I have about a billion books in progress on my reading list. It’s kind of cool because it means I am reading a lot more than I used to, but it also means I finish pretty slowly. But if I don’t finish, I don’t get to write reviews! BUMMER.
I knew pretty early on that I WANTED to review this one, though, so I’ve been chomping at the bit to finish it. It became my commute book, and I read it on my half hour to and from work (my roommate drives us in). And last night, I finally finished.
A while back, I mentioned I was invited to be a part of a Book Launch Party. It was my first one, and I was tickled to have been included. As part of the event, I was given this free copy of Sarah Cushaway’s debut novel, SALT IN THE WATER (Lesser Dark: Book 1).
How I Found This Little Gem
Sarah is a Traverse City author. Whenever possible, I like to be able to help out my peers. We support each other when we can, through NaNoWriMo and beyond. So when she gave me her book, I was thrilled. I haven’t met a lot of TC authors who write fantasy (which is pretty much all I will read). However, it was a little slanty-like from my usual fare. I warned her of this, as I have found it increasingly difficult to enjoy fantasy lately. It all starts to look the same after a while, and I quickly get bored and put the book down.
Sarah assured me that this would be a little different. SALT IN THE WATER is a “Weird Western,” a subgenre that takes elements from Westerns and combines them with another. This book is basically a fantasy novel set in a fictional border town. I was intrigued enough to give it a shot, but Western isn’t really my thing, either, and I went into the book skeptical. What I love about fantasy is how far removed it is from the modern world. I don’t want to be anywhere near it.
But, for friends and fellow TC writers, I’ll try my damndest. Represent.
The blurb for this book is as follows:
There are a thousand ways to die in the desert—desperate outlaws, deadly predators, murderous elements, and betrayal. . .
Kaitar Besh, a veteran scout as legendary for his cynicism as his skills, is ordered to brave the deadly Shy’war-Anquai desert one last time. Escorting Leigh Enderi—a greenhorn Enforcer with a reputation as shady as his own—he soon realizes the ghosts of his past have come to haunt more than his nightmares.
When the mission breaks down in the wake of bitter hatred and mistrust, even Kaitar’s fabled skills may not be enough to bring them home again. Stranded in the red wasteland without contact, food, or water, they uncover a betrayal that could bring all they hold dear crumbling to the dust. . . and tear down the wall of lies surrounding them.
Basically, the plot follows a small group sent to investigate the disappearance of a fellow Enforcer, and while they are tracking him in the desert, conflict happens. Meanwhile, all around them is a multilayered battle over territory, and power and authority is shifting hands. Of course, when you’re isolated out in the desert and cut off from communications, it’s kind of hard to keep your finger on the pulse of politics, so nasty surprises abound.
It reminded me quite a bit of Mad Max. Water is important. Whoever has it is king. There are guns and sand rovers. And somewhere in the desert there are sand pirates who will kill you and take all of your stuff, and maybe eat you. Not to mention the desert is dangerous anyway.
What I Liked
Sarah was right. This is a bit of a departure from typical fantasy fare. Actually, it has a little more science fiction in it than I was expecting.
There are multiple races, and they generally hate each other. There are the usual humans and races of sentient humanoids collectively referred to as Enetics (although to be fair, one of the Enetic races is basically velociraptors called Threk, which I am totally fine with). There’s a universal mistrust of Enetics that’s strikingly relevant to the modern age, although there are some that are able to look past that. The border town of Dogton keeps quite a few Enetics employed, for which the city’s leader is given a lot of shit.
I quite enjoyed the interactions between the races. There’s a deep hatred between Leigh’s people and Kaitar’s people, the Sulari and Shyiine, respectively, which causes a lot of strife as they travel together, despite the fact that neither of them are particularly fond of their own people. Both of them have some deep issues and neither of them ever want to talk about it until they want to fight about it.
I love the Shyiine. The two that appear in the story, Kaitar and Senqua, are both entertainingly pissy. Kaitar is like a harassed school chaperone. He’s out there like, “Don’t touch anything, don’t lick anything, don’t wander off” but no one wants to listen to him. He’s used to being on his own, so having to keep two other people from getting themselves killed is exasperating and amuses me. Senqua is a greenhorn scout paired up with a total drunk. She’s a constantly boiling over fury because she wants to learn and basically has to figure it all out on her own. I get the feeling that at some point her mentor was better to her, but now she’s disgusted. It has created this interesting dynamic where she won’t let him drink himself to death and is oddly protective, even though she is constantly bitching, like she can’t help herself.
I love irritable characters. And SALT IN THE WATER has tons of them. I was also quite fond of Zres, but I’ll leave him for you to discover.
