I was so excited to get my hands on These Rebel Waves early, because I just love pirates, and I also have a love of the history of botanical medicine and magic, so this sounded right up my alley. I’m extremely grateful to Shrina from Harper 360 for sending me a proof and letting me read this one!
Book: These Rebel Waves by Sara Raasch
Read before: No
Ownership: ARC provided by Harper360 for fair review.
So, first things first, this is not the book I thought it was going to be, and I had to swiftly revise my expectations when I realised that this wasn’t going to be swashbuckling from the get-go. This is a slow burn of a book, with a lot of information to learn about the world before you can get into the story. We have three main characters: Lu and Vex, who are together for most of the book, and Ben, who is separate until later on. Ben’s story starts to really kick off around page 80, in chapter 5, and Lu and Vex’s story gets going properly in chapter 6, around page 95. This is a book you need to give a chance, and those who hate info-dumping should definitely be aware of it. Personally, I can tolerate an info-dump if the world is ultimately rewarding, which I think this is!
This is probably the most grimdark I’ve seen YA fantasy get. We join the story in the tense, politically-charged period after a rebellion, where the colonised island of Grace Loray revolted against the more powerful colonisers, Argrid. Grace Loray is a very broken place, and its people have been through a lot. Lu is dealing with the aftermath of having been a child soldier in the rebellion, and while she’s a little hard to understand at first, it’s very interesting to see how her trauma has shaped her and her determination to fight for the independence of Grace Loray. I loved watching her grow and learn – though painful, it made her a lot more relatable. Ben is attempting to reconcile his fascination with magic with the fact that his father has banned it as heretical. He was the most likeable character straight off the bat, for me. I found him a little more human than Lu to begin with, since he allows himself to show more feelings (he has a boyfriend! I always like when characters come with existing relationships). It’s not often I like a male protagonist more than a female one, but Ben is great.
Over the course of the book, while there is some swashbuckling (including a crocodile fight!), the focus is a lot more on the quieter side of rebuilding after rebellion, as Lu starts to realise that maybe the institutions she had been helping to set up were damaging to the Grace Lorayans themselves. This is a book about identity, and what to do when your identity is ripped away from you, and how to find your own identity when thousands of people are unknowingly relying on you to be someone you’re not. It’s a powerful theme, and one that I think isn’t often dealt with in YA. It’s as if the end of Mockingjay was the basis for an entire series.
Oh, and the magic! All the magic is plant-based, which was super exciting for me. Plants can be used to different magical effects, whether that’s thrown for an explosion, or ingested for healing, or used another way. I wish there had been even more exploration of the magic, but it seemed like there were only a dozen or so plants that Lu was familiar with (granted, they are both rare and illegal, so that makes sense – I’m just a plant nerd). I would have loved a glossary in the back of the types of plants and their uses. I liked a lot that the magic was in the plants themselves, meaning that there was no ‘chosen one’ or magical power hierarchy – if you have access to plants, you have access to magic. Very unusual, very practical, and very cool.
I had one major bugbear with this book, and that was the naming, especially of the plants. Awacia makes you awake; Drooping Fern makes you sleepy. Very literal. The worst was Lazonade, which is a paralytic, but just made me think ‘Lazy Lemonade’. I also felt that the place names and the names of the nationalities were a little awkward – just sticking “-an” on the end of the country name is not really committing to linguistic world-building. The Argridian language itself seems to be directly Portuguese (though I’m not a fluent speaker, I can read some), which again struck me as a little bit of a placeholder. It’s not that much of a problem, but I found it a little jarring.
Overall, this is very much a Marmite book. If you go into it expecting something like Daughter of the Pirate King, you won’t like it. If you go into it expecting a quiet, introspective look at the damaging effects of colonialism, some strong, wounded characters finding themselves, and the occasional piratical moment, then you’ll get a lot out of it. My mum wouldn’t like it, but it gets a solid four cats from me, partly due to that brilliant herbal magic.