BOOK REPORT for Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Pérez

Cover Story: Turn Around, Fancy Dress

BFF Charm: Eventually

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

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Talky Talk: A Little Purple

Bonus Factors: Arthurian Legend

Relationship Status: Where Is This Going?

 

Cover Story: Turn Around, Fancy Dress

Sure, the cover is pretty enough, but it feels lazy: fancy dress covers so often look like stock photos with some text slapped on, and this one is no different. It tells you nothing about the story except that this girl likes stormy bucolic landscapes, and either Vaguely Medieval is the hot new look for Fall 2018, or this story is set in another time.

 

The Deal:

Maybe you’ve heard the legend of Tristan and Isolde, the star-crossed lovers who destroyed an alliance between Ireland and Cornwall. Isolde’s lady’s maid, Branwen, however, never quite gets her due…until now.

What if it were Branwen with whom Tristan fell in love, and Branwen who is the real heroine of the story? Sweet Black Waves reimagines the legend to be even more star-crossed and brutal than ever before.

Trigger Warning: This book contains incidences of self-harm.

BFF Charm: Eventually

As a character, Branwen goes through some growth—which I love. What I didn’t love is that it almost all comes at the end, and it’s mostly spurred by the possibility of losing a man. Basically, she’s a doormat: she allows her beloved cousin Essy (Eseult) to walk all over her, all the time, with hardly a thought as to her own needs. We’ve all been there, at least on occasion, but it’s painful to read. If I wanted to reach through the pages and stab Essy repeatedly, however did Branwen resist? (No, I know, people are often blinded by love and the “but it’s faaaaaaamily” refrain used to excuse horrible behavior. Grownup Jennie is still horrified, however.)

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

I was fully prepared to love this romance, despite the near-certain instalove (and instalust!) component, because it’s a dramatic, epic legend. I will never not love stolen kisses, sweeping romance, and star-crossed lovers. Unfortunately, I have no idea why Branwen fell for Tristan, other than his pretty face and general good nature. If you fill in the blanks, it’s fairly romantic.

Talky Talk: A Little Purple

I can forgive purple prose in an Arthurian legend retelling, because they practically invented purple prose—which is good, because it’s pretty flowery any time Branwen is around Tristan. I would have devoured that when I was a teen, but as an adult woman, I wasn’t into it. That’s fine; I’m not the target market.

It’s also tinged with fantasy, as you might expect: sort of a Mists of Avalon-type world where women are connected to the land, sometimes possessing mystical and magical powers. I loved this aspect—Mists of Avalon was one of my all-time favorite books as a teen. The women, in turn, get far more character development than any of the men.

Lest you get the wrong impression, though, I have a lot of respect for Pérez’s worldbuilding. I read that she is a medieval literature PhD, and you can tell in the careful way she reimagines the ancient world of Ireland and Cornwall. It’s a beautiful and brutal setting, even if I wasn’t wild about the people who inhabit it.

To be totally honest, although I enjoyed the book in general, my favorite part was her incredibly detailed author’s note. I love reading about how authors decide to shape their historically-based worlds, and Pérez doesn’t disappoint. She has put a lot of care into deciding which parts of history and legend to include, from languages to literary references.

Bonus Factor: Arthurian Legend

The story of Tristan and Isolde likely influenced the story of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere, so I usually group them together in my head: sweeping tales of romance and honor lost, from another time. I gobble that shit up like candy, I tell you. This definitely fits the bill, and with Branwen as the heroine, there are additional layers of heartbreak to be had.

Relationship Status: Where Is This Going?

Book, I was really excited about our date—but when we were actually on it, I kept wondering how this would end. You weren’t quite like the legend I was expecting, and then you came on a little strong…but I was still intrigued. I don’t think we’re a love match, but I’m interested in going on a second date to see just where this is going. You’ve made it clear it can’t end well, but sometimes the pleasure is in the journey.

Sweet Black Waves is available now.

Jennie Kendrick lives in San Francisco and has an excessive fondness of historical fiction, spreadsheets, turquoise sparkly things, and bourbon. She is also a literary agent with Lupine Grove Creative. When she’s not reading, writing, or writing about reading, she cooks obsessively, goes to loud rock concerts, and thrifts for vintage everything.