Published: April 11th, 2017 by Putnam’s Childrens | Series: Given Duet #1 | Length: 352 pages | Genre: YA fantasy | Source: I received a free copy from Penguin First to Read in exchange for an honest review. | Possible Triggers: Sexual assault & harassment, racism, ableism
Summary from Goodreads:
Khosa is Given to the Sea, a girl born to be fed to the water, her flesh preventing a wave like the one that destroyed the Kingdom of Stille in days of old. But before she’s allowed to dance – an uncontrollable twitching of the limbs that will carry her to the shore in a frenzy – she must produce an heir. Yet the thought of human touch sends shudders down her spine that not even the sound of the tide can match.
Vincent is third in line to inherit his throne, royalty in a kingdom where the old linger and the young inherit only boredom. When Khosa arrives without an heir he knows his father will ensure she fulfills her duty, at whatever cost. Torn between protecting the throne he will someday fill, and the girl whose fate is tied to its very existence, Vincent’s loyalty is at odds with his heart.
Dara and Donil are the last of the Indiri, a native race whose dwindling magic grows weaker as the island country fades. Animals cease to bear young, creatures of the sea take to the land, and the Pietra – fierce fighters who destroyed the Indiri a generation before – are now marching from their stony shores for the twin’s adopted homeland, Stille.
Witt leads the Pietra, their army the only family he has ever known. The stone shores harbor a secret, a growing threat that will envelop the entire land – and he will conquer every speck of soil to ensure the survival of his people.
The tides are turning in Stille, where royals scheme, Pietrans march, and the rising sea calls for its Given.
I really wanted to like this. I promise. It sounded like it was going to be amazing and I’ve heard such good things about Mindy McGinnis in the past. But unfortunately for me, this book ended up being a pretty big disappointment. Although there were some things I enjoyed (and for some reason, I still want to read the second book), this just didn’t live up to my expectations and managed to be quite offensive at times.
The first thing that annoyed me was that out of the four POVs we have, two of them are told in first person and two are told in third person. This may not seem like a really big deal, but it annoyed the crap out of me. 😛 I couldn’t find a good reason for the inconsistency and ultimately, all it did was make it difficult for me to connect to the two third person POVs. They ended up feeling much less personal to me and I kept forgetting who I was supposed to actually be following during those chapters.
The book also was quite slow in parts. I admit I was very intrigued by the first few lines in the book, but once I got a couple of chapters in, it wore off. It took me forever to get through the first half of the book because I was so bored. Those of you who follow my blog and have read my reviews before know that slow books are really not my thing.
Then we get into the more problematic content. I should say these next few paragraphs will be filled with spoilers, so read at your own risk (if you want to skip, I’ve marked where the spoilers end). First of all, we have this really brutal group of people, the Pietra. I kind of get the sense that they’re meant to be villains, but I’m honestly not sure because Witt is the only Pietra POV we get and although he’s portrayed as ruthless, he’s also portrayed in a sympathetic way to kind of make you go “this poor guy doesn’t want to be mean, but he was raised to be like this.” Now, if his actions were a little less heinous, maybe this would be okay. But he’s fine with genocide and actively engages in eugenics. The Pietra, many years ago, wiped out almost an entire race, the Indiri, and he watched this happen and did not care at all. In fact, he’s pretty much shown as a strong leader because he didn’t care that an entire race was murdered in front of him when he was a kid. I’m sorry, what?! The Pietra also forces the old, sick, and disabled to “build a boat” to go to sea (translation: kill themselves) and if someone refuses to, they’re executed for treason because “it drains resources.” And if their family members continue to feed them and care for them, they’re executed too. Seriously?? And I’m supposed to be sympathetic to their leader because he occasionally feels sad about things?
This brings me to another thing I had issues with: the Feneen. The Feneen are a group of outcasts who have been abandoned for being born with disabilities. Now some of these are pretty ridiculous things that I don’t think are actually possible but others are disabilities that real people live with (for example, not having all their limbs) and yet the Feneen are portrayed as freaks that no one would want to associate themselves with. There was also some weird fetishism stuff going on that just made me cringe, even if it didn’t occur often. (A direct quote: “it’s easy enough to get my attention, even if she is only a torso with a pretty head attached.”) It reeked of ableism. I can’t decide how I feel about the fact that the book seems to be setting up for a sort of redemptive arc in the sequel where Witt realizes the Feneen are people, too. Maybe I’ll have to see how it’s done, but I don’t have particularly high hopes.
Editing to add: Although I think it’s important that disabled people are shown as sexual since they are SO often completely desexualized, the way that Nilana (the woman with no limbs) was portrayed in combination with the way the Feneen were treated in general failed to come across as sex-positive and rather came across as ableist fetishization in my opinion. When ONE person who is disabled is seen as sexually attractive and anyone else who is disabled is portrayed as a freak undeserving of equal treatment, then it fails to normalize disability or portray it in a positive way.
As a side note: if you read the blurb and thought that Khosa might be asexual and got excited, don’t be. Her touch-aversion is attributed to her having Feneen blood AKA she’s touch averse because of bad genes. Take that as you will.
One more thing that I almost forgot was the gratuitous attempted rape scene. I know McGinnis has written about sexual assault before and that many have praised how well that book (The Female of the Species) deals with the topic which made this even more upsetting to me. After Khosa keeps refusing to get pregnant, the king encourages people to rape her and we get an attempted rape scene. I really don’t see how the inclusion of this little subplot added anything to the story whatsoever (other than to make the king seem evil and foster jealousy between the two love interests) and so I really don’t understand why it was included at all, other than that it’s a common thing in fantasy.
END OF SPOILERS
And yet somehow, with all these problems, there were still things I enjoyed and that kind of make me want to read the next book (although I certainly won’t be spending my money on it).
I liked the relationships between the different characters. Although I have to say, if you don’t like love triangles, avoid this book like it’s the plague. There are 4 characters who are all kind of in this mess of a love square. I don’t even know how to explain it. I’ll admit it makes for some interesting scenes, but if you don’t like love triangles, I honestly can’t see how you’d enjoy Given to the Sea. If you set that aside, the relationships between them are pretty interesting and the dialogue between them is often engaging and funny. Seriously, I wasn’t expecting all the sex jokes that were in this book, but there were quite a few (and most of them were quite funny).
The ending was another redeeming aspect of the book. It certainly made up for some of the duller moments in the beginning. There were quite a few twists and turns toward the end. I think this is probably 99% of the reason why I want to read the next book: I want to see how everything plays out.
When it comes down to it, Given to the Sea ended up being quite a disappointment. Although part of me is still interested to see where the next book goes, I can’t look past the many problems I had with this one. If you’re a die-hard YA fantasy fan, you might want to read this but otherwise, I think it’s safe to skip over it.