Sea of Strangers by Erica Cameron. ★★★
Sea of Strangers is the sequel to Erica Cameron’s YA, survival oriented fantasy Island of Exiles. This is a series you definitely need to read in order, so head on over to my review of Island of Exiles if you’re not familiar with it. While Sea of Strangers had a bit of middle-of-the-trilogy slump, this is still a series I plan on continuing with.
Khya and her friends and allies have fled Shiara to travel to Ryogan, the home of Varan and the other immortals who once ruled Khya’s life. To save her brother, Khya needs to kill Varan. Which is kind of difficult given that he’s, you know, immortal. But Khya hopes that the secret of his immortality lies somewhere in the mountains of Ryogan, a country unlike anything she’s known. If she can find the secrets of immortality, maybe she can find some way (or weapon) with which she can defeat Varan and save not only her brother but all of Shiara and Ryogan.
As with Island of Exiles, a big draw of Sea of Strangers is the sexual and gender diversity. Khya’s society has a third gender, ebet, and recognizes that asexual people exist. In my review of the first book, I wondered if ebet was something that was assigned at birth to certain individuals (maybe intersex people?) and there’s enough material in Sea of Strangers to suggest this is true. Back on the subject of sexual orientation, Khya’s attracted to multiple genders (so either bi or pan), and there’s actually a female love interest introduced in Sea of Strangers. It’s not a love triangle in the traditional sense — Khya’s relationship with Tessan is still the most prominent. Rather, it’s opening the way for a polyamorous relationship somewhere down the line. Also, I think Tessan’s demisexual? There’s a section where he was talking about his attraction to Khya, and it screamed “demi” to me. Given that the author’s ace, I’d guess I’m on the right track.
I continue to enjoy the world building in this series. Moving the narrative to Ryogan expands the world in a nice way, and it actually gives an even clearer picture of the society Khya grew up in, just from the contrast. Plus, Sea of Strangers gives some nice new twists to the magic of the series and how it’s treated in Ryogan. There was a visit to a prison for mages that I found a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, I think Sea of Strangers suffers from some middle-book slump. Khya and her allies are traveling around, trying to find a weapon to kill Varan, the big bad, with. I sort of felt like the narrative was trying to kill time until the big show down in the next book. Sea of Strangers exists to bridge the gap between the high-powered introduction and what’s promising to be a wonderful finale in the third book. By contrast, it looses some of its urgency and drive.
Sea of Strangers also contains some flaws I noticed with the first book. I still hate the abundant use of conlang, which at times feels unnecessary. Additionally, I think characterization could be stronger and more compelling. Khya’s the most developed character, and even she doesn’t leap off the page and into my heart. I know, that’s very vague and unspecific! It’s just that some characters have this special quality, you know? Khya doesn’t really have it, although there’s nothing specifically objectionable about her. I had more trouble with the supporting characters, who I thought could be more developed. I’d like to see more of Tessan beyond his relationship with Khya, and I could have trouble keeping track of some of the more minor characters.
For all that, I’ll probably read the conclusion. While Sea of Strangers didn’t quite live up to its predecessor, it did manage to stoke my anticipation for the third and final book.
I received an ARC in exchange for a free and honest review.