguing plot that I’m hoping will continue in the next book.

My only criticismof The Forever Sea is that sometimes there was a little too much inner monologuing by Kindred, and there were times when the story would have benefitted form moving faster instead of having the character stop and reflect in an aside while the action unfurls around her, but I think that’s an easy habit to get into, as a writer, because there is so much information you need to convey, and overall it wasn’t a terrible use of the technique. I just wanted a bit more action at times!

As I said at the start, this book has my whole-hearted recommendation, and I am eagerly awaiting the continuation of the story to find out where Kindred will end up.

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