Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis
Book One of the Given series
Publisher: Putnam's Childrens
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Rating: 2 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
Khosa is Given to the Sea, a girl born to be fed to the water, her flesh preventing a wave like the one that destroyed the Kingdom of Stille in days of old. But before she’s allowed to dance – an uncontrollable twitching of the limbs that will carry her to the shore in a frenzy – she must produce an heir. Yet the thought of human touch sends shudders down her spine that not even the sound of the tide can match.
Vincent is third in line to inherit his throne, royalty in a kingdom where the old linger and the young inherit only boredom. When Khosa arrives without an heir he knows his father will ensure she fulfills her duty, at whatever cost. Torn between protecting the throne he will someday fill, and the girl whose fate is tied to its very existence, Vincent’s loyalty is at odds with his heart.
Dara and Donil are the last of the Indiri, a native race whose dwindling magic grows weaker as the island country fades. Animals cease to bear young, creatures of the sea take to the land, and the Pietra – fierce fighters who destroyed the Indiri a generation before – are now marching from their stony shores for the twin’s adopted homeland, Stille.
Witt leads the Pietra, their army the only family he has ever known. The stone shores harbor a secret, a growing threat that will envelop the entire land – and he will conquer every speck of soil to ensure the survival of his people.
The tides are turning in Stille, where royals scheme, Pietrans march, and the rising sea calls for its Given.
What I Liked:
I've read four of McGinnis's books (this one being the fourth), and it's a shame to say that I really haven't enjoyed anything I've read. On the one hand, all of her books have been very well-written and so unique. On the other hand, all of her books (that I've read) have not been for me. And therein lies the distinction - her books just don't seem to be for me. I thought I'd give her books another shot because Given to the Sea is her first fantasy novel, and fantasy is my favorite genre. But not even my love of fantasy could save me.
This book is told in four different points-of-view, though there are arguably five protagonists. Vincent is the prince of Stille and third in line for the throne. He doesn't want to become king, but he is destined to claim the throne in the future. Khosa is the Given, the female child who has been groomed since birth to choose a mate, bear a child, and then sacrifice herself to the Sea, to keep the sea calm and restful. Dara and Donil are the last Indiri, a race that is magical and ancient. They are adopted royal children, and they grew up with Vincent like brothers and sister. And finally, Witt, the Lithos, deadly leader of the Pietra. The Pietra rise against Stille, and look to destroy them as they also destroyed the Indiri. Strange events are occurring - the Given washes up on the shores of Stille, but she is not pregnant nor did she have a child. The sea levels are rising, though it may not be due to the lack of Given. And the Pietra are coming for the people of Stille, who are wholly unprepared for war.
If there is one thing that I can say McGinnis does consistently well, it is her world-building. Every book of hers that I have read has had a very well-constructed world and setting. Her books are so unique because of the varying worlds she has created. This world, with Stille and Pietra and a vast, unpredictable sea, is strange and entirely its own. McGinnis has written a very strong fantasy world, one that is dangerous and rigid and unforgiving.
I didn't love all of the characters, and there were some that I didn't care about, or flat-out hated. But I really liked and connected with Vincent from the start. He is the only surviving child of Prince Varrick, and only grandchild of the current King, who is a good man. But that King dies in this story, and Vincent's father becomes King. Vincent does not want the throne, which is evident throughout the story. I really felt for him, because he has no options. Vincent is a good man with a soft heart, though not soft enough that he wouldn't defend his mother, or the twins, or Khosa.
What else did I like about this book... I'm drawing a blank. Vincent somewhat redeemed this story for me. He was the only character I was rooting for. Not even the ending of this book, while slightly satisfying on the surface, could change my opinion of the book.
What I Did Not Like:
This book was a bit of a mess (for me). The romance, the characters, the plot, the treatment of women... there were a lot of things that just didn't sit well with me.
I'll start by going through the other four protagonists that I didn't talk about. I already said how I liked Vincent. But I didn't really care for the other four (or just didn't like them). For example, Witt, the Lithos. I didn't hate him or dislike him - I just didn't feel much for him. His chapters were always extremely short (1-3 pages long) and not very interesting. I bet I would have liked him more if his chapters were longer and he had more action in his life.
Next, Khosa. I didn't dislike Khosa, but I also didn't like her. She is a weak, spineless girl who has always accepted her fate as the Given. She knows no better than to accept the fact that she must choose a man, have sex with him until she gets pregnant, give birth, and then throw herself into the sea to die. Barbaric, right? Khosa never fights this, not until towards the end of the book. So I didn't really care for her. The thing that made me dislike her was the romance. It would appear that she doesn't like to be touched by anyone - any touch brings her physical revulsion. But not Donil's touch - Donil is the male Indiri twin, and his magic is all about life (think: sex). So after Donil touch's Khosa hand for the first time, all she can think about is his potent touch. Buuuuut, she is in love with Vincent. She can't stomach Vincent's touch, but it would appear that she loves Vincent.
