At times, Seafire by Natalie C. Parker feels like a study in Murphy’s Law. Whatever can go wrong, will. And that’s pretty much the major source of conflict for the crew of the Mors Navis throughout the course of the novel. Conqueror and now ruler, Aric Altair oppresses his people, conscripting young boys and girls to his fleet and guaranteeing their loyalty by forcing them to become addicted to the drug Silt, which only he can provide. Caledonia Styx lost her entire family, the crew her mother commanded, and the people she protected in her resistance of Aric’s rule at the age of fourteen all due to a mistake of trusting a bullet, the name given to the young boys taken in and added to his fleet. And now, with a crew of her own and the repaired ship of her mother’s, Cala is determined to do everything she can to take Aric, and the bullet who destroyed her family, down.
I remember a while back, when I read Daughter of the Pirate King, being really thrilled about the idea of a female pirate captain and a crew of women navigating and looting the seas. In all the areas that Levenseller’s novel disappointed, Parker’s excelled. I don’t usually care to compare novels to others, but Seafire was everything a feminist pirate novel should be. It was the book I’d been waiting for.
What really got me about this novel was how much I absolutely adored the world building. I really got a sense that this was a place I could see–though I’ll admit that it would be even better if the book had come with a map–something that closing my eyes was enough to allow me to experience the full truths of the way of life many people in this society had to deal with. In so many ways, it felt real. It was both futuristic and historical all at once, leaving me with this feeling of wonderful fascination.
What this all comes down to is the mingling of a pirate story with solar energy. The sun tech the novel makes use of is some of the most amazing additions I’ve ever seen to a novel, especially one like this. I was blown away by how expertly Parker managed to build her world around these ideas. It was this, really, that sold the story for me in the end. I loved everything about the sun sail, the way that it was used to charge the ship. It was even extremely exciting to see how it all played a role in the electric hull of another ship.
Also interesting was the way in which Parker shaped her villain, Aric Altair, using drugs to control his armies by forcing addiction on them to the point that they would never dream of denying him their loyalty so long as he continued to provide the drug. It’s a fascinating concept, really, and horrible in so many ways that it really gives you great insight into the antagonist without you ever actually meeting him.
It also provided a great message regarding addition, withdrawal, and recovery as one of the crew members on Cala’s ship used to work for Aric. And though addiction certainly provides a weakness for people, it is also a measure of strength for those who work to rehabilitate themselves from it.
The characters, overall, were fantastic for the most part. While I won’t say I fell in love with anyone in particular, I was definitely invested in their journey. I adored Amina, Redtooth, Hime, and especially young Nettle. Ironically, while I did appreciate Caledonia in a lot of ways, she was not among my favorite of the characters. Parker did well, I think, in setting up each of the personalities for the story. Though I’ll admit that the development was somewhat lacking, it was in a way that makes me feel as though that will come from the next book.
Of all the characters, the one I was most unimpressed with was Pieces. More often than not, she seemed like a way to keep the plot moving in the direction Parker wanted than an actual character, which was most disappointing considering how excited I was about her in the first few chapters. She was constantly arguing with Caledonia, despite being the one who was supposed to support her the most, and it got to the point that it was annoying.
Even worse, I was massively confused by her protectiveness of Oran. I know he saved her life, but the fact that she completely ignored rules she’d been following her entire life–for legitimate safety reasons–bringing about the potential for her entire crew to be in danger as a result bothered me. At every turn, her actions seemed to combat the strong and intelligent character she was set up to be. She didn’t ever really embody the bad-ass role that she should have. Her ignorance regarding the safety of the crew and how she would constantly subvert logic in favor of emotions was just not what I expected from her and it left me deeply disappointed.
Which leads me into the fact that the romance was rather dull. Not only did I feel that there really wasn’t enough time for feelings to develop, it seemed much more realistic that Pieces and Oran would develop feelings for each other. I was rather thrown when they didn’t and the romance was between Oran and the main character. I think, to an extent, I understood that was where it was headed…but with everything that lead up to it, the romance, quite simply, did not make sense.
But, in the end, that didn’t really bother me that much. This was very much a story that was carried more by the characters being fantastic and the world beyond amazing. There was a fair amount of diversity in the story, which was great though it would have been nice if there had been a little more focus on it. Not only were the characters racially diverse, but there was disability, LGBTQ, and mental illness representation throughout which I deeply appreciated. I think we should have gotten a little bit more time with Hime because of that, though.
Now, I didn’t love the ending…it felt a bit rushed and a little bit silly, but overall the story was one that I deeply enjoyed. I felt truly immersed, loving the characters and their experiences. With a typical novel, utilizing the idea of Murphy’s Law with each event that occurs would usually be something I found annoying, but in its own weird way, it really worked for Seafire. The story ended with a lot left open and I’m truly eager to get my hands on Steel Tide to find out what happens next!