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Book: “Saint” by Adrienne Young
Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, November 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: As a boy, Elias learned the hard way what happens when you don’t heed the old tales.
Nine years after his lack of superstition got his father killed, he’s grown into a young man of piety, with a deep reverence for the hallowed sea and her fickle favor. As stories of the fisherman’s son who has managed to escape the most deadly of storms spreads from port to port, his devotion to the myths and creeds has given him the reputation of the luckiest bastard to sail the Narrows.
Now, he’s mere days away from getting everything his father ever dreamed for him: a ship of his own, a crew, and a license that names him as one of the first Narrows-born traders. But when a young dredger from the Unnamed Sea with more than one secret crosses his path, Elias’ faith will be tested like never before. The greater the pull he feels toward her, the farther he drifts from the things he’s spent the last three years working for.
He is dangerously close to repeating his mistakes and he’s seen first hand how vicious the jealous sea can be. If he’s going to survive her retribution, he will have to decide which he wants more, the love of the girl who could change their shifting world, or the sacred beliefs that earned him the name that he’s known for―Saint.
Review: Adrienne Young is a must-read author for me at this point. I’ve been reading her books for some time, and they always deliver on a good story, interesting characters, and, often, a sweet romance. I really enjoyed her “Fable” duology, so I was excited to nab this book once I realized it was not a cheap romance novel (ugh that cover!!) but in fact a prequel stand-alone that follows the story of Fable’s parents and how they meet.
Elias has devoted his life to one thing and one thing only: getting his merchant license and making a name for himself and for the Narrows, his beloved and dangerous home. But things begin to go sideways when he meets a mysterious young woman working as a Dredger for a rival crew. For her part, Isolde is running her own game, one full of secrets and a desperate attempt to reinvent not only herself but the world that her powerful mother has been shaping for her. Together, Elias and Isolde face dangerous, sweeping forces. But with a shared love for the sea, can they find their way through this storm?
I really enjoyed this prequel story. It’s always a bit hard to write a book like this, for several reasons. For one thing, the Saint we met in the “Fable” duology is very different than the young man full of vision and, in his own way, optimism that we see here. He’s been tested, yes, but he hasn’t gone through the life-shaping hardships that we know are before him. For another thing, we do know tragedy is ahead for these characters, knowing the state of affairs when Fable’s own story begins. But I think Young does a good job of taking those necessary and pre-determined components and creating something that still feels hopeful and fresh.
For her part, Isolde can be a completely new character, with only very few strings attached to who she should be on the page given from previous books. We know her fate in the “Fable” books, but we never see her in person. This leaves a lot of room for her character and story to be the groundwork for this book, and she serves very well in this role (even though the book is titled for a different character). I really liked the unique vision of this world that we see through Isolde’s eyes, through the eyes of a young woman who is the daughter of one of the most powerful people alive, her mother. And while much of Isolde’s life has been influenced by the privileges that this has given her, we also see how complicated and damaging this relationship has been to Isolde’s sense of self and purpose. Much of this book is focused on her journey to shape herself into the woman she wants to be and to wrestle freedom back from the ever tightening grip of her tyrannical mother. Isolde is made up of a lot of grit and will to choose one’s own path, two traits that are very apparent in her daughter, Fable.
Saint had a bit of a harder task, as we do have a pretty solid image of him presented in the “Fable” duology. That being the case, I did struggle a bit more with his chapters. I could see some hints of how the character we were being introduced to here could turn into that much harder, much colder man, but he also felt very different, too. And yes, events will shape him in major ways going forward, but something about the characterization just didn’t gel as well as I had hoped. I think I wanted a more ruthless, pragmatic character here, rather than the more typical YA hero that we’ve all seen fairly often.
I liked the story well enough, too. But again, here, it didn’t live up to quite what I could have wished for. By the end of the book, I had a hard time really pointing to the main conflict or plot of the book. It’s a very character-driven story (something that really works for me), but the plot and action itself is rather lacking. There are action scenes, of course, but the stakes never felt particularly high, and I wasn’t incredibly invested in the point-by-point movements of the plot itself. As a character reader, I was ok with this style of book. But those who might be looking for a more compelling story at the heart of their read might find themselves let down a bit by this book.
Overall, I thought this was a solid prequel. It did a good job of bringing to the page two characters that we’ve either met before or heard a great deal about before. Technically, it would be approachable on its own to new readers, but I do think that that would be doing yourself a disservice. As many of the strengths of this story come from its characters and the plot/world-building plays a definite second fiddle, readers who are already familiar with this world and these characters are likely going to enjoy this one more.
Rating 8: Very enjoyable, though its focus on characters over plot may hold it back a bit for some readers.