A Promising Debut, but Lacking in Magic
Salt & Storm
by Kendall Kulper
Publication Date: September 23, 2014
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
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A sweeping historical romance about a witch who foresees her own murder—and the one boy who can help change her future.
Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island’s whalers safe at sea, but her mother has forced her into a magic-free world of proper manners and respectability. When Avery dreams she’s to be murdered, she knows time is running out to unlock her magic and save herself.
Avery finds an unexpected ally in a tattooed harpoon boy named Tane—a sailor with magic of his own, who moves Avery in ways she never expected. Becoming a witch might stop her murder and save her island from ruin, but Avery discovers her magic requires a sacrifice she never prepared for.
Salt & Storm reminds me of a certain classic novel about a white whale and a man’s obsessive quest for revenge. Yes, I mean Moby Dick. And no, that’s not necessarily a good thing. Let me briefly tell you how I feel about Moby Dick. While it was ultimately memorable, the novel was so thorough in its research and realism that it bogged me down and made me dizzy, sick, and bored with its endless chapters on whaling and blubber in descriptive, non-glorious detail. And let’s not even talk about Ahab. I always wanted to know more about Ishmael and less about Ahab. But that would have been another story. While some scenes in Moby Dick are harrowing and powerful, for me the emotional impact was marred by both my lack of connection to the characters and the slogging pace created by the huge asides in which Melville proved he was worth his salt.
So how is Salt & Storm like Melville’s “Great American Novel”? Well, I’m not saying it’s classic literature. It’s decidedly not. However, the author has done her research on whaling and magic in order to make the world of Prince Island seem real. In that she has succeeded. Tane, the island-boy love interest of heroine Avery Roe, initially focused on avenging the death of his family, is for a time Kulper’s own Ahab in miniature. Avery and Tane even have a discussion about the inadequacy of revenge. Interestingly enough, Avery’s words to Tane about revenge are both more convincing and more meaningful than any on-page romance between the two. And therein lies one of the main rubs. When the plot begins to focus more on romance than mystery and intrigue, there is little satisfaction for the reader. The romance is classic insta-love at its best. Though, just as I found Ishmael more interesting than Ahab, I eventually wanted to know more about secondary character Tane than protagonist Avery Roe.
While Kulper serves up plenty of salty sea air and atmosphere, she never comes through with the seemingly promised magic. If you are reading this book hoping for a little bit of Salem-ish witchery, you’ll be sorely disappointed. At novel’s beginning, you are hooked by young Avery’s telling of a story of when her grandmother allowed her to sit in and “help” as she magically tied the winds. And when Avery is forcibly removed from her home and her loving grandmother by her “evil” mother, you want nothing more than for Avery to break her mother’s curse and get back home to her grandmother and the magic that is her birthright.
Avery, who knows no magic but has the gift of interpreting dreams, is thrust together with Tane, who has come to her for answers about his dreams in order that he may avenge his family’s murder. Avery, desperate to awaken her own magic, has had dreams herself foretelling her own fated death. Once the plot moves past Avery and Tane telling dreams and trying to break the curse, it peters out into a story which bears little resemblance to the story I anticipated.
Don’t get me wrong. Salt & Storm shaped into a book with more depth and complexity than I thought it would. It turned out to be a story about choice versus determinism, a tale about love in many shapes, shades, and sizes, a tale about family and gender, a discussion of sacrifice and courage. There are elements of Salem thrown in to be certain, and there are some spine-chillingly memorable scenes. However, the novel’s greatest shortcoming is that it does not establish a meaningful emotional tie between the reader and Avery. Any feelings I began to have at the outset faded when the novel’s romantic portion didn’t take hold, and finally, I felt duped by the author. When the story began pulling the wool from the reader’s eyes by uncovering previously unseen truths, the narrative reveals undercut the reliability of the narrator, severing the already weak ties I had to Avery. To use a nautical analogy, I was left adrift in the story with no emotional mooring or compass.
Two final words on the novel’s flawed execution. One: Third person narration might have been more effective than the first person which was used. First person narration can be powerful, but it’s actually much more difficult to pull off than people think. Debut authors often fall short. Two: Never underestimate your reader. Kulper’s narration suffers from repetitiveness. She writes something, makes a point, then later reminds you of what she’s written by telling you again, until it begins to feel that you are being told both what to think and what to feel. I believe this is what people speak of when they say that a book tells rather than shows. Perhaps we could have been shown more had the novel been related by an omniscient third person narrator. Alas, we shall never know. That ship has sailed. And sunk.
— Dawn Teresa
3 of 5 Hearts. A Promising Debut, but Lacking in Magic.
Salt & Storm gets the reader’s hopes up for a magical tale of witchcraft and romance. Unfortunately, it falls somewhat short in both areas leaving the reader adrift.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”