I'll get to that in a second. The fourth character is Donil, and I didn't like him. In fact, he was probably my least favorite character. Yes, partly because I didn't want him with Khosa. Yes, because I see him as the "other leg" of the love triangle. But mostly because I find him sleazy and his actions and words towards women make me uncomfortable. He flirts with all of the girls, and his magic calls to girls (life = sex, remember?). So even though they are willing, it's a subconscious call that he has, that makes them want to have flirt and have sex with him. That bothers me a lot. And yes, you could say that he can't help his power. I still don't like how he wields it. I still don't like him. He claims he would never let a woman come between him and Vincent, and yet, he lets it happen.
And finally, Dara. I almost felt bad for Dara. She's been in love with Vincent, and he's never been in love with her. Until one day, her magical power leaks a little, and it's like a flip switches in Vincent, and he sees her in this brand-new (and very sexual) light. But that pretty much disappears, because Vincent is pretty smitten with Khosa.
Because who isn't, at this point? Literally everyone wants in this girl's vagina. I kid you not. It's kind of disconcerting, and disgusting. But I'll get to the treatment of women.
Back to Dara. I almost felt bad for her because she has to deal with unrequited love. But Dara is so annoying too. Because Vincent doesn't love her, she goes around acting like the world owes her something. She isn't a good person, and I would never want Vincent to end up with her. She seems selfish and cruel, and as kickbutt and tough as she is, I can't root for her.
You can probably tell by now, but the romance is so frustrating. It's this weird love triangle/cycle thing. Let me break it down for you:
Vincent loves Khosa, but his touch repulses her. Khosa seems to love Vincent but his touch repulses her. Khosa is very physically attracted to Donil, and it's possibly that she feels affection for him. His touch is the only touch she can bear (because again, his magical abilities are rooted in "life", which is rooted in sex). Donil is attracted to Khosa, and I'm assuming he has feelings for her. Dara has feelings for Vincent. Vincent has never had feelings for Dara not has he ever been attracted to her, until this one random moment in the book.
Confusing, right? I hate confusing romances. I hate messy attractions and broken hearts. I hate seeing two men who are like brothers fight over a woman. They LITERALLY fight over Khosa at one point. They literally fight over Dara at one point (not in the same way as Khosa though - Donil is looking out for his sister, and Vincent is not happy with Donil). I don't enjoy books love triangles, and so this love... cycle is an actually nightmare for me.
I will say, believe it or not, that no one has sex with anyone, in this book. Khosa kisses Donil once. That's pretty much all of the sexual action that happens in this book, which is funny because the characters do a lot of fighting over each other. Sex is clearly on all of their minds, though no sex actually happens.
The treatment of women - ugh, this world is frightfully patriarchal and it seems like there are no women's rights. Now, here me out: this is obviously intentional and McGinnis is showing us a world with retracted women's rights. I get it. It still disgusts me. Men in this book talk about having sex with an unwilling female (i.e. rape), or their sexual encounters, or putting a seed in Khosa, and it really set my teeth on edge (that's putting it mildly). Vincent's father is the most unfaithful man to ever exist, and Vincent's mother is naively still hoping that he'll come around and love her. And then there is Khosa, who probably enjoys being bounced between Vincent and Donil, in terms of their affections, but has no real power. This book made me want to scream!
But again, I'm sure this is very intentional (all of the negative treatment of women's rights). It still makes me mad though.
Basically, I think the horrible romance is what tipped the scales and made me rate this book down. I hate messy romances, I hate love triangles, and I really hate whatever is going on in this book, in terms of the romance. It's weird and pisses me off a little.
The ending! Was! Terrible! I can't say why, but I'm furious. It's hastily done, and it ruins the romance further, and I'm just beyond frustrated with the book at this point. Not enough to go all the way to one star (though I'm thinking...), but definitely enough to consider expelling this one from memory.
In general, the story wasn't great, romance aside. Two countries are going to war - great! There wasn't anything super original about the story, if you take away the part about the Given and the rising seas. Given how romance-driven this story was, part of me isn't surprised. But then, I would have rather read a much less romance-driven book than dealt with the irritating romance that was presented.
Would I Recommend It:
I hate to say it, but I don't recommend this book. It's a really gritty fantasy novel, and if I wanted to read a gritty fantasy novel, I'd dig out an adult fantasy novel written by a middle-aged man who seems to think murder, rape, torture, and mutilation are good things to have in fantasy stories. Well, not the type of fantasy stories I like to read. This is a frustrating, irritating, and confusing fantasy story. There aren't a ton of redeeming qualities, besides the very strong world-building and the one really likable protagonist (out of five though? That's sad). Definitely do not read this book if you like linear, obvious romances. Don't read this book if you want a happy ending. Don't read this book if you a story with a clear issue or journey. Don't read this book if you want action or adventure or a plot that moves at a healthy pace. (I starting skimming at certain points.)
2 stars. I wanted to love this book so badly, and I got so invested in wanting to love it so badly, which is why, when I finished it and didn't love it, it hurts so much that I'm giving it 2 stars. I almost wish I had cared less about loving this book, because then I might have given it 3 stars and moved on. But this book wasn't "meh", it was painful and frustrating at times; therefore, 2 stars it is. Will I read the sequel? I don't know - I have a feeling I'll be disappointed in any of McGinnis's books, given my track record. I think I need to accept the fact that her books just aren't for me.
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