THESE REBEL WAVES (Stream Raiders #1) - by Sara Raasch

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Published: August 2018 - Balzer and Bray.
Genre: Young adult / fantasy / romance.
Pages: 474.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Violence / child abuse. 
Format: Paperback.
Source: Thank you so much to Jonathan Ball Publishers for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review. I voluntarily read and reviewed this book. All thoughts are my own. 

Adeluna is a soldier. Five years ago, she helped the magic-rich island of Grace Loray overthrow its oppressor, Argrid, a country ruled by religion. But adjusting to postwar life has not been easy. When an Argridian delegate vanishes during peace talks with Grace Loray’s new Council, Argrid demands brutal justice—but Lu suspects something more dangerous is at work.

Devereux is a pirate. As one of the outlaws called stream raiders who run rampant on Grace Loray, he pirates the island’s magic plants and sells them on the black market. But after Argrid accuses raiders of the diplomat’s abduction, Vex becomes a target. An expert navigator, he agrees to help Lu find the Argridian—but the truth they uncover could be deadlier than any war.

Benat is a heretic. The crown prince of Argrid, he harbors a secret obsession with Grace Loray’s forbidden magic. When Ben’s father, the king, gives him the shocking task of reversing Argrid’s fear of magic, Ben has to decide if one prince can change a devout country—or if he’s building his own pyre.

As conspiracies arise, Lu, Vex, and Ben will have to decide who they really are . . . and what they are willing to become for peace.

Raasch's writing is mesmerising. Her sentences flow so organically and the rhythm is perfect. I also love the quick-witted dialogue. For all the poignantly heartbreaking lines, there are some hilarious, sassy ones, too. 

Essentially, the world building is excellent. The politics are so intricate, the history is complex and layered, and the magic system is unique and compelling (botanicals with varying magical properties). The world is rich in every sense of the word. And yet, it's also so confusing. A lot of information is simply eluded too, the reader is left to try unscramble details and piece things together, and more often than not I simply didn't understand the politics or history when it came to who's fighting who or who's ruling who, etc etc. This is a huge pity, because it's not badly written. It's just very poorly explained. It's muddled. 

The plot is fantastic, albeit dull in some sections. When there's action, it's bloody and fast and utterly terrifying, but it could've been more frequent; there's a lot of talking and describing, and while it's not badly done, it does get tedious. For a story about pirates, I wanted more sea-faring skirmishes. 

One thing the author does brilliantly is deal with heavy topics. To avoid spoilers I won't get descriptive, but basically the King is wicked and does horrific things to his enemies. These incidents aren't graphic, but they're extremely real and this makes for some intense scenes which aren't easy to read. The author is examining the effects of war, especially on children, and cruelties committed by those in authority simply because they have the power. The portrayal is very raw and realistic. 

  You forgive yourself for what you've done. You admit mistakes. You learn from them. And you improve.  

Lu and Vex are brilliant characters (especially Lu, because her character developement is so strong). I loved their chapters, their personalities, their banter and beautifully tentative romance, and I'm in awe of how seamlessly the author brought to light their backstories and fleshed out their motivations. There's so much more to each of them than initially meets the eye, and I appreciated how slowly their deeper selves were revealed.
Lu and Vex are so fierce and strong despite the suffering they've been through. I love their characters.

Ben - the third protagonist and point of view character - isn't as compelling. I found his chapters boring. I prefer the secondary characters such as Nayeli and Edda - they felt more three dimensional and interesting - and I feel like Ben's integral perspective as the Prince was wasted on a dry, passive character.

These Rebel Waves is a beautifully written, powerful story about the beliefs that shape us. It's about breaking, and healing, and the hope we cling to when our world is falling apart.

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