by Kristina Pérez
Series: Sweet Black Waves #1
Published on June 5, 2018 by Imprint
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Not you without me, not me without you.
Two proud kingdoms stand on opposite shores, with only a bloody history between them.
As best friend and lady-in-waiting to the princess, Branwen is guided by two principles: devotion to her homeland and hatred for the raiders who killed her parents. When she unknowingly saves the life of her enemy, he awakens her ancient healing magic and opens her heart. Branwen begins to dream of peace, but the princess she serves is not so easily convinced. Fighting for what's right, even as her powers grow beyond her control, will set Branwen against both her best friend and the only man she's ever loved.
Inspired by the star-crossed tale of Tristan and Eseult, this is the story of the legend’s true heroine: Branwen. For fans of Graceling and The Mists of Avalon, this is the first book of a lush fantasy trilogy about warring countries, family secrets, and forbidden romance.
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I’ve gone back and forth on what to write about Sweet Black Waves. At some points, I wanted to hate it, at others I don’t know what it was that hooked me but I kept on reading. Until I reached the end and was really pissed off (even knowing what would likely happen because this is based on the tale of Tristan and Isolde/Iseult).
The book is broken down by 3 main characters. Branwen is our primary protagonist, cousin to the princess, Eseult, and someone who holds a deep hatred for the enemy (one of which she happens to save). I liked Branwen at first but she soon took on the role of martyr for no real reason, always putting her cousin above all else which really didn’t go over well for me. Everything she did came back to Eseult and I just wanted her to make a selfish decision for once.
Princess Eseult (a.k.a. Essie) was the typical spoiled princess. Every choice she made had me shaking my head and wondering WHY she was a character. Her purpose felt like it did little more than annoy while also giving Branwen a reason to sacrifice so much. She drove me up a wall and never seemed to learn.
Finally, there was Tristan. Honestly he was probably the only blameless party because everything seemed to happen to him. I felt bad. Especially when he and Branwen started their whole romance. But he never made a strong impression either. He was the love interest and that was his story role, and my reader self expected little else from him based on how he’s portrayed.
Which, going back to that romance. . . I didn’t like it. I didn’t think Branwen was worthy for a lot of the book based on her actions, and I was over the puppy dog eyes they were throwing at each other for pages on end. And suddenly, at the end, I CARED. Because Sweet Black Waves has one of those endings that will rip your heart out (much like The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen). That ending was the one time in the entirety of this book that made me truly feel something beyond boredom or apathy.
That said, this book is well written. The characters weren’t working for me so I wasn’t connected but the writing is solid — not super special but clean enough. I would definitely read another book by this author. Though I’m not sure if I want to pick up the sequel to this one or not.
Sweet Black Waves felt like a standalone. There were some story lines that hadn’t wrapped up yet but the ending gave me that closure I look for from the end of a standalone or series finale. I’m not super familiar with the original tale so if you’re a fan of Tristan and Isolde, you may appreciate this book more. I felt it was little more than average in terms of YA fantasies and I’m not in a huge rush to pick up the sequel.