Book Review: The Forever Sea

The Forever Sea by Joshua Phillip Johnson


Kindred has just returned from a near-devastating journey on the Forever Sea when she learns her estranged grandmother has stepped into the grass and killed herself. Or has she?

“Let us escape again,” the storyteller says, clapping his hands to gather their attention, “to a story of senseless violence and distrust, a story of love and hope, a story of our worst natures and the devastation a few might wreak.”

Hovering between a 3.5 and a 4.

This is undeniably a book about climate change and the ways humanity has pruned and scourged nature to resemble a tamed version of itself, and how resources are wasted and used without regard until it’s too late.

The setting of the world was fantastic, with some really interesting magic and world-systems, and a fascinating insight into what motivates people, governments, and civilizations, and the various ways folks live around and among the world. Plus, there’s the entire concept of an ocean made of grass, that stretches impossibly into forever (at least over four miles) and had weird magical properties that allow for it to grow that high and fuck with people’s minds when they are below the blades. In addition, there are ships that cruise along the tops of the grass (never below), powered by a special fire managed by hearthkeepers like Kindred. Various kinds of grasses are used as food, medicine, power and magic sources, and keep the economy of Kindred’s home going.

I LOVED the worldbuilding (however, wanted less purple plant prose), wanted more conclusions/wrap-up at the end than what I got, and felt that nearly 500 pages was far too long to have it end with pretty much nothing resolved.

I did enjoy the dichotomy of Kindred’s home city (forgot its name, whoops) and the Once-City, who interact with nature in two completely different yet equally destructive ways.

Kindred’s city is one that has erased nature from itself. It exists solely to bring nature to its knees, ignoring the management of the prairie in order to get more, more, more. As a result, it’s running out of water for its people, and strict rations are set in place to keep the population going. Its high stone walls protect it from the sea, and create barriers to further remove the population from nature. Its hearthkeepers use strict, rote builds to create and wield the fires that power their ships, with no thought for listening to the fire save for more ways to control it.

On the other hand, the Once-City operates entirely within the prairie. It’s people use living grass for their homes and is seemingly a world where the people are entirely in tune with their environment. They want for nothing, and it’s almost idealistic, save for when Kindred remembers it’s run by pirates who supplement the have-nots with other people’s possessions, and when she learns that the council is keeping a deadly secret from its population.

I was initially unsure about a man writing a woman main character (I always tread carefully with these because of the Strong Female Character trope), much less a lesbian, but he did well. Stayed within his lane, didn’t write too much that was cringe.

However, the plot dragged, particularly when the author skipped off to describe the various variations of the prairie seas and how the light would hit each individual blade of grass (yes, each individual blade was described in detail, several times). Which was cool at first, and then it continued and I was like, stop describing and let’s get this plot going again. However, like the Once-City, the plot was moored fast for longer than it needed to be, and became bogged down in description after description, as if the lesson on show vs tell was switched to MAXIMUM SHOW.

3.5 stars because the plot was intriguing, and despite the tendency to go overboard in describing the sea, I really, really enjoyed the worldbuilding and the general mystery of the after and the before (the storyteller is used as a framing device that kinda works, but leaves more questions than answers at the end).

Don’t know if I’ll stick around for book 2, mainly because in a book that long I wanted more answers and resolutions than what I got.

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review

The Forever Sea releases Jan 19, 2021 from DAW

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