Tamzen, a wealthy nobleman’s daughter, cares most for her older brother. When her brother goes off to sea to make a name and fortune for himself, he leaves her with the gift of a little mouse necklace and promises to write. Unfortunately, only a handful of months out to sea he is killed by a pirate. Grieving and determined, Tamzen begins to cook up a plan to see revenge for her beloved brother and thinks of nothing else. Rising in Cornwall with her grandmother, and with the help of her grandmother’s loyal servant, she begins to gain the skills she will need to hunt down the pirates responsible for her brother’s death and make them pay.
What is Sea of Revenge about?
So as much as the description of this book appealed to me–a young lady turning to piracy as a form of revenge–ultimately this book isn’t all that much about the piracy and the revenge plot. It’s a romance novel disguised as an adventure. The adventuring is not well described, with months at sea covered in a paragraph or so. But the interactions between Tamzen and Reece–who is clearly introduced as a love interest from the moment the POV switches over to him–are described for chapters.
What did I like?
I did enjoy the idea behind all of this. The crew that Tamzen sails with were interesting characters and I enjoyed the way they interacted with Tamzen. I also liked that Tamzen wasn’t good at everything she tried her hand at, but was instead naturally skilled at one or two things and utilized that to throw off her opponents.
What made me DNF?
There were two major problems I had with the book that eventually wore me down and made me DNF. The first factor was one that started relatively on: racism. Tamzen is a nobleman’s daughter, and thus comes from a family that in the early eighteenth century had servants, including a man named Ikemba. CW: I will be discussing slavery and the enslavement of African people. Ikemba is (at least as far as I read to) the only black person explicitly mentioned, is a loyal servant to the family due to being rescued from slavery, and has a tragic backstory. His story is that he was trafficked as a child, enslaved in the colonies of America, and eventually was rescued after he was whipped nearly to death for having a relationship with a white woman. End CW.
I was uncomfortable with Ikemba’s characterization from the start, and my suspicions were confirmed as the book carried on. Ikemba is the person who trains Tamzen in fighting and arranges for her to embark on her quest for revenge. He is protective of her, but his entire character (including his backstory) is meant to prop up Tamzen’s character, and he’s very much the token character of color.
The next big issue was regarding the romantic aspects of the book. CW for discussion of non-consent, dubious consent, and inappropriate sexual references. Though I will admit, I didn’t make it very far into the story, the issues surrounding consent in the romantic relationships were….Many. First of all, Tamzen’s autonomy as a woman is stripped of her early on. Part of her agreement with her family is that they will allow her to spend a year traveling (they believe she’ll be in Europe having a grand tour when she plans to be at sea) and at the end of that year she will get married. To begin with, this means Tamzen has no real power over her romantic relationships, which yes is usually a conflict in a historical romance but still.
When the love interest is first introduced, he is in the role of antagonist and is quickly shifted into the light of potential romantic interest during the first section of writing from his POV. Tamzen (as far as the point I read to) never considered him in a romantic light. He was a threat to her endeavors at sea, and then he was a physical and sexual threat when he forced his romantic advances on her at a ball they met again at. He decides that she is sexy, worth chasing, and worth daydreaming about. When he realizes that his family wants him to marry and she is in his social circle, he becomes obsessed with her and with having her. It was insidious, creepy, and absolutely not reciprocated at the point I was reading and yet… All of Reece’s POV sections were incredibly inappropriate and made me absolutely uncomfortable. End CW.
Ultimately, the two points for why I DNF’ed this book were too strong for me to continue reading due to the unpleasant and uncomfortable nature of reading them both. The racist portrayal of Ikemba was inappropriate, and though it may have come from a place of well meaning historical “accuracy” I don’t think it was a necessary inclusion to prop up the white protagonist. In the amount of the book that I managed to get through, at no point was the romantic relationship that was being set up appeal to me. Reece was a predator. He is set up as an antagonist that Tamzen has no real initial connection to, and he considers her a possession to win and ravish. I simply couldn’t foresee either of these things being resolved in a satisfactory way by the end of the novel and thus had no more interest in reading it.