The Girl the Sea Gave Back is one of those books where I wanted to like it more than I ended up enjoying it. Thematically, I am always drawn to books that explore the costs of peace and the sacrifice of war. But in some ways, The Girl the Sea Gave Back just didn’t deliver.
For as long as she can remember, Tova has lived among the Svell, the people who found her washed ashore as a child and use her for her gift as a Truthtongue. Her own home and clan are long-faded memories, but the sacred symbols and staves inked over every inch of her skin mark her as one who can cast the rune stones and see into the future. She has found a fragile place among those who fear her, but when two clans to the east bury their age-old blood feud and join together as one, her world is dangerously close to collapse.
For the first time in generations, the leaders of the Svell are divided. Should they maintain peace or go to war with the allied clans to protect their newfound power? And when their chieftain looks to Tova to cast the stones, she sets into motion a series of events that will not only change the landscape of the mainland forever but will give her something she believed she could never have again—a home.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
The Girl the Sea Gave Back is a story about enemies to lovers, about being an Outsider and where our loyalties lie. While it’s set in the same world as Sky in the Deep, you definitely don’t need to read the first to understand the second. As a whole, The Girl the Sea Gave Back is a story that is largely propelled by the story, unlike the characters.
I tend to enjoy very character-centric books, but, for me, the characters in this book didn’t have enough depth for me to become invested in them. I understood facts about them – that Tova is an Outsider even in the place she tentatively calls home – but I never felt like I connected to their desires, fears, or ambitions (except for a basic understanding).
While there is a great deal of time spent discussing the new expanded world, I felt that it was more a case of being told, not showed. Additionally, while the story is told from Tova and Hallvard’s point of view, sometimes it switches to memories from the past, which are well marked, but they can be quite confusing.
Ultimately The Girl the Sea Gave Back is a book that tries to explore people’s sense of wrong and right, of justice and sacrifice. What will we do to keep the peace within our communities and how does that combine with our hopes for the future. It highlights the power and importance of seeing another person who recognizes your existence, of looking you in the eye and being seen. But ultimately it fell flat for me and I was searching for more depth.