Oh gosh, Viper was a book I fell in love with from the moment I first saw it. Things I adore on covers are intricate graphic design, metallic foil, and snakes, so this really hit the jackpot for me! Then I realised it was a swashbuckling, piratical adventure with fantasy politics and a kickass heroine, and I was completely sold.
Book: Viper by Bex Hogan
Read before: No
Ownership: Proof copy sent by publisher for review. All opinions my own.
Ah, this book is just so much fun! I fell in love with Marianne, our main character, almost immediately as I watched her navigate through her complex relationship with her father and his crew. As the daughter of the feared Viper, a bloodthirsty pirate captain tasked by the king with keeping the seas under control, she’s had a very tough upbringing as her father tries to shape her into his perfect successor. She’s so strong, but not in the ways that the Viper wishes she was – she doesn’t see the point in ruling through fear and cruelty. It’s easy to root for her to find her own way, and I loved getting to know her and seeing her find her strength. I loved her fascination with gaining medical knowledge (I’ll never not be a sucker for magic-plant-healing!), and I love the subtle magic that she begins to experience – but that’s for you to find out about when you read!
This is pretty brutal in places, but it’s definitely not a dark or heavy read – there’s a lot of danger and peril, but the feel that I got overall was just ‘ADVENTURE’! It’s a real page-turner that almost brushes on nostalgia for the pirate stories that enthralled you when you were younger, but with a fresh and feminist take on things that brings it up-to-date. One thing I really loved was that very little of the Viper’s disappointment with Marianne was due to the fact that she was female (there is one comment made that he wishes that she was a boy, but it’s definitely not in a context where that’s okay). One of the single most competent people on the ship is a woman, and gender seems to be no barrier in the pirate world. You also know I love a bit of politicking in my fantasy, and the slow unfolding of Marianne’s small ship-based life into a huge, world-crossing tangle really bodes well for the sequels, which I can’t wait for! I don’t want to spoil a single twist of this plot, but though the nautical swashbucklery continues throughout, this is so much bigger than one girl finding her place in the world.
The settings are amazing, too! You can feel the sea-spray as you read, and I thought that the descriptions of the different islands was just brilliant. This is the kind of world-building that keeps me enthralled – although each island has a different speciality and culture, you get the sense of how things are all tied together, particularly in terms of the economy. It’s really refreshing to see a world that doesn’t fall at one end of the scale (from a land with one city with ALL industry and everyone else is farmers, to a land where people are arbitrarily separated by trade etc but everyone seems to have everything). Although each island has different natural resources, it’s clear that there’s a real, functioning world here, and that the piratical shenanigans are actually affecting people’s day to day lives. I could ramble about this for hours, but it’s just a really well-textured world.
Though I adored the whole book, I think it’s going to blossom even more as a full trilogy, and could well be one of my favourite YA fantasies of all time. I mean, pirates, badass women, hints of magic and medicine? It’s INCREDIBLE. Look, if you weren’t already suckered in by that amazing cover, then put this one on pre-order for its story. It’s a great debut, and a great start to the trilogy. Five out of five cats!