Series: The Wells of Sorcery #1
Published by Tor Teen (1.22.2019)
Genres: High Fantasy, Young Adult
Format: ARC, 352 pages
In the lower wards of Kahnzoka, the great port city of the Blessed Empire, eighteen-year-old ward boss Isoka comes to collect when there's money owing. When her ability to access the Well of Combat is discovered by the Empire—an ability she should have declared and placed at His Imperial Majesty's service—she's sent on an impossible mission: steal Soliton, a legendary ghost ship—a ship from which no one has ever returned. If she fails, her sister’s life is forfeit.
Ship of Smoke and Steel is the launch of a cinematic, action-packed epic fantasy trilogy for fans of Leigh Bardugo and The Legend of Korra.
This book wasn’t even on my radar until I picked up a free ARC at YALLfest, and it sounded super intriguing so I thought I’d give it a go. I also thought for some reason it was an Asian fantasy (it is sooo not), so I was excited to read it. I hadn’t heard much about it, either, so I didn’t know what to expect. Sadly, I ended up being disappointed.
The main issue I had was with our main character. I hated her. In the beginning, she’s a TERRIBLE person. She kills people for a living, basically, but she feels absolutely nothing!! No remorse whatsoever. She doesn’t seem to care about anyone but herself. She even kills someone that she’s been working with for four years without batting an eyelash, over the possibility that he would spill her secrets. View Spoiler »Yes, she’s doing it all for her sister, which you find out later – but that only makes it marginally better. She still felt absolutely nothing over it. « Hide Spoiler So we were off to a rocky start, Isoka and I.
The second issue I had was with Isoka being a lesbian. No no, before you get your knickers in a twist, hear me out: It wasn’t the fact that she was a lesbian at ALL. I’m a fan of diverse books. I like F/F romance pretty much the same as I do regular romance – which is to say, not much at all unless it’s done right. I’m just not a romance person, period. BUT the reason this one pissed me off is that the diversity was forced. Isoka was into men, not women, not even to the point of being bi-curious, AND she even was even judgy about Jack and Thora – who are both females – being openly romantic. That’s the part that really pissed me off, is that she looked down on Jack and Thora for being together (and looked away because it made her uncomfortable), but then a few chapters later she was suddenly lusting after Meroe like she had been into women the whole time. (To the point that the plot disappeared and it became nothing but Isoka pining over Meroe while simultaneously pretending not to care.) It was just a little too convenient for me, and because of that, the romance made me ill. If she had been into women even remotely from the start, or even open-minded about being with a woman, it wouldn’t have mattered to me in the least. It made it feel like a teenage boy’s wet dream fanfic (the author is male and it shows, sorry) or like the author was deliberately inserting diversity for the sake of being diverse. I hope this issue gets fixed before final publication.
I found the romance to be gag-worthy, not only for the reasons mentioned above but also because Isoka was thinking about Meroe’s hair, or the sway of her hips, while fighting for her life (um, priorities?!), and it became too much of a focus for me when more important things were happening that should have been a focus. At least Isoka was a bit more human for caring about Meroe, and it proved that she actually had a heart and wasn’t just a cold/ruthless/unfeeling killer, which is what she seemed in the beginning – sorry but that’s not badass, that’s just bad. A strong lead can go a little too far, they still need to have some weakness/humanity for crying out loud.
Other than despising the main character, I didn’t really care about any of the other characters. None of them were particularly inspiring or deep, and I couldn’t conjure a single fuck about any of them or what happened to them. View Spoiler »Berun DIED and I didn’t. care. one. bit. Oops. « Hide Spoiler
New drinking game: For every time someone curses by saying rot, take a drink. Guarantee you’ll be trashed by halfway through the book. (This would also work for the word rut, which I will get to in a minute. That deserves its own paragraph.) I like when authors come up with their own curse words for their fantasy world – love it, actually – but this one was a bit much for me. Could we not have come up with one or two more words besides rot?! It was vastly overused to the point of irritation. By the end of the book I was rolling my eyes every time the main character said “rot, rot, rot” because it was basically every other page. Okay we get it, things are bad enough to curse. Maybe get a bit more creative.
Which brings me to the other word that bugged the ever loving shit out of me: rut, used in place of “have sex.” JUST SAY FUCK, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. I wanted to gag every time Isoka talked about ‘rutting’ with another character, and I just couldn’t take it seriously. This book can barely be labeled YA to begin with, so dropping the F bomb wouldn’t matter much; and I’m sorry, but it would sound much better than “Would you like to go in the other room and rut?”
Keep your panties on, ladies. (And yes, that is an honest to God quote from the ARC. Let’s hope that doesn’t make it to publication, either.)
Despite all those negatives, this book had great potential. The world and concept are super unique and intriguing – the story is set on a ghost ship!!! – and I probably would have loved it with better characters and less irritation. I loved the concept of the Wells of Sorcery and the way the magic was used, it was awesome! The setting was wicked cool, delightfully dark and gritty with a Ghost Ship feel going on. There was a lot of action, too (which was pretty cinematic, despite the crab creatures being extremely hard to picture), so despite my heavy dose of apathy for the story and the characters, it went fairly quickly thankfully.
If my complaints from the first few paragraphs don’t phase you and you’re into high fantasy, you’d probably like this book. It had a bit of a Sanderson feel to it and the dark gritty feel reminded me a tad (a teeny, tiny, infinitesimal tad, mind you) of Kristoff. It just fell flat for me and my irritation outweighed everything else. Womp womp.
Writing style: 3/5
Overall rating: 2/5