Caledonia Styx’s ship, the Mors Navis, is one of the only ships that still sails free from the rule of bloodthirsty warlord Aric Athair and his army of Bullets, who brutalize the coastal settlements and seabound communities alike. The Bullets are not to be trusted: after all, it was a Bullet boy claiming to seek a place on the Mors Navis who talked Caledonia into revealing the Mors Navis’s location, resulting in the death of every person in the crew save Caledonia and her best friend, Pisces, who were ashore on a supply run.
Four years later, Caledonia and Pisces have rebuilt the Mors Navis and recruited a new crew entirely made up of women and girls who have lost their own families and homes to Athair’s raids. The women of the Mors Navis are determined to chip away at Athair’s empire, even if that means taking his navy down ship by ship. But when Pisces brings aboard a runaway Bullet who says he wants to defect, the secret Caledonia’s been keeping for four years threatens to come to light, reopening old wounds and endangering the new family she and Pisces have built.
While I went in to Natalie C. Parker’s Seafire expecting a secondary world fantasy, I was surprised and delighted to find that much like another favorite young adult sea pirate novel of mine, Emily Skrutskie’s The Abyss Surrounds Us, Seafire seems to be set in a distant future of our own universe. The ships in Seafire run on solar sails and other advanced technology, and obtaining the right parts to fix the Mors Navis is one of the quests the crew takes on.
The appearance of the runaway Bullet, Oran, felt at first dully predictable—and in some ways it remains so as Caledonia goes from wanting him dead to wanting… other things. But Oran’s subplot is given very little weight throughout most of the book. Seafire is described as “Wonder Woman meets Mad Max: Fury Road,” but at its heart is something the other two lack: a focus on friendships, particularly the friendships between women. Romance takes a back seat, leaving space for the relationships that Caledonia shares with the crew members.
While Pisces is the only one who’s been with the captain since childhood, Caledonia treats everyone on board as part of her family. The crew’s rallying cry—“Who do we trust? Our sisters!”—is an undercurrent throughout the story and a guiding principle of Caledonia’s decision-making. Protecting her Mors Navis sisters is the main reason she keeps trying to execute Oran, though Pisces’ protests prevent her from actually doing so. But this is also presented as one of Caledonia’s flaws: prioritizing protection of her crew above all creates weaknesses that must be overcome in order to fight Athair’s Bullets.
One of the most well-crafted relationships is the one Caledonia shares with Hime, a mute crew member who communicates through sign language. Parker depicts Hime as the “little sister” of the overprotective crew who struggles to assert herself and prove her worth, a struggle compounded by Caledonia’s fear of losing her. Hime’s subplot is possibly my favorite in the novel, and its payoff is arguably the best—though much more information would really spoil this character’s journey.
The world that Caledonia and her crew inhabit is crafted very well. Athair fills his army by drafting male children from the villages and towns within his empire—and if the towns won’t give up their sons, he takes them by force, slaughtering or injuring those left behind. Athair considers the female children useless, which explains a lot about the Mors Navis’ crew: many of the crew members escaped Athair’s raids or were left behind in the wake of his drafts.
Parker deepens her war of the sexes by creating a culture of toxic masculinity among the Bullets. Athair takes boys still young enough to be groomed into optimal soldiers and forcibly addicts them to drugs that cause painful withdrawal symptoms—which the reader sees firsthand as Oran goes through withdrawal in the brig of the Mors Navis. Bullets are taught to value brute strength without compassion, seeing each other not as brothers, but as competition. It’s a drastic contrast to the love the crew of the Mors Navis have for one another.
It’s this love that serves as the true heart of Seafire. When Caledonia loses a sailor for the first time, the crew’s mourning is almost palpable; through Caledonia’s eyes, we learn about each of the sailors closest to her, viewed with such affection that it’s hard not to love each of the girls as much as Caledonia does.
A tale of adventure, loss, and a sisterhood that overcomes adversity, Seafire is a fresh and fast-paced story that leads readers racing through the pages and leaves them aching for more by the end. The book is the first in a young adult trilogy, and I’ll be itching for the next book for months and weeks to come.
Seafire is available from Razorbill.
Feliza Casano writes about science fiction, manga, and other geeky media around the internet. She currently lives in Philadelphia, where she moderates two book clubs and lines her walls with stacks of books. Visit her online or follow her on Twitter @FelizaCasano.