This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
26.01.21 / Fantasy / Titan Books / Paperback / 608pp / 978-1789093377
Target Audience: Readers looking for a refreshing take on a fantasy adventure into the unknown filled with monsters, magic, pirates and nature in its purest form.
About The Forever Sea
A story of hope and adventure, of loss and sacrifice, of the blue-sky surface world far above, where ships sail upon the endless grasses, a story of the Forever Sea, a story of you and I…
Every story has its beginning and this one starts when a young sailor, Kindred Greyreach, hearthfire keeper and sailor aboard The Errant, receives some devastating news. Her grandmother—The Marchess, legendary captain and hearthfire keeper—has stepped from her vessel and disappeared into the Forever Sea. But the note she leaves Kindred suggests this was not an act of suicide. Something waits in the depths, and the Marchess has set out to find it.
To follow in her grandmother’s footsteps, Kindred will embroil herself in conflicts bigger than she could imagine: a water war; a mythic pirate city where monsters lurk; battles against beasts of the deep, driven to the brink of madness; and the elusive promise of a world below the grasses.
Of all this, and much more, sing, memory.
THE FOREVER SEA is a story about the beauty and threat of nature and the relationship between finite natural resources and infinite greed. It’s about leaving behind everything that is familiar and plunging into the terrifying unknown.
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The great thing about fantasy for me is that the only true boundary in its creation is the limitations of a writer’s imagination. Joshua Phillip Johnson’s ability to craft and create a memorable fantasy world, and the adventures within it, is outstanding and I had an absolutely awesome time reading The Forever Sea.
The novel tells us of the adventures of Kindred Greyreach, shared by a mysterious storyteller. Kindred is an apprentice hearthfire keeper aboard a ship called The Errant. Keeping the magical hearthfire, building it with bones of dead captains, singing to the fire and understanding it’s voice is a vital part of running a ship. It allows a crew to sail upon the Forever Sea, a vast and unfathomably deep prairie filled with magical flowers, vicious pirates, savage, starving monsters and many other mythological nightmares. Collecting food, water and resources to keep their home of Arcadia alive and well.
Though as each voyage passes, Arcadia continues to change under the nefarious hands of The Collective, a group trying to unite the city in its own interests and squash out the disorderly. Kindred and the crew of The Errant try to defy the will of The Collective one too many times, ending in a blazing riot. Barely surviving, The Errant manages to flee Arcadia but with no place safe to dock and an angry, powerful enemy stalking the seas, the crew have to sail further into the sea than ever before. They sail for the Once-City, home of the pirates, a legendary dwelling that may be their last chance of survival in a bountiful yet perilous sea of grass that hides true horrors that will break even the strongest minds, if you don’t sink to its depths first.
I had an absolute blast with The Forever Sea. I was entranced by the vivid, compelling nature of the narrative and the unforgettable world it occupies. JPJ went all in on this fascinating fantasy world and it certainly pays off. I was a bit sceptical going in. Boats fuelled by magical fires sailing on a grass sea, could have been weird or it could have be brilliant. Luckily it was the latter. JPJ invests a lot of time and energy in atmospheric, descriptive detail that really builds up momentum and emotion in every moment.
And super-charging these events with swashbuckling chaos and exciting set-pieces that put me right on the deck in all the action. Whether it be curious, desperate, lonely or defiant, each triumph and failure punctuates Kindred’s journey and left me wondering more than ever, what exists beneath those waves?
So I’ve spoken about the world and narrative, now to Kindred. Though I thought that Kindred’s escapades were enthralling in all the right ways, especially in the second half of the novel, I am still in the fence about Kindred herself. There is a lot to discover in her story. An orphan raised by her grandmother, a respected captain. Kindred has a unique relationship with the hearthfire. Where others try to break the fire to do their bidding, Kindred works with it, believing in the fire and bonding with it. Her grandmother’s influence is apparent throughout the story, mainly when it comes to the sea itself.
She does not fear the sea like others, Kindred almost wants to be under its waves more than above them. Kindred is an intriguing central character and I eagerly followed her travels but… she’s a bit of a selfish rebel. To the point that she manipulates most situations to her advantage without worry about the cost (usually the lives or souls of her crew). She barely listens to even those she loves and it works out for her but very rarely anyone else. It can be a bit grinding at times.
On a better note, JPJ gives us two amazing characters in the form of the sea and the hearthfire. Both with their own rich depths, abilities, personalities and secrets. Both appearing in many alarming and beautiful ways (those lantern bearers and grey soupy flames with no doubt visit me in my dreams). And both leaving me wanting to know so much more about them, desperate for the story to continue.
I also liked the crew of The Errant, even Little Wing who continues to break further and further with each of Kindred’s betrayals. And Ragged Sarah with her ability to talk to the birds and her history with the pirates. It is a solid, all female cast. I’m still getting used to the concept in books now that all men, other than a very select few, are complete bastards. That idea is very apparent here and though it makes sense narratively, it’s still jarring but ultimately it works well overall.
JPJ has reached far outside the box and I found it to be a fascinating area of fantasy that is packed with nature, wildness and mystery whilst also exploring several interesting themes. Water (or lack of) is a key underlying problem in the plot that governs society and its choices. Alongside The Forever Sea seemingly dying itself at an alarming rate, these are important parallels to our own world that JPJ has included in a well thought out, harmonious way.
The Forever Sea invites Kindred to its depths in many ways and the more she edges into, the more she feels a longing to join it. The ending of The Forever Sea sets up what I had been expecting (and wanted) all along and the only problem I have with that is that I have to wait for the next book! The Forever Sea is fantasy at its most creative, adventurous and curious. To be amongst Kindred and her crew, sailing the green waves, fighting monsters and men, was a satisfying read that can only go up (or in this case down) from here.
About Joshua Phillip Johnson
Joshua Johnson lives in Minnesota, in the Prairie Pothole Region of the United States (which was an inspiration for the environment of the novel) and teaches classes about writing, literature, and the environment at the University of Minnesota Morris. His work has been published in Metaphorosis Magazine, The Future Fire, and Syntax & Salt, among others.