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Book: “Son of the Salt Chaser” by A.S. Thornton
Publishing Info: CamCat Books, November 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: After her desert-transforming wish, Emel follows Saalim to Madinat Almulihi to reclaim all she has lost. But the seaside city is not what she expected. When she is tasked with assisting the palace healer, she is faced daily with the reminder that Saalim—focused only on seeking the revenge of those who killed his family—does not remember her at all.
Cursing the magic that destroyed her love and brought her to an unwelcoming city, Emel regrets her decision to leave her settlement. That is, until she meets Kas. Though inscrutable, he is the first person to help her forget her past, and the pull of finding happiness with him tempts her from the life she wished for with Saalim.
But darkness waits in the desert, and not all people in Madinat Almulihi are what they seem. When Emel understands she is entangled in the fate of the city—and of Saalim—she is faced with the realization that magic may be the most powerful card in her hand. It might be the only way to save all that she loves, but if she plays her hand wrong, it could destroy everything.
Previously Reviewed: “Daughter of the Salt King”
Review: This was a highly anticipated read for me this fall. “Daughter of the Salt King” was a great surprise last year, blowing past all of my expectations of it. It also ended on a fairly massive cliffhanger, with one of our main character’s left with no memories of recent events and the other adjusting to a completely new world of choice and freedom. So it’s no surprise that I dove right into this book as soon as I could!
Emel always knew that playing with magic was quite literally tempting fate, leaving her wish to the interpretation of a mercurial god. But even knowing this, she never anticipated ending up where she is now: leaving the only home she’s know to follow the love of her life, a man who doesn’t even know her anymore. And once she reaches his city, she realizes that with freedom comes many scary choices and responsibilities. How can she make a life for her and her sister in this strange land and amount these strange people? For his part, while Saalim can’t deny the strange pull he feels towards Emel, he also has other challenges facing him and his city. A powerful threat is looming, can Emel and Saalim find their way back to each to other in time to face it together?
I hate writing this sort of review most of all. It’s always disappointing to finish a book and realize that I can’t give it a good review. But it’s all the worse when the book is the second part in a duology that I had been loving up to that point. Given how much I enjoyed the first book, I had extremely high hopes for this book. And man, did those hopes crash and burn.
To start with a few positives: the writing itself is still quite strong. The same general tone and feel of the story remained consistent with the first book, and when I first started this book, I was greatly enjoying this general feel in the same way I did before. It also starts out in an interesting way, picking up immediately after the events of the first book, following Emel and Saalim as they make their way across the desert to Saalim’s home city. Here, the story felt familiar and enjoyably, with action, the beginnings of a mystery, and Saalim and Emel awkwardly stumbling around each other, with Emel trying to get Saalim to remember who she is. But then we reach the city, and it’s like the story slams head first into a wall.
I really can’t emphasize enough how abrupt of a negative shift this book takes within the first quarter of the story. All of a sudden, the pace of the story dies. Emel and Saalim are separated. And nothing happens for long spells of time, with only the barest crumbs given to keep readers invested. It immediately began to feel as if the author had no clue what to do with this second book. The story felt floundering, with no real stakes and random subplots being thrown around here and there. Emel and Saalim are also reduced to shadows of their former selves. I honestly had a hard time recognizing these characters as the ones I enjoyed so much before.
The nature of their relationship was always going to prove difficult (this is exactly why I’m always extra nervous of “amnesia” storylines), but it’s handled extremely poorly here. Emel’s behavior never makes much sense. Saalim keeps seeking her out and giving obvious hints that he is struggling to understand his connection to her. But instead of trying to draw this feeling out, encouraging Saalim to remember, Emel is standoffish and cold. It makes zero sense for her character to behave this way. Even when we’re in her head, we get no explanation for her strange decision making here. It may seem like a small thing, but these are the sorts of strange character arcs and decisions that had me struggling to enjoy this book much at all.
Towards the final 10% or so of the book, the story finally comes together. But this was way too little and way too late to save my reading experience. I was incredibly disappointed by this book. And, looking back, I have no idea why this wasn’t left as a simple stand-alone story. The first book, with a few minor changes towards the end, could have been neatly wrapped up into one perfectly enjoyable package. Such a shame that that’s not what happened, and now we have a duology that, as a whole, I’d struggle to recommend to other readers.
Rating 6: Incredibly disappointing almost to the point of being unrecognizable from the lovely book that came before it.
“Son of the Salt Chaser” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on Desert Fantasy.