It’s often difficult when writing such a large cast of characters to keep them all separate, different, and interesting, but this book absolutely nails that. There are plenty of unique character-character interactions. A book is supposed to make you feel like there was a story before this and there will be a story after it, and maybe there is more story running in the background. It’s supposed to be real, like you’ve landed smack dab in the middle of everyone’s personal dramas. This did not fail to deliver on that.
What I Didn’t Like
Surprisingly little. Usually I’ll have some kind of complaint about writing style and believability of character development, maybe worldbuilding, but nah.
If anything, I’m left wanting to know more about Kaitar’s past. There are little bits and pieces in flashbacks and nightmares but not the full picture. There keep being hints at some kind of dark, horrible secret from his fighting pit days. I get the feeling it’s all in the second book (which has yet to be released), but I was impatient for it now. Same with Leigh’s backstory. There’s a little of it.
And I really, really want to know who Verand was, really. In this book he’s sort of a shadow of his former self but he was apparently a pretty big fucking deal.
Oh, and maybe it was the copy I received or something in formatting translation to my MOBI reader on my phone, but there were quite a few missing periods. I’m smart enough to figure out when a sentence ends. It wasn’t even distracting enough to slow me down, but worth mentioning I suppose.
I’m definitely looking forward to book two. It’s called GHOSTS IN THE GLASS.
I have no idea when it’s released, but I follow Sarah on Twitter and I’ll be looking out for it.
SALT IN THE WATER was a great detour from my usual book fodder. I kept snorting and laughing out loud at some of the arguments the characters had and I couldn’t stop telling my roommate about what was going on. I’m trying to get him to read it now.
This book is free. You should totally pick it up. And then review it, because that’s what you do to support the artists that you like.
S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print) and short fantasy A SHINY FOR TRICK (forever free for your entertainment!).
Check out our #SundayReview category to find out what we are reading, watching, or learning about storytelling in all of its forms!
I have been -SO- busy. Doing what I am supposed to be doing and devoting my soul to the words.
Check out the #SamWIP category every Monday to hear about Sam’s current projects!
Today, I bought my first audiobook. Soon after, I bought the second. I’ve been working on my set aside love for reading. 2016 was better for that. 2017 is going to be even better. Part of my effort in fixing the deficiency is where I put books. I have books in every nook and cranny now. One by the bed, one in the bathroom, one at work for my breaks. Last year I bought my first smart phone, and I put books on my phone for when I get stuck places.
This year, I’m trying to expand into audiobooks. It lets me ‘read’ when I would be otherwise unable. I travel a lot for work, going 2-4 hours each way for meetings. I go to Iowa once a year and Chicago once a year. Audiobooks presented a logical choice. Add that to my growing distaste for the radio and my utter disgust for the state of politics.
I should have done this sooner, honestly.
I’ve been eyeballing The Slow Regard of Silent Things for quite a long time now. Honestly, the only reason I haven’t bought it already is solely because it’s short. The price tag on books being what it is, I didn’t want to shell out for a book I could finish in an hour. But I spend my book profits on non-practical things, so slightly expensive short books might have been something I would buy. I put Slow Regard in my shopping cart a few times, and then I took it back out.
This morning, the first Audiobook I downloaded for my two hour drive was The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe, another compendium of awesome I haven’t had the chance to read yet. Unfortunately, being 16+ hours long made it a long download, and I wasn’t going to be able to finish downloading it before I hit the road this morning.
It was the perfect moment for rash decisions.
Because I NEEDED a book on this drive, and I was already going to be late for my meeting. Suddenly, a 60 page novella didn’t look half bad. So I threw my hands in the air, said “Fuck it,” and shelled out the $15. It’s a three and a half hour audiobook. Perfect.
I downloaded Slow Regard this morning. I have already listened to it THREE TIMES.
It is breathtaking.
Patrick Rothfuss opens the book by telling you it’s probably a bad idea to buy it. Which is brilliant, because it already has the listener quirking an eyebrow and paying very close attention. Why does he even think this?
Slow Regard breaks every rule. It’s too short. It has no real plot. No real conflict. Very little dialogue. One character. It’s…what most people might consider tedious. Nonsense. Without purpose. It’s part of and yet not part of his popular series, The Kingkiller Chronicle, in that it concerns one of the books’ minor characters. But it doesn’t add anything to that plot. It doesn’t advance the plot. You don’t see the main character at all. And it is for these reasons that he cautions the prospective buyer to really think about their choices here.
This is, as he points out, a strange tale. A bit…different.
It’s about a girl, Auri, who lives beneath the university in a place she calls The Underthing. She is a free spirit. In a lot of ways she reminds me of characters like Luna Lovegood, Radical Edward, or Tersa from the Black Jewels trilogy. Something in her is not quite right. A little broken, but not altogether unhappy.
