When I saw that Sweet Black Waves had forbidden romance in it, I was instantly sold. While I’m not super familiar with the Tristan and Isolde tale, I have seen the 2006 film starring James Franco and Sophia Myles. I really enjoyed it when I saw it years ago, so I went into this novel expecting my heart to be broken at some point. And the truth is… It was but in a different way.
I received this ARC through a trade. It is not a final copy.
TRIGGER WARNING: Self-harm
Title: Sweet Black Waves (Sweet Black Waves #1)
Author: Kristina Pérez
Release date: June 5, 2018
Genre: Young adult, fantasy, romance
Length: 448 pages
Synopsis: (via Goodreads) “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.”
While I did enjoy a lot of things about this book, it wasn’t until the ending where my rating dipped lower than I had originally planned. But I’ll get to that later… First off, the pros: the characters are well-fleshed out, the plot intricate, and the romance completely swoon-worthy! The magic, too, was also lovely, and in this ancient Britain-inspired world, I definitely enjoyed reading it.
Truthfully, Branwen is a great main character. Her loyalties and her inner struggle of duty and family versus following her own heart and dreams. I thought she has such a strong resolve, especially as the story progresses, and she’s challenged each and every direction. There’s a lot going on with Branwen, and when she does discover her magic, I like how she feels the call and willingly takes on the Old Ones place on her. However, we also see Branwen’s hesitation to share any of this with those who are closest to her, and this, in turn, brings unfortunate events to her toward the end of the book.
I often had to remind myself of Eseult’s age and her circumstances. As the story progressed, she became increasingly more frustrating. I tried to be understanding–to put myself in her position: a princess who must do what is right by her family and her kingdom. And yet… She’s stubborn, and she brings conflict nearly everywhere she goes. It’s interesting to see how her own mother responds to her, and I’m a bit sad that neither of them seem to understand one another. Branwen sees this, too, and it drives a wedge between herself and the princess.
As for the man Branwen loves… Well, what’s not to like about him? I found his interactions with Branwen to be adorable. I loved the bit of snark and banter he provided, and enjoyed the connection the two automatically had for one another. Yes, this definitely has a bit of the insta-love trope, but I don’t mind it too much as I felt their attraction to one another was genuine and under fated circumstances.
Yet I found the plot to drag a bit, especially the last 1/4 of the book. I thought we would dive a bit more into the action, and while we tasted some of that, it lacked in ways I can’t quite explain. I thought this particular part could have been used to bring certain characters closer together, but it did the exact opposite. Branwen is faced with a choice and put in particular situations throughout the book, some good, some bad. And it’s the bad ones that really caused me to rate this book 3 stars.
I thought the ending was rushed. The main goal of two certain characters don’t go as well and Branwen is left to deal with the consequences. It was incredibly frustrating to read. I understand that characters can’t get everything they want, but I don’t think Branwen deserved her fate in this book. At this point, I see her turning into an anti-heroine, much like Adelina in Marie Lu’s The Young Elites series. This is an ARC, so it’s possible things have changed. I’m hoping for a few scenes in particular but… I’m not sure I want to read it to find out. Is that bad?
As for the trigger warning, it doesn’t occur until the last few chapters of the book. It becomes quite obvious that one of the characters is quite miserable. I’d like to save that maybe she has an anxiety order of some kind, but as I have never experienced that, I cannot speak for it with 100% certainty. There is somewhat of a graphic scene in terms of self-harming, but I think with a decent warning, one can mentally prepare for that.
I will say that I am intrigued to read the sequel, Wild Savage Stars. The author has built up some great tension and suspense, a lot of things with potential for the next book. However… I’m not super eager, and really wish I could give this book a higher rating.