Dark be the water, and darker still the creatures that lurk within…
Free-spirited Isla Blackwood has never accepted the shackles of her family’s nobility. Instead, she sails the open waters, searching for belonging on the waves.
But when tragedy calls Isla home, she realises she can no longer escape the duty she’s been running from. Selkie raiders have been terrorising the island’s coasts, and when they strike at Blackwood Estate, Isla is forced to flee with her hot-headed brother and brooding swordmaster.
To avenge her family and reclaim her home, Isla will have to set aside old grudges and join forces with an exiled selkie searching for a lost pelt. The heirloom might be the key to stopping the bloody conflict—but only if they can steal it from the island’s most notorious selkie hunter, the Grand Admiral himself.
Caught between a promise to the brother she once left behind and an unlikely friendship with the selkie who should have been her enemy, Isla soon realises the open seas aren’t the only treacherous waters she’ll need to navigate.
As enemies close in on all sides, she must decide once and for all where her loyalties lie if she wants to save what’s left of her family—and find the belonging she’s been searching for.
Sea of Souls is a beautifully written and emotionally poignant story about love, loss, and belonging.
Let me start out by saying this is the first book I have read by this author, but it certainly won’t be the last. I had high hopes going into this novel but could not have guessed how invested I would become and how hard this book would hit me emotionally. I will absolutely be reading the rest of this series as well as her other books.
Sea of Souls is a dark fantasy book set in a very Scottish folklore inspired world. And this is not a typical medieval Europe setting with some token Scottish call outs. The Scottish influence is heavy from the very beginning. Names, creatures, and everything else in this world feels very Scottish. Luckily the author includes a pronunciation guide in the beginning of the book, which was very helpful as an American reader. Speaking of Scottish folklore, the selkies are amazing. I have never read a book where selkies play anything more than a minor role, and I loved the author’s take on these mythical creatures. The few times I have previously seen selkies in books, they have been peaceful, demure creatures. Here we see a much darker and more realistic take that worked perfectly with the themes of the novel. I particularly enjoyed the deeper meaning of the selkies pelts, and what happens to them if they lose it.
Let’s get into the meat of the story now. First, I have to mention how amazing the prologue was. It was dark, tense, and immediately set the tone for the story. As soon as I read the prologue I knew I was in for an amazing journey, and I had to keep reading. Our MC Isla Blackwood is returning home after running away 7 years prior. She left because she always felt like a piece of her was missing and that she didn’t belong. Her parents were overprotective and despite being nobility, she felt her home a prison. She receives a letter from her mother informing Isla that she is dying and has been keeping a secret from her that she wishes to confess before dying. Unfortunately, despite hurrying home, she arrives too late. So not only was she unable to reconcile with her mother, but Isla is also still in the dark on the secret that could be the key to finding the missing piece of herself.
After an attack on their home that claims the life of her father by their ancestral enemies the selkies, Isla must flee with her estranged younger brother and their swordmaster. They go to petition the capital for aid against the selkie raiders but are soon accosted by two selkies who, surprisingly, ask for their help. They are trying to put an end to the ongoing conflict between human and selkie, and they need Isla’s help to do it. This starts a journey that leads Isla to question old prejudices, put aside personal grievances, and figure out once and for all where she truly belongs.
Conflicts between humans and other species due to humans being dumb and selfish is nothing new in fantasy, but I thought it was particularly well done in this book. I find most often the other species are portrayed a bit simplistically for my taste in novels with this trope. Humans are the aggressors, and the other species just wants to live in peace. And while both of these are true in Sea of Souls, there is more complexity as well. Isla and her family have never hunted selkies, they have spent their lives defending their coast from selkie raiders, and now their entire town, including Isla’s father, have been murdered by selkies. But other humans have been actively hunting selkies for their pelts for years. This leads to some understandably hard feelings between Isla and her brother and their new selkie companions. But they will have to put aside their differences if they are save both of their peoples. Both sides think the other are monsters but perhaps a person isn’t a monster because of who they are, but what they choose to do.
This is undoubtedly a character-driven novel. It is single POV, so we stay with Isla the whole way. I very much enjoyed her character and voice. We are able to travel with Isla over literal seas, as well as the turbulent seas inside of her as she struggles to discover who she is and where she belongs. She feels guilty for abandoning her brother all those years ago, but she also feels that helping the selkies is the right thing to do. A small romance subplot also emerges, it’s pretty obvious from the beginning of the book that this is where the story is heading but I didn’t find that to be a drawback either. I am not a big fan of romance in my books but this was not a large plot point and added to the turmoil inside of Isla. It helped that the prose in this novel is absolutely amazing. At every turn I was feeling the emotions the author wanted me to very strongly. During fights I was tense, when Isla was struggling with her thoughts and feelings I sympathized with her, and I was sad when appropriate. I don’t really cry when reading but it wouldn’t surprise me if this book caused some tears to be shed among the right readers.
This was a simply stunning novel that I couldn’t put down, and when I had to, I couldn’t wait to pick back up. And that ending! We get a couple of revelations, one I saw coming and one that I definitely did not. I’m devastated that I have to wait for the next book, that day can’t come soon enough. The world building was focused in this novel but had hints of depth to it that I hope we get to explore in further novels. There are mythical creatures and magic that is only touched upon here, but I can’t wait to see more of. I highly recommend this book to all fantasy readers, the emotional depth and tense structure of the novel are sure to keep you engaged and wanting more.