VIPER (The Isles of Storm & Sorrow #1) - by Bex Hogan

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Published: April 2019 - Hodder and Stroughton.
Genres: Young adult / fantasy / adventure. 
Pages: 382.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Infrequent sexual innuendos / strong violence / strong descriptions of gore and torture. 
Format: ARC paperback.
Source: Thank you so much to Pan Macmillan SA for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review. I voluntarily read & reviewed this copy. All thoughts are my own.

He will make me a killer. Or he will have me killed. That is my destiny. 

Seventeen-year-old Marianne is fated to one day become the Viper, defender of the Twelve Isles. But the reigning Viper stands in her way. Corrupt and merciless, he prowls the seas in his warship, killing with impunity, leaving only pain and suffering in his wake. He's the most dangerous man on the ocean . . . and he is Marianne's father. She was born to protect the islands. But can she fight for them if it means losing her family, her home, the boy she loves - and perhaps even her life? 

I am always up for a high sea adventure, and when I got this ARC from the amazing folk at Pan Macmillan, I couldn't wait to dive in (pun intended).

You know when an author's writing isn't amazing, but you don't care because you love the story so much? This is the case here. Hogan's writing isn't bad by any means, but it's not exceptional. It's pretty standard for a debut. However, it's impossible not to love the story. There's witty dialogueepic fight scenes, feisty and bloodthirsty characters, and constant entertainment. The plot moves swiftly, refusing to hold back. While the dialogue is often a little too forthright, the characters do spar wonderfully with their words. It's entertaining from start to finish and pummelled with fight scenes. I adored every minute.

The only negative I can think of with regards to the plot, is the violence. It's a bloodthirsty world with bloodthirsty villains, I get that, but sometimes you don't need to see all the gruesome violence to know it's violent. I feel like this book used violence for shock value most of the time. It comes across gratuitous. There's excellent action, sure, but the explicit violence could have been toned down.

  The man by my side is my opposite and my reflection. The dark to my light. The light to my dark. And everything in between.
But I'm not sure either of us could survive the heartbreak of being together yet being apart.
Love is not enough. 

At first, I wasn't sure what to think of the story's heroine, Marianne. She was...annoying? Immature? And then I realised: Hello, she's a teenager! And hey, she's allowed to have flaws! Because she is, and she might be over-confident, defensive, and stubborn, but it's those qualities that make her a flawed and three-dimensional young heroine. She makes a ton of bad choices, but who doesn't. By the end of the book I loved her because A) she actually acts like a teenager, B) she makes mistakes, and C) she learns from her mistakes. She has a good heart and a passionate loyalty to those she loves, and her flaws and redeemable qualities balance out. Not to mention, she has a strong backstory that's intertwined beautifully with the present plot, and in addition has concrete reasons for why she acts and thinks like she does. Basically, she's a well written female character. And I love her for that.

The villain (Marianne's father) could be more fleshed out, but otherwise the secondary cast is good. I absolutely adored Grace and how she's equally a mother-figure, mentor, and best friend to Marianne. Theirs is a wonderful female friendship, and I like how influential and level-headed Grace is when it comes to Marianne and her situation.

The romance is also great. It's a subplot, doesn't distract from the main plot, has a strong and fleshed out history, and there's no love triangle (for a while I thought there would be, but thankfully there isn't). Bronn and Marianne's relationship is a friends-to-enemies-to-lovers - there's a lot of pain and hurt and misunderstanding in their past, and this creates a push-and-pull dynamic in the present plot that works wonderfully. Like the other backstories in the novel, Bronn and Marianne's history is effortlessly incorporated into the present story and deeply delved into. I totally shipped them.

Viper is a rip-roaring adventure that takes you across the high seas in a spray of passion, ferocity, and survival.  With a headstrong heroine at its helm and plenty of heart at its core, this novel doesn't pull its punches. 

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