Book Review Wednesday – Storm Siren

Storm Siren  by Mary Weber

Amazon Book Description:

“I raise my chin as the buyers stare. Yes. Look. You don’t want me. Because, eventually, accidentally, I will destroy you.”

In a world at war, a slave girl’s lethal curse could become one kingdom’s weapon of salvation. If the curse – and the girl – can be controlled.

As a slave in the war-weary kingdom of Faelen, seventeen-year-old Nym isn’t merely devoid of rights, her Elemental kind are only born male and always killed at birth – meaning, she shouldn’t even exist.

Standing on the auction block beneath smoke-drenched mountains, Nym faces her fifteenth sell. But when her hood is removed and her storm-summoning killing curse revealed, Nym is snatched up by a court advisor and given a choice: be trained as the weapon Faelen needs to win the war, or be killed.

Choosing the former, Nym is unleashed into a world of politics, bizarre parties, and rumors of an evil more sinister than she’s being prepared to fight . . . not to mention the handsome trainer whose dark secrets lie behind a mysterious ability to calm every lightning strike she summons.

But what if she doesn’t want to be the weapon they’ve all been waiting for?

Set in a beautifully eclectic world of suspicion, super abilities, and monsters, Storm Siren is a story of power. And whoever controls that power will win.

*Minor Spoilers Included in This Review*

I bought this book because I was excited to see a true fantasy offering coming from a well-known Christian publisher that didn’t involve dragons. That and the cover was beautiful.

Plot – C+

 The plot described in the book description was one that made me sit up and pay attention. I WANTED to read THAT story, especially since it was coming from a Christian publisher. The plot that I read was barely connected to the description. Well, to be fair, it was strongly connected to a specific part of the story: “the handsome trainer.” However, the focus on him and Nym’s “craving” for him overwhelms the story to the point that everything else promised is shoved to the background. There was suspicion, but most of it revolved around is the evil cuckoo-lander going to get her claws in the trainer and does he really feel something for Nym. There are little teasers of the political intrigue I was interested in but again it is pushed back as serving to throw Nym in turmoil over the trainer. Super abilities and monsters were there. Well, the monsters were more flesh-eating horses and then the bolcranes, who made a short appearance toward the end of the novel, so it still didn’t live up to the promises made in the summary. The ending was a hot mess and very contrived because all of a sudden we’re running back to yank some of the forgotten subplots to the fore. However, due to the plot’s overwhelming focus on Nym and “handsome trainer,” the other two crucial characters are neglected until it’s convenient to trot them out and I couldn’t care less about them. I couldn’t believe the key elements to the ending because as a reader, I had no investment beyond surface characterization in these two people and yet I’m supposed to believe that Nym has such a strong connection with them? I could not suspend belief that far. The plot ends on a cliffhanger complete with a “What will happen to ‘Name?’ – Find out in Book Two out next year.”

Content – D

I struggled with how to grade the content due to both the material being handled and HOW it was ultimately handled. And of course, the content is where the subjective nature of the review shows the most. That in mind, I was still appalled by the content being offered in this book.

Violence is one of the central themes of this book. There is violence against slaves, violence against innocent civilians caught in the war, murder, attempted murder, and self-harm. This violence is on the page and in your face. There is hardly anything left to the reader’s imagination. The most disturbing instance is the two pages (10-11 in the hardback version) where a little girl is constantly in the process of being strangled by her slave collar, out of thoughtlessness at first and then out of malicious intent. There is a lot of blood starting from page 6 where it “gushes” from Nym’s split lip. I don’t mind violence when it has a purpose to the story but I’m not a fan of when there’s blood everywhere and it feels there’s too much page space devoted to describing how that blood is dripping or gushing or shimmering in a pool on top of brutalization. If there had been more scenes providing a breather from the blood and violence or if some of the bluntly violent scenes had been written where the violence is implied but not shown in brutal detail, I would have found it more tolerable and I wouldn’t feel like the important moments of violence had the intended emotional impact but by the time I got to those two key points in the book, pages 69-71, I’m already thinking ‘great, more blood.’ The blood and brutalization and violence occurred so often that it crossed the line into overkill.

I believe that this book was written to help address the issue of cutting and self-harm among teenagers based on the reader’s guide in particular. Nym cuts herself in a sort of warped penance. She talks about how much she wants to cut “a memorial” into her skin. However, I do applaud Weber for being upfront about how cutting is damaging and not the right solution as Nym is told by Eogan. That is one of the positives in this book.

