I am a Mindy McGinnis fan. I’ve read two of her five books, A Madness So Discreet (a current Gateway nominee) and Female of the Species (in my top ten reads of 2016), and both are absolutely fantastic and are both so different from each other. When I saw she was writing a fantasy series, I was immediately intrigued. Another book very different in style from her previous releases. I’ve read a lot of fantasy books but this one is unique. Actually, it reads more like a dark fairy tale than straight fantasy. As much as I liked this book, the reviews on Goodreads are mostly bad and the ratings low. I think I know why. This book might not be for everyone but keep reading to see if it’s for you.
McGinnis has built a dark and dangerous fantasy world but she reveals few details of this world to readers, leaving them with an experience that is confusing much of the time. It’s a fantasy world that revolves around the sea but this is no mermaid or siren story (thank goodness). It’s a story of The Given. Tradition dictates that every 17 years, the daughter born of The Given will become pregnant, deliver a daughter, then succumb to the call of the sea. And by succumb I mean dance (literally, dance) her way into the ocean and allow herself to drown. Upholding this tradition ensures that the Kingdom of Stille will never again be destroyed by a wave. Khosa is the current Given. Her mother was determined to put a stop to this vicious cycle. She vowed that her daughter would not be given to the sea. Because of her efforts (which you’ll need to read to discover), Khosa is cursed. She cannot bear the touch of another. She is physically unable to endure another human’s skin coming in contact with her own. Getting pregnant would be pretty tough without touch, amiright? Which mean the only way for Khosa to fulfill her destiny is by force. Yep. Rape. A fantasy that explores rape culture? Wow. Mindy McGinnis, you rock. That sounds like enough of a plot to be going on with, right? Not for McGinnis. Khosa’s story is just one POV/plot line. Another POV is Vincent, Prince of Stille. He has no desire to be King but he has plenty of (unrequited) desire for Khosa. He’s left with a vow to protect her from would-be impregnators but what will her unfulfilled destiny mean for his kingdom? A third POV is Dara. She and her brother, Donil, are the last of their kind - the (literally) spotted and fierce, Indiri. When their people were destroyed, they were taken in by the Queen of Stille - much to the people of Stille’s dismay. Vincent was raised with Dara and Donil so their relationship is one of siblings but now Vincent and Dara’s feelings are much more, er, complicated. And, it turns out, Donil is the only person whose touch does not repel Khosa so . . . The fourth and final POV seems to come out of nowhere. It’s the POV of Witt, the leader of the Pietra, enemy of Stille. It is clear from his POV that the Pietra are planning war. Witt’s POV does make sense in the end (and what an end it is!). Dara’s POV is the one I have trouble with. I think the story could do without it. My guess is that it will become more important as the series continues.
Although I really liked this one and appreciated its darkness and originality, not everyone will. If you’re a reader who loves fantasy and is looking for something a little different, give Given to the Sea a try. If you’re confused for the first few chapters, don’t give up. The confusion works itself out as the story progresses. As for the audio, I ended up enjoying it (especially the four separate narrators) but I think I would have been less confused at the beginning of the story if I had been reading it as opposed to listening to it. I’ll definitely read the sequel.