I really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Seafarer’s Kiss, which was some of the best F/F fantasy I’ve read, so when I saw that there was going to be a sequel, I was very excited! The Navigator’s Touch is an excellent addition to Ragna and Ersel’s story.
Book: The Navigator’s Touch by Julia Ember
Read before: An excerpt!
Ownership: E-ARC provided by NetGalley for fair review.
Where The Seafarer’s Kiss was from Ersel’s perspective, showing us the intricacies of life under the sea, The Navigator’s Touch is from Ragna’s, and we follow her on her journey to get revenge on Haakon, the man responsible for the sacking of her village. I loved getting to see the backstory behind how Ragna ended up on the ice shelf where we met her. It really fleshed her out as a character for me, where she was a little bit aloof in the first book, and I loved her voice. Mirroring this, Ersel became a lot more mysterious in this book – I thought it was very clever not to have the two viewpoint characters quite understand each other.
Ragna was a fascinating character for me, with her magical tattoos and the way she was learning to cope with having one hand. I really liked that she didn’t lose any of her power by losing a hand – I was worried that it might turn out she’d have a bit of map permanently missing, but her disability is not used as a plot point like this. This is definitely ‘a little bit inspired by’ Peter Pan rather than ‘a retelling’ or ‘a prequel to’. I loved the nods to it (realising why Smyian had been included made me laugh), but this isn’t an outright Captain Hook backstory. In fact, there’s really only hints at it in the final few pages.
What you get instead is an interesting revenge story, with a great balance of adventure and introspection. I would have liked the mermaids to feature much more – in the first chapter, it looked like they might, but the majority of this story takes place on land. I did love how much more prominent Loki was in the storyline this time, and I think this went a really long way to addressing the issues that some reviewers raised about The Seafarer’s Kiss (namely that having the only genderqueer character be the antagonist was problematic). In The Navigator’s Touch, not only is Loki much more sympathetic, proactive, and three-dimensional, but there is also another genderqueer character, Aslaug, who is equally complex. I don’t know if this was a direct reaction to the criticism, but the expansion of the roles of genderqueer characters is brilliant to see.
Ooh, also, it’s slightly spoilery, but I really applaud Julia Ember’s decision not to give Ersel and Ragna a strictly happy ending. Too often, especially in YA, characters will throw away all their personal goals for the sake of a relationship, so I loved seeing both women stick to their convictions. Although seeing them ride off into the sunset would have been fulfilling in one way, I found the open-ended-ness extremely satisfying and believable, and it made me love both characters more.
I loved returning to this world, and I think if you enjoyed the first book, you should love this. F/F fantasy is really making strides and this is an excellent example of a character-driven work that is still really magical. I highly recommend picking it up!