Technically, there is no language in this book. However, the obvious in-world curses being used aren’t the most subtle euphemisms either. “What in the hulls,” “Son of a bolcrane,” and “mother-of-kracken” for example, with the first two being the ones that made me shake my head a little. Not very subtle but not as egregious as it would have been had she not made these “in-world” curses. However, the language can be crass at times, particularly whenever Breck is on the scene. Considering she could have been a very empathetic character and we are expected to believe that she is like a sister to Nym (based on Nym’s reactions), I would have expected her to do more than be crude and mean-spirited and constantly insult Nym.

As I mentioned before the plot focuses on Nym and the “handsome trainer;” however, I cannot bring myself to refer to it has romance. Instead, there is sensuality by bucketful and lust and poorly disguised innuendo dripping off the page. Adora, a character who could have been developed into a worthy and interesting antagonist, is reduced to being a creepy, vindictive and lustful woman with “a harem of menfolk.” Her main function is not the political intrigue, save in the background, but to cause angst between Nym and Eogan because she wants him for herself. A fact which brings this particular gem: “She’s grinning and twittering her hands to and from her mouth, as if she’s blowing him kisses while at the same time deadly serious about whatever she’s saying. Her eyes flash to me once, but after a quick sweep over my appearance, they’re back to her heart’s one pant-worthy desire. When Eogan strides back to us, the peacock-frog-queen stands a moment longer, watching him with raw, unabashed hunger before turning a smug gaze onto Colin and me.” (Hardback, pg. 120-121).

Now don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have been too troubled by this particular passage IF it had been standalone or at least been combined with other instances in a more measured manner. But the innuendo and lust has been present since the beginning with the lustful slave owners wanting to see Nym showing off more skin (again tolerable due to the scenario) and it is the defining aspect of Nym and Eogan’s relationship, a term I use loosely. I like romance and I can even get behind attraction at first sight if it is well-written and the characters develop both individually and in their relationship. Unfortunately, I never felt comfortable or very impressed with how Nym pines over and “craves” Eogan. She starts out by commenting on how beautiful he is but how she still doesn’t like him, which is fine but then there’s this overkill sensual description: “I open my mouth and the stupid heat hurls itself even hotter, like summer petals bursting against my cheeks, my neck, my barely covered chest. I swallow and move my gaze down his perfectly cut, gray-vested suit that smells of honey and pine and effortlessness…And his eyes are no longer just on me but on all of me. Taking in my height, my low-cut gown, my nervous fingers…My breath lets out in a whoosh of chuckles, and it hits me how much I crave him near me, setting me at ease. Just like I crave the way my hand feels in his, my skin with his, even if it’s just his job of calming me. His fingers keep mine as he watches me laugh, until his lips part and his expression opens, as if he’s allowing me a glimpse into his soul. To show me something beautiful. Merciful. Incomprehensible. Because it’s the recognition that he craves being near me.” (Hardback, pg. 135). What does effortlessness smell like anyway? 🙂 Word choice aside, I found myself rolling my eyes in disgust and exasperation at this display. First with Nym’s dress leaving her chest less than covered because it was already spelled out when she first put on the dress on page 124 and then at how the emotion they feel is described as craving and after a grand total of NINE days (pg. 137). Twelve pages (and ten days) later he is “liquefying” her insides then they have yet another encounter: “He leans in and his fingers are cupping my face and slipping down, down, down my skin until I gasp at the craving welling up inside me…Adora’s warning flares in my head, but I don’t give a blast because his touch is lightning, burning me alive and breaking me down.” (Hardback, 163). Ironically, a couple lines down he is described as sliding his fingers farther to her neck but the way that encounter was written gave me the impression of leaving her face by a lot. And then on page 176 Nym comes to the realization that she loves him. After she craves him and he craves her in addition to how she continually harps on how gorgeous and beautiful he is.

Then there is bald boy, I mean Colin, who is continually described as being shirtless, kissing his biceps, flexing his stomach muscles, and flirting with/drooling over women ranging from Adora to Nym. Apparently, this is explained away by his being a seventeen or eighteen year old boy. Other than this exaggeration, there are a few moments where we see him truly caring about his sister but they aren’t enough to fully flesh him out for me and make me truly care for him.

