Title: Sweet Black Waves (Sweet Black Waves #1)
Author: Kristina Pèrez
Publication Date: June 5, 2018
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2
Odai eti ama. I hate and I love.
That line just about sums up what I feel about Sweet Black Waves, the first book in what is to become a trilogy inspired by the Celtic legend of Tristan and Iseult.
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.
Sweet Black Waves centers on Branwen, Princess Iseult’s cousin and lady-in-waiting. Orphaned when she was a young girl after both her parents were murdered by Kernyvak raiders, Branwen is taken in by her mother’s sister Queen Iseult and raised in court alongside her cousin Essy, the only child and the heir of Iveriu.
Apprenticed to her aunt and serving as lady-in-waiting to her cousin, Branny lives a seemingly content and peaceful life. But all these is turned upside down when a striking young man washes ashore, half-dead. Branny saves him without knowing that he’s an enemy, that their meeting will change everything for both of their countries and for themselves.
My feelings for this re-telling is a mix of good and not-so. The fact that this one is based on Tristan and Iseult is already a plus for me. I’ve been waiting for so long for a re-telling of this Celtic legend. I actually cannot believe no one has done this sooner. But while it does base a lot of its elements on the ancient legend, being super familiar with it is not a pre-requisite. You could easily go in blind and still enjoy this book.
Two things I loved about Sweet Black Waves: the writing and the main characters.
Pèrez’s writing is just so beautifully evocative you’ll be transported to a lush and untamed alternative version of ancient Ireland and Cornwall. From the first line down to the crushing end, I was hooked. Poetic and lyrical, readers are sure to find Pèrez’s story immersive. She overdoes this though at some points, dipping into purple prose territory, something I’m hoping she’ll be able to rein in in the coming sequels.
As gorgeous as Pèrez’s writing was, ultimately what made me keep on reading were the characters. I was just bound to love Branwen. Strong, loyal and dutiful, she is oftentimes caught in between her role as Essy’s handmaiden and keeper and working for peace between Iveriu and Kernyv. She is flawed as she is passionate, rash as she is cautious – and, for me, it made her character only more believable.
Then there’s Tristan – charming, sincere, romantic, good-hearted and fierce Tristan who also has loyalties of his own, duties of his own to his land and his king. It was hard not to like him.
Together, these two characters make for a compelling story. The pair of Branwen and Tristan, dare I say, is the best thing in Sweet Black Waves. I breezed through pages featuring these two, just wanting to know what happens next. It was interesting to watch Branwen and Tristan’s dynamic evolve from enemies to unwilling friends then finally becoming lovers. Their attraction was instant, something I was wary about at the start of the book though I got over it after seeing the obvious chemistry between them. These two are totally shippable! (I do, I ship them!!! 😍😍😍)
Now, for the not-so-good parts of this book.
As much as I love Sweet Black Waves, there are still things in it that I didn’t much like. They aren’t really big blunders, nothing as bad as that. I think it’s more to do with my preferences, so take this with a pinch of salt.
I’m writing this review a couple of days after I finished the book, so I had the time to let the story sink in. I just can’t help but think that Pèrez could have cut a bit more of the book’s bulk. At 400++ pages, Sweet Black Waves is a long book. I understand that this being the first installment of a planned trilogy, the author wants to lay down the building blocks of her world, and she succeeds half of the time. The other half though, she wobbled, forcing in the details so her characters arrive at a pre-planned conflict. I totally read through some of the foreshadowed events, and while it did not stop me from enjoying this story, it did take out the element of surprise the author intended for her readers. This problem was most noticeable in the second part where the story moved the slowest, the characters plodding through the thick plot Pèrez set up for them.
Another bit that could have been done better – the secondary characters. While both Branwen and Tristan’s characters are well-developed, the characters who support them just felt flat to me. King Óengus was almost non-existent. Essy and Keane, meanwhile, were two-dimensional, oftentimes playing foil for Branwen and Tristan.
For all its imperfections, however, Sweet Black Waves is a thoroughly enjoyable and emotional read. It’s an interesting and creatively imagined re-telling, and I’m sure going to grab the next two books especially after that punch-in-the-gut ending. I highly recommend this to readers of fantasy romance.
P.S. (because I just got to sneak this in) Essy annoyed me throughout the book. She doesn’t deserve Branny’s devotion. The brat! (You could tell, I still have a lot “feels”. Sorry, not sorry.)
P.P.S.The second book already has a title!!! Wild Savage Stars!!! 🤩🤩🤩