book review: seafire by natalie c. parker

Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
Razorbill, 384 pp.
Published August 28, 2018

DISCLAIMER: I received a free physical ARC of this title from the publisher for review consideration. This did not inform or influence my opinion in any way.

After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, whose lives have been turned upside down by Aric and his men. The crew has one misson: stay alive, and take down Aric's armed and armored fleet.

But when Caledonia's best friend and second-in-command just barely survives an attack thanks to help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether or not to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all...or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for?

As the first book in a new fantasy series, Seafire achieves practically everything required of it. Caledonia and her crew develop into a diverse and well-rounded group of young women to follow, its plot addresses both short- and long-term obstacles to maintain heightened tension, and readers are introduced to large and varied new world. Parker focuses heavily on the importance of friendships and the families we build for ourselves, sprinkling in an enticing dash of romance that never overshadows the relationships between the girls.

Caledonia strikes the right balance between a seasoned captain and a girl still caught up in the guilt and anger of her past. Though she doesn't always abide by her own rules, its with a reasoned acquiescence to her emotions and personal needs that feels authentic to her underlying youth. Surrounding her is a crew of diverse races, religions, and sexualities all co-existing without judgement. Standouts include Pisces, the best friend who also survived the attack on the Styx ship and a skilled diver; Lace, a younger crew member whose nickname belies her grit and intelligence; and Nettle, a girl they encounter in their travels with an excess of wit and spark.

With such an accepting crew, much of the tension on-board comes when a Bullet helps rescue Pisces' life and return her to the Mors Navis. This creates a rift between Caledonia's strict sense of vengeance and Pisces' gratitude for the help. When it's revealed that he may possess information not only on a weakness in Athair's fleet, but some of the girls' missing relatives as well, his usefulness slowly begins to outweigh the potential threat of keeping him alive. The mystery of precisely who this Bullet is unspools gradually throughout the novel; although not every development is jaw-dropping in its originality, it still brings added depth to the story.

The world in which Seafire takes place stitches together slowly. (I'm looking forward to getting a finished copy, which should hopefully include a map, since I was easily turned around with the geography at times.) Each new location and culture is pointedly different from those introduced before, building an immersive and realistic world centered around the sea and its resources.

A world-building aspect that never quite came together were the issues of a specific time period and technology. Both the weaponry and mechanics of how ships could sail were a hodge-podge of historical nods and near-future developments. There are passing references to the "old world" that disappeared sometime before Caledonia and her young crew were born; its fall presumably enabled the rise of Aric Athair and other men of his ilk. As seamlessly as the other world-building progressed, it would have been nice to get a little more history, as well.

The few minor holes that remain by the end of Seafire are easily filled in its forthcoming sequels, though. It admirably lays the groundwork for an expansive world and cast of characters that are hurtling towards a bloody final confrontation. Parker knows almost exactly how much to give her readers while still saving plenty of substance for later on, and what she's shown so far should leave them all hungering for more.


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