YA Book Review

The Breathing Sea: Burning by E.P. Clark

The Book:

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Book Title: The Breathing Sea: Burning

Book Author: E.P. Clark

Page Count: 529

Publishing Date: July 20th, 2017

Publisher: Self Published

Date Read: February 22nd, 2018

Synopsis: Dasha is a gift from the gods. Only she’s not very gifted. Or at least so it seems to her. 

Eighteen years ago, Dasha’s mother made a bargain with the gods. She would bear a gods-touched child, one who would stand on the threshold between the worlds, human and divine. Dasha is that child, now almost ready to become a woman, and one day take her mother’s place as Empress of all of Zem’. Except that Dasha is shy, lonely, and one of the least magically inclined girls in the Known World. Instead she has fits and uncontrollable visions. When she sets off with her father on her first journey away from her home kremlin, she hopes she will finally find someone who can help her come into her powers. But those whom she finds only want to use her instead. What will it take for her to unlock the abilities hidden within her, and take up her proper place in the world? 

The sequel to the award-winning novel “The Midnight Land,” “The Breathing Sea” returns to the land of Zem’, where animals speak, trees walk, and women rule. Filled with allusions to Russian history, literature, and fairy tales, this coming-of-age tale straddles the line between high fantasy and literary fiction.


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The Review:

The Breathing Sea 1: Burning is rich and vibrant. It will immerse you in a fantasy world of depth and beauty. For those that enjoy long journeys, you will enjoy this one.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when going in to this one. The prologue of the book recapped the first two books in the genre, as this was meant to be the 3rd book in the series, but also the second part in the series, and it was meant to be enjoyed as part of the series, or as a stand alone with The Breathing Sea 2. So, I was slightly confused, but also intrigued with the premise of the series.

The story started off with rich world building. I was able to dive right in and visualize the beauty of this intense world that E.P. Clark built. She really did an incredible job with creating a vivacious fantasy world with deep history, delving in strong character building, fairy tales, and Russian antiquity.

My main problem was that, with all the intense world building, I felt that the characters, and plot, lacked development and motion. When I say the characters lacked development, I felt that they never really changed. I was aware that there is a second part to The Breathing Sea, and it literally picks up where part I leaves off, but the main characters never fluctuated from their beginning states as far as their personas were concerned.

The characters were written quite strongly. I knew what sort of personalities each one had (though this was part of the problem since I felt like Dahsa and her companions were a bit on the whiny side). But I never felt any progression with their feelings or temperaments. Because of this, I never became fully invested in any of them.

Same goes for the plot. I knew what the plot was supposed to entail. There was supposed to be a journey for the main character, Dasha, to travel and learn to harness her powers, but out of the 575 e-book pages, I never felt like I went on the journey with Dasha. There wasn’t enough action and progression to make me feel like the length was entirely worth reading.

It wasn’t so much the length of the book that threw me, but the fact that I felt like nothing really happened in that time frame. I admit, long books have been intimidating in the past, but I just finished a 600-page book recently that I absolutely loved. The Breathing Sea 1 had some gorgeous details, but I never lost myself to the story or got attached to anyone within it. Conceptually the book was beautiful and had tremendous potential. But, the story just didn’t captivate me or move enough for me to fully enjoy it.

I wish I could say I had the urge to read book 2, but its just not there for me. This isn’t to say that you won’t enjoy this book. It had massive world building and beauty. It was rich in depth and imagination, and if you enjoy long books and journeys, you would probably still enjoy this one. The pacing was just too slow for my taste. I decided to give this a 3 rating because I enjoyed the detail Clark put in to her work, and the writing was fantastic, I just didn’t enjoy the pacing and characters, and decided not to continue with the series. I would still recommend it to lovers of long sagas.
 

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Thank you to the author for sending me this free e-copy in exchange for my honest review.

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E.P. Clark on The Zemnian Series:

*The Zemnian Series as a whole is constructed sort of like a tv show, with an overall “show” (the series) and then “seasons” (the multi-part books).  Each “season” follows a different main character on a coming-of-age literal and figurative journey.

*I wrote it in part in order to explore women’s stories and women’s perspectives that we don’t like to explore in contemporary Western fiction.  When they’re not objectified sex objects, female characters are so often portrayed as these “girl power” figures, who go around being sassy and not “girly” and…not really changing anything.  They’re neither an accurate representation of most young women I know (and as a college teacher I know a lot of young women), nor particularly useful as a model.  A much more interesting and important topic for me was how girls and women are by both inclination and training primed to be compassionate but also compliant, and how they can learn to wield real power through becoming aware of this and maintaining their compassion while developing their strength and ability to stand up for themselves.  I think this is a very uncomfortable story for a lot of Western readers, as it’s genuinely threatening to our sex-based power structures, instead of just pretending to be threatening.  In fact…(deep breaths, deep breaths, moving on now).

*”The Breathing Sea” is the central “season” in the series, and plays with the genre of YA while also subverting it.  I was very inspired by Karolina Pavlova’s experimental novel from the 1840s “A Double Life,” which is a kind of anti-YA novel of its era, and written about a teenage girl but aimed at an adult audience.  Also a blistering feminist critique of its society and an amazing work, so if you haven’t read it yet, run, don’t walk, to wherever you can find it and start reading it now!

*Rather than a there-and-back-again structure, “The Breathing Sea” follows a river-to-sea narrative, as Dasha, the main character, both physically and symbolically travels from the river to the sea, and also begins and ends the story surrounded in water.

*Dasha’s story is on one level a very loose reworking of the story of the Buddha, in that she leaves her sheltered existence as a member of the nobility and goes out into the wide world, where she encounters suffering and has to come to terms with its existence and her inability to stop it.

*Dasha is a split or conflicted character in that she possesses an affinity for both water and life, from her mother; and fire and death, from her father.  She instinctively (and wisely) fears both things and initially tries to run away from them; in Part I they keep creeping and creeping up on her, until they finally overwhelm her in the final chapters of Part I.  In Part II she has to try to reconcile them and bring them together.

*Like all the books in The Zemnian Series, “The Breathing Sea” is full of allusions to Russian stories and literature, which are used to underscore the conflicted/split nature of Dasha’s character, as well as being fun “Easter eggs” for lovers of Russian literature to seek out.  So for example Dasha is repeatedly associated through her dreams of being chased by bears and other animals with the beloved heroine Tatyana Larina from “Eugene Onegin,” but she is also associated with murderers like Raskolnikov from “Crime and Punishment” (through her nightmare of hurting her horse) and Aksinya from Chekhov’s “In the Ravine” (through her encounters with female vipers).  So which way is she going to go?  Will her encounters with suffering and evil push her to become evil herself, or will she rise above that?  Can she harness all the rage she feels, all the literal fire that seeks to come bursting out through her fingertips and burn down everything around her, and turn it into a life-giving hearth fire, or a destructive wildfire?  And can she (and we) even tell the difference?
Divider Fall

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