A Sea of Pearls & Leaves
A Sea of Pearls & Leaves
by Rosalyn Briar
Published 1 December 2020
Rating: 4 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I was granted a complimentary review copy of A Sea of Pearls & Leaves as part of my participation in the February 2021 blog tour for this title through Storytellers On Tour. Thank you to all involved in granting me this opportunity! My thoughts are my own and my review is honest.
First of all, let me say that the cover design for this book is absolutely stunning and definitely played a big part in making me request a review stop on the tour rather than simply spotlighting the book or featuring some prewritten promo materials. The art style on the cover made me think of one of my favourite YouTube artists, Emily Artful, but if she added sea-themed embellishments to her designs rather than assorted foliage. The book’s title is also quite catching and immediately associates itself with all of the successful fantasy titles before it using the same “a/the (noun) of (noun) and (noun)” formula, such as those by George R. R. Martin and Sarah J Mass, or the adjacent formula “a (noun) so (adjective) and (adjective).” Great marketing strategy!
Princess Ingrid has a problem. Well, a few problems. First and foremost, she doesn’t want to get married and produce an heir but the duty falls to her to do so and time is running out. The big problem? Ingrid would much rather spend the rest of her life loving Lilura, her girlfriend. Together they design a contract of conditions for Ingrid’s male suitors that they figure no man who ever agree to, removing the need for her to pick a suitor, but to their shock and utter dismay all of the latest suitors Ingrid’s father invited to the palace agree. Now Ingrid finds herself balancing growing feelings for one of these suitors with her existing strong feelings for her girlfriend. Oh, and Ingrid has a döppleganger stalking her through mirrors and water to warn her of impending death, and various people in and near the palace are being murdered. What a mess! How will it resolve?
I’ll start off by saying I was won over by the Ingrid & Lilura relationship immediately and love the dynamic between them. I’m also absolutely in love with the clearly defined magic system in this world that dictates all uses of magic must come at a cost. I can’t decide if this book should be considered YA or adult (is New Adult still a category we’re going with?) It’s certainly a coming of age, major life milestone sort of story, and these characters certainly aren’t well aged and experienced people just yet, but they also don’t feel young enough for YA. They don’t read like teens and their problems are bigger than this world’s equivalent of high school drama and finding one’s place in their own vision of the world.
I had a tough time deciding what rating to give this book. It’s not a 5 for me (an instant new favourite, with no major/distracting issues, that I want to force on everyone) but do I call it a 3 or a 4? The way I use the 5-star system, a 4 is “almost there,” a great book but with one or more critique points I can’t ignore and/or it simply didn’t feel like it was going to be a 5 for a significant portion of the first half. Still could be a new favourite, still something I would recommend widely. A 3 is a good book, a strong contender, but definitely not a new favourite, either had big/numerous issues or never at any point felt like a 5 and I’m likely to recommend it in more target audience specific circles. I think I’ve settled high between the 3 and 4, high enough not to split the difference and say 3.5 on my personal blog where I’m allowed to do such things, but let me explain why the decision was so difficult.
First, point of view characters. POV is consistent for the duration of each chapter and the character whose head we’re in is indicated at the top of each new chapter. When multiple POV characters are done impeccably well, I find I don’t need those POV marker lines, the first sentence or two always gives it away because the characters are so distinct. I didn’t find that to be the case here. I was routinely doubling back a paragraph or so to look for how names were used to figure out if I was reading Ingrid or Lilura. This makes me wonder how clear or confusing the POV shifts will be if this becomes an audiobook, particularly if it isn’t done with an ensemble cast. Also because of this, when the suitors first showed up and the immediate next chapter hit me with another POV from Prince Soren I was extremely tempted to throw the book down and walk away. I didn’t want to juggle another POV. Fortunately, Soren proved different enough, be it through his character or through the fact that he’s one of the suitors and not necessarily always in the same places with the same people as Ingrid, and I actually started to find the breaks off to male POV chapters refreshing.
Second, the love triangle. I have mixed feelings about love triangles in general because they have the potential to be handled so well but also so poorly. I would say that in this case, the love triangle in A Sea of Pearls & Leaves is handled very well and does very much fit the story. The plot would go in a very different direction without it, and I doubt it could have resolved in anything close to the same way without going through the twists and turns of navigating a surprise love triangle. With that said, I felt cheated out of what felt like a long-established sapphic life partnership romance that couldn’t be shaken. The first chapters really felt like they were setting that up and then surprise! Ingrid swings both ways and she can be persuaded to entertain other affections. I’m not saying this can’t be done well or that it doesn’t happen. Just last fall I highly praised the bisexual, polygamous triangle in The Cyborg Tinkerer with the same female lead, 2 girls 1 guy arrangement. The difference is that in TCT Gwen meets Rora and Sebastian pretty much at the same time, it’s a new romance with both partners, but in ASOPAL the male suitor who catches Ingrid’s attention is a new addition intruding upon an established relationship. No matter how well the triangle fits the story, no matter how much I end up liking the characters involved, he will always feel like an interloper to me and that spoils it a bit.
Overall this is a very interesting and beautifully written story that has a whole lot of awesome representation for queer identities and relationships (including poly) AND living with anxiety disorders. If you are at all interested in the fantasy genre and you like LGBTQIA romances, strong magic systems, loose fairytale inspiration, or shocking plot twists, this should be on your TBR! I will absolutely keep an eye out for more books by Rosalyn Briar in the future.
This review is a cross-post from Jenna’s tour stop for this book a few days ago. For more information on the book, check out the original post here!