For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.
There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.
But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she’s not about to stop.
Genetically engineered sea monsters as ship pets and protectors – oh yeah, I was so ready for this one. When I started this book, I did not know that I would come out with so much feelings at the end of it. I mean, like, 26 pages in, I was about to cry – 26 pages in! I was that invested, right from the start. It was because Durga was so damn adorable, yes, but also because the book explores the fragile nature of morality and belonging. Cas has been learning to be a Reckoner trainer all her life, but when she is taken prisoner on her first career voyage, she is thrust into this world of grey areas. All her life, she has been taught to keep the balance of the Reckoners, and to accept that they provide justice in the treacherous sea waters. But now, on the other side of the equation, when she has to protect the pirates (even if it is under duress) the ideology of her life disintegrates.
Sure the romance is a major plot in the book, particularly in the second half, but let me talk about the other important relationship here -that between the Reckoner and its trainer. Cas has been nurturing Reckoners right from when she was a kid, and seeing one illegally obtained by the pirates, firstly it is her curiosity over the acquisition that makes her stay. In the early days, she resents her Reckoner because it is a symbol of her captivity, but she soon grows to love Bao. That development was shown so wonderfully in this book – she is worried over what she is training it to do, and how that affects its life. The demanding pirate captain has her perverting the regulated training and turn her beast into a true monster. But Cas soon realizes that the definition of a monster depends on what side of the equation you are viewing it from. Life on either side has the same value, even if one is provoked and yet innocent. Onto the romance – the author delivers a beautiful f/f romance by slowly morphing a tentative friendship into an intense relationship. The driving force for Cas’ decisions in the second half are to protect Swift, but the plot twist at the end has me worried over the state of that relationship in the next book. Since this is going to be only a duology, fingers and toes crossed!
The world-building of this book places it about a century into the future, I am guessing, since there is not a lot of history tied to it. That is perhaps my one grievance against this book, as it made it difficult to imagine a shore-life that is similar to ours, but an ocean life like the old pirate stories. It does make for an interesting anachronism that way, but I wished it was delved into more. I am hoping with Cas challenging this world that she was a part of, will we get to see more of the world-building? Overall, this was one hell of a science fiction book, and quite impressive as a debut. High hopes for the sequel!