Compass and Blade by Rachel Greenlaw

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Compass and Blade by Rachel Greenlaw

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Category: Teens
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Olivia Tierney
Reviewed by Olivia Tierney
Summary: Imaginative and immersive, Compass and Blade is a swash-buckling, fast-moving story set amongst the high seas which is enjoyable despite its lack of depth.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 384 Date: February 2024
Publisher: Harper Fire
ISBN: 978-0008664732

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I can hear the song of the sea. The call of the deep, the answering beat in my heart.

Rosevear, a remote and partially forgotten island, survives on luring ships into the rocks and plundering the wrecks. Mira, like her mother before her, is one of the seven who swim out to survey the ruins – rescuing any survivors and any treasure that lies within. But when the Council Watch lays a trap to end the wrecking, they capture the island's leader and Mira's father. Desperate to save him from death, Mira makes a bargain with a wreck survivor who is as charming as he is secretive and with only coordinates to guide her, she sets off in search of a family secret that lies buried deep in the sea. With only nine days to unearth what might save her father, as her journey takes her from the watched streets of foreign islands to the heart of the smuggler's territory, Mira must be determined to stop at nothing to save the future of her home and the ones she holds most dear.

Compass and Blade is quite a difficult book to review as I am somewhat conflicted. On the one hand there are so many elements to love – an isolated island surviving on shipwrecks, sirens lurking in the deep, powerful smugglers, a voyage for buried treasure, secrets aplenty adding intrigue and mystery with every chapter, pace and great scene setting. But on the other hand, there are aspects of the story – the characters, the relationships and a plot driven story - that makes you feel as if the novel is missing something, that leaves you wanting more.

My favourite part of the story is the descriptive writing. Greenlaw manages to strike the perfect balance between immersing the reader within the world without being verbose. From start to finish, Compass and Blade is wonderfully atmospheric. Thanks to Greenlaw, you can almost sense the storms drawing in, almost envision the rough waves below and the star strewn skies above. The dangers and delights of the Fortunate Isles are brought to life vividly and the sea and Mira's longing for it is sweet enough to taste. The world building is very well done. Starting with our heroine on her isolated island, you're dropped in the centre of the action immediately and the story carries on a pace, with different layers of the world beyond their shores unfurling one after the other, neither a moment too soon nor a moment too late.

Compass and Blade is also excellently paced. It never lags, instead it seems to continuously quicken without the story or the writing suffering. Because of this, it's a very easy book to pick up and read until the end. Thanks to the different elements of worldbuilding, there seems to be an endless supply of new things to discover, which is imaginative and exciting. This however, does have a knock on side effect that there is a lack of depth, or hint of depth to the different pieces of the world. For some readers, they won't mind and / or would happily sacrifice pace for detail but for others (like myself), who look for the whys and hows behind the magic systems and characters' decisions, they might find Compass and Blade isn't what they hoped for.

There were, I found, three main drawbacks. The first was that the story suffers at times from being too plot-led rather than driven by the characters themselves, with events of the story included out of convenience. There were times during the book that Mira's motivations and decisions were without explanation or reason. The second was that unfortunately sometimes the characters, particularly our heroine and her love interest, took me out of the story. Their romance was instant, without any real will-they, won't-they moments and there seemed to be a lack of character development for either of them over the course of the story. The third was one I've touched on, the lack of depth. With a world of pirates, smugglers, sirens and magic, to explore it would have been great to dive into these more or at least for depth to be hinted, for questions to be scattered like breadcrumbs throughout the novel. I would have also loved for some of the secondary characters' backstories to be touched on. But at times they felt like plot devices being used to propel the story onwards at an increasing pace. There is room for that to change as the series progresses and the world widens. With the next books in the trilogy to follow there is more time to devote to those side characters growing and carving out their own stories.

Though it wasn't necessarily the book I wanted it to be, Compass and Blade is a fun, entertaining and very easy to read novel which I enjoyed. With a fast-moving plot, the story carries the reader along in a whirlwind and with excellent description, it feels as if you've been placed at the heart of the action alongside the characters. I have no doubt it will be a great holiday read, especially if you are happy not to dive into the intricacies of the world.

Many thanks to the publishers for providing a copy for us to review!

In terms of further reading, if you've grown a taste for the ocean and aren't quite ready to leave the atmosphere behind, look no further than To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo. It's a captivating fantasy read, with inventive worldbuilding, sharp dialogue, and romance underscored by darkness. Well worth a read if you've enjoyed Compass and Blade.

Alternatively, if you fancy something slightly different but with similar central themes of romance and family, magic and mystery Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is one we at the Bookbag loved and is a book to be savoured.

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