Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis Book Review

Update for you guys: I’m going to be bringing you guys some of my old reviews, and this is one. It’s also an example of when I might become quite harsh.

It took me two weeks to finish this book. There have been books I’ve read that have taken about as long, but many of those were either about 500 pages or had enough words to fill that many pages considering the amount of words on an average book I read. This one was under 350 and because of its many chapters, had a lot of blank spaces ending a page early. And yet…two weeks.

Given to the Sea is a book with four points of view, the main two the only ones written in first person in an attempt to signify their bigger importance, though it’s kind of obvious already since they’re the first two introduced. The first-first, and therefore the star, is a girl named Khosa, a girl from the village of Hyllan who is known as the Given: Every generation, the Given must become pregnant with a baby, and after that baby is born, by tradition and old magic, that Given must give herself to the sea, suck herself under and drown. Why? To calm the nerves of the sea, or else the world will be flooded. Already, water levels are shown to be rising all over. And even if she relented, her feet would dance to the sea on their own.

There’s also Vincent, the grandson of King Gammal, the king of Stille, a rather wealthy region that Khosa ends up finding herself in after her village is attacked by the Pietra, a group of families who kill their opposers and take their loved ones out to sea on mini boats without oars when it is time to say goodbye. Their leader is Witt. Lastly, there’s Dara, who, alongside her brother Donil, are the very-very last of their kind, the Indirri, after the Pietrans massacred them. Yeah, there’s a lot of prior history in this book universe. So the rundown is Khosa, Vincent and Dara end up finding themselves together in the kingdom of Stille as Witt assembles his army, leaving the latter two to protect Khosa as she thinks of what’s best to do before her final days.

Mindy McGinnis has been on my radar for a little while. This is the first book I’ve read from her, but I know the names of all her novels. There are three reasons I’m interested in her. One is she seems to have the tenacity to write all kinds of different novels, judging on how different all her publications seem to one another. Two is this particular book’s cover is beautiful. Three; we have very similar last names, so if I were to ever get a book into a bookstore, mine would be alongside hers. I understand that maybe it wasn’t the best idea to start off with McGinnis’ lowest rated book, which is this one. But there have been other books rated very low on Goodreads (The Love Interest, Stealing Snow, Crusher, American Heart, Supermarket) that I’ve ended up loving. I’m never going to say I’m never ever going to read a book solely based on its ratings. What would the fun and curiosity in that be? But I’m sorry to say Given to the Sea is deserving of its low score. It is so messy, so pointless, so uninspired and so vacant on so many levels that I feel it was solely published because of the name McGinnis gave herself for her other (and probably much better) past releases. It baffles and saddens me that McGinnis claims she had a fantasy idea in her head for twenty years and it amounted to this.

You ever hear of info-dumping? It’s the worst enemy for writers. Admittedly, maybe I’m sometimes guilty of that in my books too. But not only are there the four narrators right off the bat giving information we can’t yet follow and therefore making it an unclear info dump, but pretty much every chapter is between 2 to 5 pages. Let me put this in context; we get introduced to whatever situation this protagonist is in, read a few paragraphs, hear some poetic conclusion, and shift to a different point of view and repeat. Not being able to focus on one situation for too long got tremendously tiring, and worse still, when we’re introduced to all these people, McGinnis doesn’t manage to establish any pull, any reason to care about these people, nor a proper explanation as to the magic of the world, who the Feneen are, or all the history McGinnis is playing off of. 

The only character I felt a little connection to was Khosa, but the storyline she gets stuck with was bad on many levels. First, the ambush of her town was out of the blue and Khosa ends up running for about three days blindly into Stille. That’s how she meets up with all these people. But there was no explanation of those days, which I would’ve been intrigued to know about, especially considering running for three days straight is impossible. Then when Khosa gets guarded and given a place to stay in the castle, all she does is go to the castle library and read, always causing her guards to fall asleep as she skims. Don’t get me wrong, I love libraries too, but I put it this way: I don’t want to be in a library reading other works my whole life. I want to write and create works of art too. Every movie critic has that secret desire to be a filmmaker. Now picture the main character we want to see out and about is in the library for most of the story; it’s the same idea and feeling. What’s worse, all she really does is think about Vincent and Donil, and the language she uses does not sound like she’s grieving her home, thinking about all her friends that perished, or worried about the army advancing on her nor angry and wanting revenge somehow. She doesn’t even seem sad that her days are shortening by the minute. There’s no believable emotion within Khosa nor the rest of the protagonists for pretty much the whole book.

Then there are arguments between these protagonists, mostly about either the opposite sex or who’s more competent at what they’re doing. I’m usually a fan of reading about fights. It’s a chance to start the simmer and get ready for the explosion. But these burns coming from these characters’ mouths often either don’t make sense or aren’t as effective as the characters make them out to be, or both. Khosa, Vincent, Dara and Witt clearly have their own problems and personalities but the stalling made me desire focus on just one problem, especially since when one problem is solved, another pops up and brings unsatisfaction of the previous. I also couldn’t stand how the Feneen somehow make a bridge of their palms as they jump into a raging river and try to stand up but other people fall in and drown…the Feneen must be able to breathe underwater better and manage to fight against rapid waters…yet other Feneen that fall off the bridge can’t hold themselves…Agh, makes no sense, whatever!!

I also found it just unrealistic for Dara and Donil to be the very last of the Indiri and not only be living with protagonist Vincent with a lot of history with him, but be not scarred and traumatized, more often joking about Donil’s powers of seduction, of instant attraction by everyone around him…Vincent and his mom end up in a massive fight with Vincent’s father, and the fight ends badly, but there was nothing previously suggesting a bad relationship between husband and wife was going on. The last few pages are kind of alright, but I wanted what was in them for the whole book, and the conclusion suggests the sequel, Given to the Earth, is not going to be much more adventurous than this affair.

A distracting, overstaying, typical love square, with very complicated yet ambiguous world building, and a real lack of intrigue against the constantly bouncing points of view that blur all the events make Given to the Sea the biggest reading slump maker I’ve read in a very long time. I’m still going to give a Mindy McGinnis book another shot because of how different I hear each of them are, but this one has nonetheless brought my expectations into a very shallow beach of the shore.

If you like this, I’d try The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig and Sea Witch by Sarah Henning

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