“This fight didn’t end with Aric and it certainly won’t end with Lir. Not if your goal isn’t the person but the system they’ve created.”
Caledonia Styx and her crew fought valiantly against the cruel Bullet warlord, Aric Athair. But his death did not put an end to the vicious system of addiction and power that governs the Bullet Seas. Fiveson Lir rises to further Aric’s reign of terror, and Caledonia holds a specific rage for him. This is the boy who once destroyed her family, who taught her to distrust all Bullets. This is the boy her own brother, Donnally, was given no choice but to follow, when his world was wrenched from him. This is the boy Donnally now calls his brother.
Cala is a courageous leader and an expert strategist, but as Lir grows in power, she struggles to stay ahead of his tricks, to devastating consequence. The fight grows desperate and dangerous, and Caledonia must figure out how to rid the seas of the Bullets once and for all, scourging the Silt they use to control vulnerable children and manipulate them into soldiers. She finds herself working with an unexpected ally, another former Fiveson, and though uniting with Tassos seems the best way to rid the Seas of Lir, Caledonia has to contend with her own conflicting sense of self and morality. She may have no choice but to forge dangerous allegiances and wield devastating weapons, but at what cost? A long time ago, Caledonia’s mother told her, “we can resist them as long as we don’t become them,” and Pisces won’t let her forget it. Caledonia Styx’s most potent strength has always been her crew. They are her family, her code, her heart. Will she sacrifice their trust to save everything she’s ever known? Does she have a choice? And at the end of the battle, when the seas settle—will Caledonia be able to face the person she’s had to become?
The Seafire trilogy has always been about the complexities of leadership, found family, and staying true to yourself even, and especially, in the direst of circumstances. Natalie C. Parker wrests with the many intricate layers of revolution, and its aftermath, on both broad and personal scales. Within a violent regime, it’s not enough to remove a single tyrant, we have to undo and remake the system that was built to enable tyrants, or there will always rise another in its place. And any revolutionary leader must ensure they have a strong community with mutual trust, else they may risk becoming a shade of the very evil they seek to destroy. Sometimes, this world allows for no way forward without making the most impossible choices. No one will emerge unchanged. But as Pisces once told her, Caledonia is committed to “fighting to change the world that forces us to make choices like this,” and she has to ensure all her actions are in service of this goal. Ultimately, Caledonia knows she must lead from a place of community, and consent.
As Caledonia navigates her own heart, she and her crew struggle to balance various burgeoning romances with the bloody battlefield of their lives. When every day is life or death, when loss soaks their seas, love is a risk, a vulnerability, but it’s worth taking. That doesn’t make it easy. Oran’s love asks Caledonia to make sure there’s something left of her for after, and that’s something so few heroes are ever allowed to ask of themselves. It brought to mind what Mara said to Adora, in Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: “you’re worth more than what you can give to other people. You deserve love, too.” Parker makes sure we understand the depths of Caledonia’s stakes, how hard it is to give love from a place of trauma and grief, within a world that’s always been one of fighting, and sacrifice. And even as all of Caledonia’s relationships are tested, she chooses to keep them strong, to build on them for the future they’re trying to create.
There is an instance of carcerality at the end of the novel. It’s positioned as an alternative to death, but we know that is not a fair choice. Yet there does need to be accountability, and I can see why it seems the best move for Caledonia. This is what happens to most genre villains, after all. I certainly don’t have an answer, but it’s an ongoing question, and it feels worth it to ask in a series that’s focused on redemption and mercy. Hopefully in their world, other genre stories, and especially our own world, moving forward we can consider alternatives.
Stormbreak is the best, most bittersweet sort of series ending. I ache to leave behind Caledonia and her crew, but overall I am deeply satisfied with where Parker has brought the characters, and what the characters have done to their world. I love the vicious, vividly drawn seascape, the refreshingly queernormative dynamics, and the beautiful, intimate bonds of found family that have only grown and deepened throughout the trilogy.
Stormbreak delivers an epic, fitting ending that’s still believably messy, because there is no way to make it out of a revolution unscathed. These are well-meaning characters with deep-rooted trauma, placed in impossible positions, and they have to make morally grey choices in a violent world. Parker explores that experience, and always emphasizes the need to check in with the world they hope to build in the aftermath. To make sure that no matter the choices they’re making, they’re worthy of it. To move together toward what it means to heal.
This series is a masterpiece. Fierce, blade-sharp, and big-hearted, the Seafire series blends epic battles with moral quandaries and a deeply rooted sense of community, hope, and love.
Maya Gittelman is a queer Pilipinx-Jewish diaspora writer and poet. Their cultural criticism has been published on The Body is Not An Apology and The Dot and Line. Formerly the events and special projects manager at a Manhattan branch of Barnes & Noble, she now works in independent publishing, and is currently at work on a novel.