Now to the point that well and truly vexed me. The spirituality present in this book is barely detectable except in one particular scene. After we learn a lot about the demon Draewulf and Nym dwells on how her craving for Eogan helps her to control her powers, there is finally a mention of the Hidden Lands’ creator. In the Valley of Origin, there is an opportunity to develop the Christian worldview and this creator who hasn’t even been mentioned more than a handful of times before now. This scene did not play out at all like I expected or hoped. Instead, there’s a character specific revelation that is still focused on Eogan and Nym’s relationship. Then there is an encounter with the ancient magic of the Valley of Origin: the magic is “stirring me, inhabiting me even as it’s whispering that it’s incapable of inhabiting evil. The thought emerges that, therefore, there must be a goodness within me that predates my curse.” (Hardback, pg. 201). I have a very big problem with this passage. I believe Weber was probably trying to go for the message that Nym has self-worth because she is created by the “Hidden Lands’ creator” but this passage reads as Inherent Goodness, which goes completely against Scripture! Where is God? His apparent counterpart for the world doesn’t even factor into this important scene except as the Valley being a place of worship and we know more about the evil entity than we do about this “creator.”

I advocate both subtle and overt Christian worldviews on fantasy novels because both have their strong points and both work for different novels but I firmly believe I should be able to discern a difference between a Christian novel and a secular novel. Honestly, if I had not known that Thomas Nelson was a Christian publisher, I never would have suspected this book to be a Christian YA novel. This was even more troubling to me than the constant craving going on in the book.

Technical – C-

This book avoided any prominent typos or errors of that nature. However, the style and its execution didn’t impress me. I’ll be honest, books written in present tense drive me nuts and the few books that I’ve read where it was tolerable and the author skilled enough to get away with using present tense were third person. The language style is juvenile and the word choices leave me wondering at times why she didn’t pick a different word. The actual description besides Eogan being gorgeous and beautiful is lackluster at best. The world has an incomplete feel to it and I wish Weber had spent more time painting the picture of the world and the its inhabitants.

One of the most annoying things about the book was how Nym counted: Five, ten, fifty (pg. 2) and basically every other time she was counting something. Ironically, on page 3 she makes fun of a slaver who counts out one, two, three. Then there is the fondness for using a word three times when it would have sufficed and kept the pace from staggering to a halt if the word had been used once. Such as the aforementioned instance where Eogan’s fingers sliding down her face, which resulted in the unfortunate implication and confusion when suddenly his fingers were only just moving to her neck and the most irritating example for me is where a paragraph is broken up so that we received a staggered repetition of “falling” on page 316. Was it supposed to be dramatic or convey Nym’s emotions more clearly? Perhaps but for this reader, I was too busy groaning in frustration at the style choices.

The second most annoying thing about the book is that because it is written in first person, the reader relies on the narrator to convey why characters are important and to make me feel for them, but this book falls short. Colin, who is important beyond the brainless bicep kissing thing, is constantly referred to as “bald boy.” I could not connect to him at all. There was nothing significant about him except the annoying qualities and that Nym calls him “bald boy.” We run into the same trouble with Adora and Breck. Nym’s narration of their actions and words do not forge a strong enough connection between them so that I, as the reader, would believe the endings involved. The narration is also very choppy and distracting.

Final Grade – D or 2 stars

This book had SO much potential. Going into it, I thought this book would be a BRILLIANT example of Christian fantasy and since it was published by Thomas Nelson, it could have potentially opened a lot of doors for authors of Christian fantasy seeking traditional publishing. I finished the book feeling that I had been invited to a gourmet dinner and was served half a plate of beets instead.  

I expected so much of this book because it was published by a major Christian trad publisher and the premise was excellent. But the ultimate execution fell short in so many places and the amount of brutality, sensuality, and general crudeness was not appropriate for a YA novel, especially due to the lack of a true breather between any of these elements. I am also extremely disturbed by the lack of a discernable Christian worldview in this novel. A reader’s guide and a few “creator protect you” thrown into the mix does not a Christian book make. Perhaps the spirituality issue will be addressed in the next book. But, I don’t care enough about these characters to pick it up. I am disappointed in this book because what it could have been seemed to be sacrificed for the hope of a crossover into ABA YA and I just think it fell far short of the goals. I do not recommend this book for anyone.

Note: I struggled for two weeks to write this review without forgetting the good points or descending into an unhelpful rant.

Storm Siren is available through Kindle and Hardback.

Next – The Seahorse Legacy: Book Three of the Eyes of E’veria by Serena Chase

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