Books

The Forever Sea (Joshua Philip Johnson) – Book Review

There are certain things that you come to expect from fantasy stories after you’ve read a few of them; tropes that not only become synonymous with the genre, but are something of a comfort; stuff that makes you feel at home when you read it. Even when books don’t include all of these there are usually some, and as such it feels like a really rare thing to come across a story that feels so fresh and original that it throws these tropes out of the window and creates something completely new. This is what The Forever Sea does, and it’s absolutely stunning because of it.

The story follows Kindred, a young woman who works on board a ship that travels across the Forever Sea. It’s her job to keep the magical fire on board the ship going, a fire with strange, multicoloured flames that uses enchanted bones to move the ship.

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This is already different and strange enough, but then you learn about the Forever Sea itself, and it’s a thing of wonder. Instead of a regular, water filled sea, its made of grass. Grass and flowering plants make up this massive sea that stretches on seemingly forever, a sea that’s so deep that no one has ever seen the bottom. The ships that sail this sea use their magical fires to not just move across this sea, but to stay afloat, rather than sinking into the monster-filled depths below.

This set up is one of the most unique I’ve seen, and the Forever Sea itself makes for an amazing and wondrous location, with the scenes where our characters are traversing its infinite expanse some of the most compelling and engaging scenes I’ve read in a long time. However, unfortunately for Kindred and her crew they can’t just keep sailing the sea, gathering the unique plants to sell in town. When a local official sets into motion events that result in Kindred and her crew being wanted people, they are forced to flee into the Forever Sea, setting out to find the mysterious Once-City, a giant floating city out in the wild ‘Roughs’ of the sea, home to pirates and magics.

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There’s a good portion of the book given over to this part of the story, where Kindred and her crew are forced to flee for their lives, and it ‘s full of a sense of wonder and excitement as they have to avoid the ships chasing them, dodge vicious pirate vessels, and even contend with the creatures that make the grasses of the Forever Sea their home. But it’s not all the book gives us. There’s a huge sense of mystery to the book, one that begins with the loss of Kindred’s grandmother, who stepped out into the Forever Sea and vanished, that accompanies the reader right up to the final pages. It’s a journey of faith, one where Kindred has to learn to follow her heart, to trust her instincts, and discover her place in the world.

There’s so much about this book that I want to talk about, about the amazing world building, the moments of beauty and wonder, as well as the moments of horror, about the amazing journeys the characters go through, about their entire views on the world changing, but I can’t, not without spoiling big portions of the story. I’m not going to do that, because I feel like I’ve said too much already, and this is very much a book where the journey through reading it, the things that the reader gets to see and discover along the way, makes up an important part of the experience.

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The Forever Sea has a lot of excitement in it, lots of action and adventure, but it also has slower moments, times where its characters are allowed to take a breather, and given the room they need to grow and expand. No one is the same come the end of the book as they were when it started, the Forever Sea changes them, and I think it weirdly has a strange effect on the reader too. It gives you a sense of wonder and amazement unique to itself, and lets the beauty and strangeness of its setting really get under your skin. Despite being nearly 500 pages long, by the time it ended I wanted to stay in that world, I wanted to learn more about the mysteries it held, and to see what happens next to the characters; luckily this is the first in a series, but the wait for the next books is going to be one that really tests my patience.

The Forever Sea is out on 26th January from Titan Books.

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