4 stars · book review

review: Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Perez

Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Perez

★★★★☆ // 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads review: here

THIS BOOK IS INTELLECTUAL, Y’ALL. I got wrecked. I texted my best friend about it and she got wrecked. She didn’t even read this book. I’m upsetti but I don’t regretti.

Ok this made me mad but it was supposed to make me mad I stayed up till 4 am to finish this and can I just say I sympathize with Branwen so hard but also did she not realize a love potion would backfire. Were there no folk songs about love potions for her to realize?

Overall, I enjoyed this book because I knew the cousin character was written to be purposely upsetting to garner Branwen more sympathy. However, I wish some of the magic would have been explained because there were a couple of logic jumps I couldn’t keep up with regarding how Branwen’s powers came to be. I wish this book came with Fairyloot instead of Heart of Thorns LOL.

My god, I think this book had almost everything going for it to earn my favor. It seems like Kristina Perez was trying really hard to get me to like this because:

Branwen,my girl,  is so level-headed, but you see her wanting to let loose because she’s been wound up her entire life, but she can’t because of her circumstnces. Seeing her grappling with the duty to her family and country and her love for Tristan was a delight to see. I will say the two complaints I have about this book are her never refusing Keane’s affection (she liked the attention, ok? But he was bad news from the beginning tbh) and how her magical abilities were explained. Overall, she’s one of my favorite MCs this year in YA fantasy. Branwen’s relationships with her aunt, cousin and Tristan are all amazingly written.

Tristan is a POC and the main love interest. The author has a PhD in medieval literature, and I’m so glad she went there and acknowledged that medieval Europe wasn’t completely a loaf of white bread. This is a fantasy medieval historical type novel, so there wasn’t really an excuse not to have people of color anywayyyy. Sweet Black Waves also covers immigration and how Tristan’s family got to Kernyv with great nuance. I’ve never seen YA fantasy within recent memory cover immigration as well as this, so yay. Tristan’s dialogue with Branwen was honestly so smooth I had to close the book on multiple occassions and just laugh at how audacious it was. I do hope the sequel delves more into his POV because that man is dedicated to his girl (except you know… in *that* chapter).

That witty banter between Branwen and Tristan shook me. How dare Kristina Perez. *ahem* Dr. Perez.  Tristan/Branwen is so wholesome and naughty despite the whole lack of communication (hope they work on it next book) and love potion fiasco.

– The cousin character, Essy (Eseult Jr.) – I know she was written to be annoying and generally upsetting to make us sympathize more with Branwen and I loved and hated every minute of it. If you’ve ever known someone who takes everything you do for them for-granted and then complain saying *you* don’t do enough for them, this is that person. Essy and Branwen’s relationship is really fleshed out in addition to the Branwen/Tristan romance, and I’m glad Perez dedicated the page count she did to showing Branwen’s devotion to her cousin and also her doubts about whether Essy truly would have her back if the situation were reversed. The amount of maneuvering Branwen has to do to do what’s best for Essy (in her opinion) is astonishing and Essy is a huge brat and selfish af for fucking it up. That doesn’t mean Essy herself doesn’t have layers. I like how her sweet princess demeanor melts away when it comes to the hatred for Kernyv and Tristan, and her desire for freedom – it shows even the sweetest ones are capable of crock-shit. The miscommunication between Essy and Bran is so frustrating and satisfying at the same time, because it shows how much Essy is self-involved but also how much Branwen keeps secrets from the people she loves the most. No one’s perfect in this situation and it’s delicious.

– Cute magical fox mascot courtesy of the Old Ones (my aesthetic!!!)

Fire and water/ice symoblism entrenched deep into the prose (my aesthetic!!!).

– Branwen’s friggin’ pearlescent moon blade (my aesthetic!!!). She used it to shank a binch. She’s a healer and a fighter.

– The politics between Iveriu and Kernyv was so good. Both countries have done each other dirty, and the book consciously points out that continuing to perpetuate hatred against each other will ensure mutual destruction. Branwen has every reason to hate Kernyv, but so does Tristan. Their development as they come to value each other’s cultures is a direct counter for Keane and Essy’s hatred for Kernyv, which don’t get checked, and you see the negative consequences of that. What I love about this book is that the reasons these countries are feuding are clear and navigating them is complex. This isn’t just a cheeky set up background for a basic ass enemies-to-lovers romance that’ll… unite the kingdoms and save the world from darkness and shit. There’s even some mention of different religions between the countries that isn’t [A has B religion and C has D religion]. The story goes out of its way to make a good setting, so kudos.

– Exploration on the ethics of love potions – I knew this was going to be a disaster the moment the subject of love potions was brought up. I was waiting and waiting for it to come into play, and the ancticipation of the inevitably still didn’t prepare me for how much I’d be hurt by the ending. I honestly was taken aback at how Branwen reacted to when the love potion was used even though it was her idea to brew it in the first place and she didnt think to take any precautions with it. Then again, her beau got unknowingly love-potioned into committing some NTR, and she just snapped and ended it all in her anguish.

***spoiler below spoiler below***

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Due to Essy thinking the love potion was anti-anxiety meds, Essy slipped some into her and Tristan’s drinks. They shared the a nice drink and then frick-fracked while Branwen was asleep. At the sight of Essy and Tristan having a one-night stand, Branwen lost it. She was so mad she got super strength and pulled Tristan’s entire ass out of bed and pushed Essy against the wall and practically poked her boob for ruining everything. Snatch her by the hair, Branwen! I was really invested into Branwen/Tristan but I knew this was going to happen since it’s a Tristan and Iseult retelling. I freaking texted my bestie about this and she got so upset too and she didn’t even read the book!!!! We were clutching our pearls at this! Now I’m not saying it was Tristan’s fault for cheating on her, but he really wasn’t himself while under the influence of a love potion. That’s why I thought Branwen lacked oversight in all of this, but I get why she’s FURIOUS. She sacrificed everything for Essy and Tristan only to be paid back with THIS. SHOOK.

I feel like this book was catered extremely well to my personal taste. The characters were great. The world building was great minus some of the magical elements needing more explanation. The romance was great, but if you prefer a straight-forward romance, the ending might frustrate you. If anything drags on, the Essy bullshit making Branwen angstier. I had really low expectations for Sweet Black Waves because I thought it’d be this typical enemies-to-lovers white bread Norse/Irish-inspired fantasy romance. To my surprise, this book exceeded my expectations in the best ways. I really want the sequel. Tristan, win back Branwen’s love!!! *shakes fist*

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