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The Girl the Sea Gave Back

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Girl the Sea Gave Back Book Poster Image
Sky in the Deep companion has rich detail, Viking violence.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

As in the companion book Sky in the Deep, weapons, clothing, armor, and warrior lifestyle are modeled on the lives of early Vikings. Some details on fighting techniques and the work of healers. The idea of "Spinners" is introduced -- beings similar to the Fates in Greek Mythology.

Positive Messages

"War is easy" is repeated often. The path to peace is more difficult but worth it. Leadership that honors family, mourns loss, and shows mercy is part of that path.  

Positive Role Models & Representations

Tova begins as someone who's willingly led by others in order to keep herself safe. As she trusts in her own intuition more, she escapes that life to do what's right. This trust in herself takes a long time. Oddly, when warmongers see what they want to see in the runes she casts, she feels responsible. Halvard is plagued with doubt about his ability as a leader but makes good decisions that pull his people toward peace. He shows mercy on the enemy when others wouldn't and rightly trusts an outsider whom everyone else fears.

Violence

Bloody battles and skirmishes, with some close-up details of gory action: throats slit with knives, the pop of a knife plunging into a chest, axes digging into flesh, etc. Scores dead, including a few secondary characters who are heavily mourned and burned on pyres. Many wounded, with details about blood loss, infections, and stitching deep cuts. A whole village of innocents is slaughtered, with details of aftermath (children dead in mothers' arms). A head is chopped off a corpse and carried away. Many flashbacks to violence in characters' pasts, including families dying of illness and in war and getting dragged and beaten by local villagers. A funeral boat carries a drowned 6-year-old girl away.  

Sex

One kiss.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink mead and ale in homes and before and after battle. Some drinkers are older teens.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Girl the Sea Gave Back is a Viking warrior fantasy from the same world as Sky in the Deep, but it takes place about 10 years later. A few of the same characters show up, but they have no major role to play, so either book can be read first. As in that novel, the battles and skirmishes are extra bloody here. Expect close-up details of gory action: throats slit with knives, the pop of a knife plunging into a chest, axes digging into flesh, etc. Many die, including a few secondary characters who are heavily mourned and burned on pyres. Many are also wounded, with details about blood loss, infections, and stitching deep cuts. A whole village of innocents is slaughtered, with details of the aftermath (seeing children dead in mothers' arms). A head is chopped off a corpse and carried away. Characters (including teens) drink mead and wine at meals and before and after battle. The main characters are admirable: Tova finally listens to her intuition and escapes her old life to right wrongs, and Halvard grows into the leader his people need in a crisis, one who ultimately chooses peace, even though it's harder to achieve.

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What's the story?

In THE GIRL THE SEA GAVE BACK, Tova has read the runes for the Svell people since she washed up on their shore at the age of 6. The local holy man who found her and raised her thought she was a gift from the gods. With black tattoos all over her body, it's clear she's of the Kyrr people -- and with the eye tattoo at the center of her chest, she is also a Truthtongue who can cast rune stones to read their fates. One night she's summoned to the Svell's council, where there are calls for war against the weakened Nadhir clan. The rune is clear to her: Hagalaz, or complete destruction. The chieftan Bekan is concerned and decides to forge peace to save his clan. His brother, Vigdis, has other ideas about what the rune means. He's already raided a Nadhir village and wants complete destruction for them at all costs, even if he has to betray his brother. Meanwhile, Halvard, the chieftan-in-waiting, sets out to meet the Svell people with other important clan members. When he spots Tova among the Svell, both sense an immediate connection -- something that ties their fates together. This feeling is interrupted when swords are drawn all around them and the killing starts.

Is it any good?

Though a much smaller story in scope than the author's last Viking-set fantasy, this companion novel still resonates, with thoughtful characters and a deep sense of place. Sky in the Deep brought two clans and two people together and explored prejudice and empathy. The Girl the Sea Gave Back gives readers a skirmish, a cry for war, and a big battle with far too many flashbacks in between. The goals are simply survival and peace. Secondary to that, Tova would like to know more about where she came from and what her real purpose is. Readers knows long before she does and may wonder why she doesn't escape from the Svell as soon as possible. When she makes the connection with Halvard, it's a long time before anything real can come of it.

While readers are waiting for Tova to come around, there's much to enjoy in The Girl the Sea Gave Back. The setting and the details of this world and the cultures that inhabit it will draw you in. The mystical Kyrr fascinate, even from afar. Author Adrienne Young pulls in close to the Viking-style beards and braids and armor -- and to the hearths where warriors stitch each other's wounds. Time slows in front of a funeral pyre as loved ones are laid to rest. The whole story may keep to a simple plot, but it hones in on its depths quite well.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the oft-repeated phrase "war is easy" in The Girl the Sea Gave Back. How hard is it to forge peace in this world? What gets in the way?

  • The violence is bloody here, but the consequences are clearly shown: the funeral pyres, the mourning, the remembered loss. Does it change the way you experience the battles as you read?

  • Is there more to be explored in this Viking world after The Girl the Sea Gave Back and Sky in the Deep? Would you want to read more about the Kyrr next? Or another clan or character?

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