In 2018, I had the joy of being able to read two books centered around groups of young women. They were very much the same in some ways and very much different in others. Both found their way into my heart.
Seafire by Natalie C. Parker follows a young ship captain and her crew in a watery Mad Max-esque apocalypse world. Everyone hides from the Bullets, fleets of warriors ruled by an overlord. Caledonia’s family hid on the sea, her mother the captain of a ship full of refugees. When Caledonia runs into a Bullet she thinks she can trust, he quickly turns on her. The Bullet gathers his fleet and raids the ship.
The two lone survivors, Caledonia and a girl named Pisces, rebuild and recruit other female survivors, girls lost on land and sea who hope for a new way of life.
When Caledonia takes on a ship of Bullets, she is forced to once again put her trust in the hands of a Bullet to save not only her best friend, but their brothers. After the loss of a crew member, Caledonia struggles putting the others on the line and with her job as their Captain.
This book was a wild ride with very few lulls. While the story telling was great and I cared deeply for each and every character, reading often left me stressed because the stakes were so damn high. Good things happen through the rising action, but Caledonia’s self-doubt keeps her from embracing them and often sets the group back.
Finally, toward the end, Caledonia discovers herself and her own power as the captain. The book ends with a bloody fight and a cliffhanger that had me begging for more. Despite the stress it caused, or perhaps because of it, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Parker did an amazing job bringing life at sea, the inner workings of a ship, and sea-battles to the page in an understandable and exciting way.
On the other end of this female empowerment spectrum stands a similar book. The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke follows a band of girls tired of the quiet death trade in the cold Vorse lands. Their blades have known nothing more than the sick and the old. Frey, the leader of the band, dreams of glory. Other dream of freedom, of home.
When they learn of a beast rampaging in the Blue Vee lands, Frey asks her friends if they would rather fight something that fought back. The decision isn’t immediate, the group pulling in several directions all along the way. They visit the Sea Witches that one of their own used to belong to. Their path finds them in the home of a witch named the Cut-Queen, with powerful marsh magic and a hunger for war.
The book moves along slowly, quietly. It is not exactly the rip-roaring adventure that Seafire was despite the many bloody incidents that happen along the way. Tucholke’s writing slowly unfolds, revealing character through tale, very much mirroring the epic sagas of Norse lands. Even moments one would expect to feel loud and chaotic seem to quietly punch the reader in the gut.
Both books feature bands of women who, one way or another, set out to change their world. They are YA books, though the setting and situations have produced characters that read as older.
Personally, I highly recommend both. If you’re looking for a cozy read, try The Boneless Mercies. If you want something with a bang, grab a copy of Seafire.