On an ocean world where communities live on the backs of gargantuan sea turtles and survival is key, orphan farmer Tenjat finds his lands ruined and takes the test to become a Handler, one of the warriors that defends the Turtle. But with another Turtle heading in their direction, will the new crop of Handlers be ready to defend it in time?
I saw this on John Scalzi's The Big Idea and just had to read it. Villages on the backs of giant sea turtles? What's not to like?
The worldbuilding is both my favorite part of this book and the part that kept me from really enjoying it. Allow me to elaborate.
As I said above, I loved the idea of villages on the backs of sea turtles warring with each other and with the nagas, the creatures that harried the Turtles at every turn. I also thought the idea of Handlers and Tenders taking care of the rest of the islanders by protecting them was also very cool. The magic system was fairly unique.
Here's the part I didn't like: As with some other Young Adult books, I found some logical flaws in the worldbuilding. Just as I found the faction system in Divergent to be illogical and the fact that the other three houses allowed Slitheren to exist among them knowing what buttheads they are, I just didn't buy the culture of the Turtles.
Survival is key on the Turtles and people become Handlers, Tenders, or Artisans if they have the aptitude and pass the test. Everyone else becomes farmers and are the only caste that breeds and they are looked down upon because of it. Huh? If survival is key, wouldn't you want the people with the talent breeding? Where do the inhabitants of the Turtles think babies come from? Also, this takes place in the chaste world of YA so there is no thought given to casual sex. Even if people on an island looked down on getting married, I guarantee there would still be people giving in to their throbbing biological urges.
All that aside, I still enjoyed the story of Tenjat rising from his orphan roots to become a handler. The romance with Avi was predictable and seemed bolted on but wasn't nauseating so I gave it a pass. I found the world refreshingly original, despite my problems with it. The ending was satisfying, if a bit pat.
The good and the bad balance out and since I liked it more than I disliked it, I'm giving it a three. It had to work for it, though.