“To be so lovely and so lost. To be all answerful with all that knowing trapped inside. To be beautiful and broken.”
She lives in a world all her own. She sees things in ways others do not see. Mundane objects are personified. They have feelings. They might suggest or say things. All of them are special in some way.
“There was a door, but it was terribly bashful, so Auri politely pretended not to see it.”
She travels around the Underthing, usually running and barefoot, to set things in their proper place and search for proper gifts for ‘him.’ It is obsessive and yet sweet. Objects might be fickle and change their minds about things. They might become angry and want to be moved. They might be restless and need to be used. Some become ‘free to go,’ and can be taken. But Auri would never take something that is not ready to leave, even if she wants it very badly for herself.
What I find intriguing about Auri the most–because I have read the books–is how the true power of Auri is hinted at, only just, throughout. She used to be, I gather, an incredibly talented student at the university until something happened that dramatically changed her life. She mentions the Masters often, remembering lessons from chemistry. Sometimes, she throws in a bit of knowledge about chemicals and their uses. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, the words hitting like a sledgehammer when they happen. She’s traversing tunnels, obeying the fickle whims of buttons and kissing snails, and then she thinks about iridium, or identifies the materials that are used to make a thing.
What makes this audiobook so particularly charming, in my opinion, is that Pat has taken it upon himself to be the narrator. Yes, he is reading his own book to you. Personally, I love that. It means he is telling the story exactly the way it is intended to be told, with the right pauses and emphases and everything.
I listened, more intent on this story than any story I have read in years. I sighed and swooned at the words. They are the loveliest of words. I appreciate the made-up words like ‘answerfull’ and how many adjectives inanimate objects can feel. Like ‘thuggish and terse,’ or ‘garrulous and bawdy.’ It might sound strange…but I could understand how she feels. Childlike. Oh, what a restless key, so in want of a lock! Yeah. That actually makes perfect sense. Keys should want locks. Or how she hesitates as she considers things (Maybe…but no. No, she knew better than that.)
When the book ended, I kept listening. I wasn’t ready for it to be over. I could have listened to this for many more hours than three and some.
Much to my beleaguered sadness, Pat used the end of the book to, in a way, apologize again. He tells the story of how he broke down to a friend (Vi) about how he thought his own story was a mess and how he couldn’t publish it. But his friend loved it, for the same reason I love it and so many others seem to as well. This is a story for us. For the artists who appreciate playful tales that just needed to come out. For a chance to sit in quiet awe and praise a brave work that breaks all of the rules and doesn’t apologize for it.
For being itself.
“It was wise enough to know itself, and brave enough to be itself, and wild enough to change itself while somehow staying altogether true.”
I keep talking about Pat because he is a wonderful human, and it bums me out that he ever feels like his words are simply not good enough to be shared. In his end note, he talks about his friend’s words and how they struck him as one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to him. About how someone else is already writing those books for other people who like books that have all of the things. THIS book is for people like ME. Actually, what she said was:
“Fuck those people. Those people have stories written for them all the time. What about me? Where’s the story for people like me?”
When he said this in his endnote, it hit me. Hard. Because that’s how I feel, all the time. I like to experience the unfiltered things that come straight from the heart of an artist. The raw, unrefined love that pours out onto a page when no one is watching. The art an artist makes for themselves, just to look upon and think, “Yeah. This is what I wanted to do all along.” But they don’t because they’re so focused on thinking about what everyone else wants that they set their own desires aside for a ‘later’ that never comes.
THIS is why Pat wrote it. And then when he did it, he knew that people would hate it. And some of them did. He was right about that.
But some of them didn’t. Some of them loved it.
“…one comment people have made over and over again and again, phrased many different ways, is this:
‘I don’t know what other people will think. They probably won’t like it. But I really enjoyed it.’
It’s strange to me how many people have said some version of that.”
This soared straight to the top of everything, guys. This just became my number one. It’s so perfectly lovely, so shy, so okay with itself. It’s a tiny piece of beauty that was created just so it could be. Something that existed just because it needed to.
This is what I scream about every time I come here. Do the things. Do the things you want like no one is hovering over you. There’s a time and a place for rules. This isn’t one.
He ends the book with something I usually find sickly-sweet and fake, but because it is Pat, I know he absolutely means it.
This story is for all the slightly broken people out there.
I am one of you. You are not alone. You are all beautiful to me.
I cried. After all those lovely, gentle words and the passionate account of how drunken Pat confessed that he thought people would just be purely pissed, and then this…yes, I cried. And I smiled because I was crying.
And then I did something I have never, ever done, not even once.
I restarted it from the beginning. Immediately.
Check out our #SundayReview category to find out what we are reading, watching, or learning about storytelling in all of its forms!