Less than a year after her fantasy debut hit UK shelves, Adrienne Young has returned to the Viking-inspired world of Sky In The Deep to capture the hearts of readers once again. The Girl the Sea Gave Back is a companion book set ten years after the epic events that united two warring clans and ended decades of bloodshed. Yet, as with any great fantasy story, evil and menace is always simmering under the surface, and here it rises up to threaten not only the characters we fell in love with in Sky but a new, unfamiliar heroine too.
Pitting sympathetic characters against each other, Young alternates the chapters between two perspectives on opposing sides. Tova is our eyes into the Svell clan, the people who found her washed ashore as a child and exploited her gift as a Truthtongue. She’s little more than a prisoner, but her life with the Svell is the only one she’s ever known and she values her fragile place amongst them. Performing her duties of casting the rune stones and looking into the future, Tova reluctantly sets the Svell on a collision course with two united clans from the east.
For readers already familiar with this world, that united clan is the Nãdhir, a peaceable tribe formed from what was formerly the rival Aska and Riki clans. Our POV into the Nãdhir is Halvard, the younger brother of Sky In The Deep’s brave and loyal warrior Fiske. Halvard was just a gentle, trusting boy when we met him before but now he’s a young man, as courageous and steadfast as his brothers. When an intended peace treaty with the Svell is obliterated by a violent coup, Halvard finds himself in a position of leadership he’s not sure he’s ready for.
From the moment they lock eyes across a grassy glade in the early light, Tova and Halvard’s fates are entwined. They’re supposed to be enemies but Tova despises her part to play in compelling the Svell to betray a clan who wanted amity. Neither she nor Halvard seek the carnage that looms over them like an ill-omened shadow; they’re characters led by their good hearts, doing what they must to survive in an unforgiving world. For Halvard that means always doing the honourable thing and stepping up when fear threatens to consume him. For Tova it isn’t quite so black and white. She hasn’t the freedom to choose where her loyalties lie, or reliable people to advise her, and it pits her against someone who isn’t actually an adversary.
“I’d never seen war the way my elders had. I was among the first generation that didn’t live to fight in a blood feud. And now, a wound that would never heal had been torn back open.”
The Girl the Sea Gave Back is both Halvard and Tova’s story. Tova is the girl of the title and her Truthtongue abilities fuel the action from start to end. Yet, having been privy to Halvard’s upbringing and clan history in Sky in the Deep, the tale feels like it belongs more to him. Part of this is due to the fact we already know and care about the character before this new story even begins. We know what he’s lost. We know what his family fought for and what they gained in uniting clans. If you’re reading this book as a standalone, without any knowledge of Halvard’s past, you’re just as likely to have more of an affinity with Tova.
What I loved about Sky In The Deep was how cinematic it was and The Girl the Sea Gave Back is just as immersive. Young has an ability to make you feel as if you’re in her story, breathing in sync with her characters and living every second of their fight. There’s a wildness to the tale that takes you out of the real world and transports you straight into the heart of the Scandinavian landscape. The battle sequences are expertly choreographed; axes fly through the air, knives slice skin like butter, and it never feels as if any character is safe from death. Yet what grounds the story is how human the characters are. They bleed, copiously, they rage, they grieve and they love passionately, Halvard being the perfect example of this.
Fans of Sky will be pleased by the short-but-sweet return of Eelyn, Fiske and Iri, three warriors you want at your back in a bloody Viking fight. There isn’t enough of them for my liking and the barely-started romance between Tova and Halvard doesn’t compare to the beautifully developed love between Eelyn and Fiske, but this was never their story. There’s something refreshing about not treading the same ground for the indulgent sake of revisiting characters simply because readers loved them the first time around.
By shifting the focus to new characters and introducing more diverse clans with their own mythologies and belief systems, Young’s follow-up book feels fresh and exciting, whilst holding on to all the wild, brutal elements that made her first book such a compelling read. It’s yet another reason to laud Adrienne Young as one of the most exciting fantasy authors on the scene.
The Girl The Sea Gave Back was published by Titan Books on 3 September 2019