I received this book for free from Book Expo America in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper
Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers on September 23rd, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Witches, Young Adult
Source: Book Expo America
A sweeping historical romance about a witch who foresees her own murder--and the one boy who can help change her future.
Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island's whalers safe at sea, but her mother has forced her into a magic-free world of proper manners and respectability. When Avery dreams she's to be murdered, she knows time is running out to unlock her magic and save herself.
Avery finds an unexpected ally in a tattooed harpoon boy named Tane--a sailor with magic of his own, who moves Avery in ways she never expected. Becoming a witch might stop her murder and save her island from ruin, but Avery discovers her magic requires a sacrifice she never prepared for.
As with any negative review, particularly of a debut author, this is somewhat painful to write. I picked up Salt & Storm hoping for interesting magic adventures with stunning world building and the possibility of a nice romance. And I’m left extremely disappointed on all counts. So much so that at a mere quarter of the book, I was extremely close to leaving it unfinished (and we know how bad I am at DNFing). I pushed through anyway but… that didn’t change my opinion.
My primary complaint about Salt & Storm sadly comes down to the writing. It didn’t work for me at all. It was so amateurish, clunky, and awkward. From describing a POC character as having “cinnamon-colored skin”, to calling the nice neighborhood on the island as “up lighthouse” (leading to awkward sentences as “I don’t bother heading up lighthouse”), to the lingo used for Avery’s dream telling ability (“Will you tell my dream? I would like to know what it means.”), to the main character stating she has “clear, cloudless gray” eyes, there were way too many instances of awkward sentences that made me do a double take. Some of it you could probably write off to my reading an advanced copy, and hopefully, some of this would be weeded out before the finished copies were printed, but… it’s a lot. It didn’t work for me and constantly pulled me out of the story. I ended up skim reading parts so that I wouldn’t get hung up on how bad the writing was. That’s… not good news.
When I next wake, two kindnesses: my wrists are no longer chained and a bowl of broth sits on the stool in front of me. I stare at it for a long time. Although I can’t remember the last time I ate, it might as well have been a bowl of sand. Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper (ARC)
That’s my mother’s name. Essie Roe. I don’t think I ever mentioned that. On one of the very rare occasions my grandmother spoke of my mother, she told me that she’d named my mother for the sounds of waves on the shoreline, whisper-quiet in the morning: Ehhhss-eeee ehhhssss-eeee. Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper (ARC)
But when the writing wasn’t bothering me with its awkwardness, it was confusing me with how completely inauthentic it was. This is a historical fantasy, which I may not have known before starting the book, but quickly became obvious due to a lack of technology yet references to Earth locales – the story taking place on an island off the coast of Massachusetts. For more than half of the book, I was trying to figure out exactly when this takes place though. They referred to the civil war as taking place in the past, but then Avery references wearing “the new dress [her mother had] flown in from Paris”. Possibly, this was an error, but I was confused as fuck. That possible innocent sentence aside, there weren’t enough context clues to let me figure it out. There were no rich details about architecture, clothing, hairstyles, dialogue, mannerisms. Everything was described as simply as possible: a dress = white with a blue ribbon, a hairstyle = like a proper girl hairstyle. Towards the end, Avery even says she wants, “A blue house with yellow shutters.” That’s. Just. No.
So, fair enough, around halfway it does become clear that this story happens JUST after the civil war – so in the late 1860s. But still, I didn’t feel that. I’m all for historical fantasy, you know, but you have to make it believable and authentic. From the narrations, dialogue, and mannerisms this honestly could have taken place in our generation. It hinted at a lack of research and kept me from being fully engaged in the story. I was just confused about it for so long. And it didn’t feel like having it set in our world really added anything. I was just wondering why this couldn’t have been in a fantasy world entirely, because that would have cut out the confusion and my gripes about the inauthentic setting.
But okay. Writing complaints aside, I still don’t have many positive things to say about the book. Avery, the main character, is a witch of Prince Island. She’s been kept from her magic by her mother until she dreams that she will be murdered (right, she can see the meaning behind dreams). Knowing the protective nature of the status of being the Roe witch, she tries to escape her mother’s clutches and unlock her magic, and things happen. Avery bored me to death. She’s boring, cardboard, nondescript. She’s overly dramatic, which causes some really predictable problems. I couldn’t relate to her at all.
The magic was sadly underdeveloped – as was this whole whaling concept that was a big point of the premise. Sure, they live on a whaling island, so the witch’s main task is selling protective charms to the sailors but that’s about it. We don’t get to see a lot of magic because Avery is kept away from it for the most part. When it does set in, it’s all washed up in the clunky writing and I just cannot even care.
But the sad thing is the story becomes hopelessly intertwined with this romantic arc. Admittedly it is important to the story. But it’s a freaking trap. It doesn’t start out as instalove, no. The two are hesitant about each other but enter into a partnership that would be mutually beneficial. Then, a dramatic thing happens, they kiss, and mere days later they’re spouting I LOVE YOU and I WILL STAY WITH YOU and I WANT TO MARRY YOU AND BE WITH YOU ALWAYS. That’s when I start backing awayyyyy. I mean, it’s the 1860s, so instalove *was* kind of more common, but this didn’t have that tone – because I didn’t feel the setting at all. No, it just felt like two melodramatic, obsessive teenagers, and as soon as they were serious about each other, I was off that ship because NO I DO NOT WANT THAT PLEASE STOP.
The plot was… meh. It had some interesting points – some twists that did intrigue me and make me wonder, “Hmm, how does that turn out?” But they were few and far between. It is a standalone, and there’s something to be said for that, but it was very surface level. I feel like there were a lot of discarded ideas along the way, and it lacked cohesion. The ending was particularly boring, because there is a clear climax, with a shocker I was not really expecting, but then it goes on for 50 more pages that completely lost my interest. There were a bunch of last minute infodumps to try to tie up all the loose strings, but I didn’t feel like it worked for me. Overall, the story was pretty boring, NGL.