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Review: Kindred Straits

Full disclosure: I received Kindred Straits for free, in a giveaway, but this hasn’t in any way influenced the opinions expressed in this review.

Since this is the first book in a series that’s a prequel for another, those who have read The Sum of Ages will have background information that I didn’t, and definitely a much better grasp of the terms used. Yes, some are explained to various extents as they appear and the author makes pretty good use of Olenka’s sheltered life to keep those sections from being jarring information dumps, but when you couple all of those terms and concepts with my lack of familiarity with both merfolk and the “real” cultures used as inspiration for that of the Bantay Tubig, I’d have quite clearly been stumbling around if I wouldn’t have read the included Glossary before anything else… Which makes me wonder why’s it placed at the end instead of the beginning. And also why’s it written as if by a character, which seems to only be an unnecessary complication and even stranger when that character doesn’t otherwise appear in the book and the story isn’t otherwise presented by a narrator.
Still, that choice can’t be why I continued to feel lost, especially during the first part of the story. I’m not saying that the writing is entirely to blame, some of it may be my problem as well, but much more could have been done to ease readers who are unfamiliar with such a world and society into it… And choosing a different name for Daisay or Diwala, or both, would have also helped a fair bit, since I kept confusing them, the moments when they were called Dai and Di only making it worse. It was much better after their paths split, but I sometimes found myself needing a moment to remember which was which even then.
Otherwise, the writing style could do with some more cleaning up. The handful of obvious mistakes are pretty easy to fix, but what may pose more of a problem is that many times I felt that the author was struggling to just squeeze his way past style errors in a very strict sense, such as a short sentence inserted to break up what would be a repetition, which doesn’t really change the impression, or all of the moments of uncertainty created by the different style used in the sections focusing on Daisay, which kept making me wonder whether various potential issues that I was noticing were intentional or mistakes. And there are a few things that don’t add up as well, such as the Bantay Tubig being able to hold their breath for 15 minutes but apparently blacking out after being choked for mere seconds during combat, or the number of guards on the ship, possibly also the skill level of the two sides, and quite clearly the number of things that the characters get away with, especially when it comes to the sisters… And to Olenka’s very presence.
That said, this is not a bad book. The choice of setting and culture is quite bold, a lot happens in a very short amount of time, the action can pull you along from one moment to the next, the bond between Olenka and Marikit can be quite endearing and some of the character development may also be worth mentioning… Even if it may be too sudden. What I’m uncertain about is how seriously the author intends this book to be taken, because it may work better if you take a cue from the behavior of the secondary characters, mainly the sisters and to some extent also Daisay, and assume it to be more lighthearted, but on the other hand it also tackles dark and potentially painful topics, most notably sex trafficking, but also mental health or discrimination, and presents protagonists that are obviously flawed, and in fact broken in one way or another.
To conclude, I definitely didn’t dislike Kindred Straits, and I’m sure that other readers will find it much more enjoyable, especially considering my lack of familiarity with this sort of setting and culture. But more care should have been taken to ease the readers into this world, to make various matters clearer and more fleshed out, and it’d probably be better if one path, whether darker or more lighthearted, would be chosen and adhered to… And I also found myself wishing for more commentary against the caste system and the discrimination based strictly on the kudori. Of course, Daughters of the Storm will inevitably steer in the direction of The Sum of Ages, so the answers to these questions are likely known to those who have read that series, but I’ll again state that I haven’t and, since this series takes place before that one, there should be no need or expectation to do so first.

Rating: 3/5


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