These Rebel Waves by Sara Raasch
★★☆☆☆ // 2.5 out of 5 stars
So the story goes: people thought there were gay pirates but then found out there weren’t but then *I* read it and there were gay pirates, so now I’m confused because that isn’t the main problem I had with this book.
Verdict: Cool idea and concept, but hollow execution, especially it’s attempt to discuss immigration when the story avoids actually showing and portraying immigrant characters that are not directly connected to the main characters. Only Vex’s backstory and prince Benat’s relationship with his cousin truly resonate here, which I suspect because it’s not tied to the shoehorned and under/poorly-researched immigration storyline with the 3rd protag, Adeluna (Lu).
Original thoughts: So like the world building and plot try to be nuanced and deep and stuff by its just a mess. Like don’t get me started on how Lu read like a how to get over your white guilt (she ain’t even white tm?) guide over immigration for the middle portion of the book and how underdeveloped all the different cultures introduced are.
Characters – Yikes. Vex is the only character I respect in this whole damn book. Ironic.
Lu’s entire existence was a mess. Her ignorance on immigration is quickly thanks to having conversations with her woke friends but it felt so inauthentic for a number of reasons:
1) Wtf is Grace Lorayan culture? We are never introduced to the baseline of what is “normal” for GL.
2) How is Lu raised to be so acultural when he entire country is made up of immigrants so there’s presumably no pressure to assimilate because and it’s not like her parents are acultural like her. She would undoubtedly pick some cultural things up even if she’s not aware that she has. And this is not any judgement on biracial/multiracial people who feel disconnected with their family’s culture irl, this is a criticism of how These Rebel Waves handles this in Lu’s character concept and how it plays into the quality of the writing.
In one chapter Lu renounces her (Argridian and prolly Tunscian) heritage. The only problem is the book doesn’t give us anything about Argridian or Tunscian culture for her to renounce except we’re told later on she doesn’t know anything about their I’m guessing because her childhood was ruined by war.
3) How could Lu be so ignorant about Grace Loray and the state of its immigrants? Her family immigrated to GL too??? She suddenly becomes a lady after the war is over so that means she stopped going out and paying attention? This book has a problem revealing what characters know and don’t know for the sake of convenience and~intrigue~ but it’s just annoying and sloppy.
Lu professes to be this cool, competent daughter of a war hero and refined lady, who is all about giving Grace Loray a good reputation but it turns out she doesn’t know anything about how the state of Grace Loray really is. I understand Raasch wrote Lu to be sort of a reader stand-in so have them question how they *think* their own governments are like and be clueless until the plot reveals…er… reveal themselves. However, Raasch’s message is written at the expense of Lu’s character. It makes Lu’s ignorance unbelievable given that she’s was a spy and has access to the inner workings of the GL government.
Vex – Probably the best-written character in the book. He actually had a personality and had moments to shine outside of the explanation of his backstory. Tbh I wish we got rid of the triple perspective in favor of giving Vex a past/present switcheroo POV. We’d still have the same twist but without Lu’s white guilt-flavored immigration character arc and it would flesh out Benat’s character while he’s trying to play his part under the control of his father.
I don’t have any complaints about Vex’s crew. Edda was interesting. Nayeli was… something LOL.
NOTE: I would actually argue there are gay pirates but only if you could the raiders as pirates and if you think Nayeli and Cansu are awkward exes, which is implied they are. As a headcanon, I honestly thought Vex was Bi when he called another guy handsome. Like was I the only one who thought that or am I reading too much into that?
That being said there ain’t a lot of pirating in here. But is there gay (+queer)? Oh yeah there is (1 awkward exes wlw, 1 background mlm and one main mlm couple [who are having a rough patch OTL. But obviously we don’t need to have these characters be in relationships to be LGBTQIA+. If Vex is our resident birate, please give me more.
Benat – I quiet enjoyed his chapters in the first 1/3. I can’t say that his portions were revolutionary or unpreditcable, though. I hope he and Jakes patch things up, but OTL I can’t say I didn’t see that betrayal coming either.
The politics are complicated, and I don’t think the constant back and forth of the reveals or fake-reveals amerliorate the problem that the writing makes the entire situation hard to grasp. I love piecing things together, but the book doesn’t even allow for that. A lot of the worldbuiding only occurs when it’s necessary to advance the plot, so any information about the different cultures and countries of the world aren’t fleshed out.
The same can be said when Lu has her freak-out over being ignorant over Tunscian immigration in Grace Loray. Lots of these facts about the Tunscian settlers and immigrants are just given to us out of nowhere as if they were already introduced. There is no payoff to Lu’s personal development because there is almost nothing in delpth about Tunscian culture showning this book (discounting the fact that they have languages and specific cuisine because every culture does LOL. How is it distinct?!) besides Nayeli’s stones and a small mention of how the Tunscians are polytheistic. This is all surface level worldbuilding. I like that this book *tries* to discuss having little/no connection to your heritage, because undoubtedly some readers would connect to that. I have a problem with *HOW* it is done rather than it being done in the first place.
The plant magic didn’t have a lot of allure in the way it was written. It’s “Drugs Give You Temporary Superpowers” basically.
The main plot thread is introduced 1/3 of the way through. After that, they just throw the reveals at you and expect you to roll with it without there being any development towards that reveal. There are some twists that are foreshadowed like Lu’s lost childhood and Vex’s hidden past. The latter is more organically integreated into the story. It’s simple and doesn’t have a lot of clutter surrounding it. However, Lu’s lost childhood was so bogged down in additional details the author felt like adding. The additional Lu immigration character arc made the Argridian human experimentation with plants feel too bloated and shifted the focus too far away from Lu’s issues with Tom, her father, and her secret missions.