About the Book
The Primordial Wound has festered with corruption since the birth of the world. The island tribes have warred against its spawn for just as long—and they are losing.
Burdened by the same spiritual affliction that drove the first Halfborn insane, Colibrí lives in exile with little more than her warrior oaths and her son. But when Colibrí discovers corrupted land hidden away by sorcery, those same oaths drive her to find answers in an effort to protect the very people who fear her.
Narune dreams of earning enough glory to show that he and his mother Colibrí are nothing like the Halfborn that came before them. Becoming a mystic will give him the strength he needs, but first, Narune will need to prove himself worthy in a trial of skill and honor.
Together, Colibrí and Narune must learn to become the champions their people need—and face the curse threatening to scour away their spirits with fury.
350 pages (kindle)
Published on June 23, 2020
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I edited this book.
I’ve tried to write this review a few times, and each time I just fail. There are a few reasons for this. First, I edited this book, so I’m pretty attached to it. I’ve got a personal connection that is hard for me to see around, and I have a hard time talking about stuff that I’m personally attached to like this. It isn’t easy. Secondly, I loved this book so much, I have had just a holy hell of a time distilling all the reasons it is so amazing.
As I’ve said, this book is one I’ve edited, and so this isn’t really a review. I am not coming here as an unbiased reader. I am very much biased, because I loved this book, I worked on it, and I want it to do well. Take that into consideration before you read on.
Cradle of Sea and Soil is one of those multilayered tapestries that just ticks off all my boxes. First, with have Colibrí and Narune, mother and son. The story is told from both of their perspectives, mother and son. Colibri is a single mother. Both her and her son are outcasts, exiles, lowly regarded for what they are—Halfborn. Humans with animal/plant traits. In Narune and Colibri, it manifests with ears and tails. In another character in the book, she grows flowers and etc. It’s really freaking cool. However, the fact that they are Halfborn makes them a danger. Things happened long, long ago that hang over everyone who is born this way, and so all Halfborn are reduced to a life of poverty and exile, if they are not forced to sacrifice their own halfborn children.
So, we’ve got social stratification going on, and lots and lots of deeply rooted prejudice that has been worked into the bedrock of the society that has been crafted for this book. Added into that is Narune’s coming-of-age story as he fights for his place in his world as a man, and to bring honor to his mother’s name. And then there is his mother, who is doing everything she can to keep everything, and everyone she loves protected as the world comes fraying apart at the edges. More about that later.
The relationship between Narune and his mother was probably one of my favorite parts of the book, purely because it’s just so incredibly rare that relationships between family members are examined in this way. Not a relationship where various parties are overwhelming and hard to deal with, but relationships where there is love, so strong and realistic that I could honestly feel it through the pages. And this expands out. Narune has two friends that he spends a lot of the book with, and the intimacy and emotional pull I felt there as well was just as vivid and real as everything else in the book. I honestly can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I’ve read a book with realistic family and friend relationships, and how rarely I actually find that in fantasy, but here is one, and it’s kisses fingers magnifique.
The plot of the book circles around this idea of the Primordial Wound, basically a wound in the fabric of the world that births all sorts of unholy beasties and basically slowly kills the land. The war between the islanders and the primordial wound has been going on for ages upon ages, but now, they are losing. The leader of the islanders is trying to find outside help, but getting very little serious offers of aid, so largely they are isolated, alone, and fighting for the future of the world and, more immediately, their islands. There are battles fought, and they are so well realizes and well written, you’ll feel like you’re on the edge of your seat, living through them. The reason behind why things are happening the way they are came as a bit of a surprise to me, which is saying something because I’m pretty hard to surprise these days (I read too much).
There is a lot of action and intensity here, and since Bernie is playing on a few different levels, not all of it comes in the form of pitched battles and lots of wounds and sweating. No, a lot of the action happens on more personal levels, as well. There are misunderstandings, rifts in friendships, typical growing pains between a mother who wants to keep her son safe and young, and the son who wants to prove his adulthood for his mother and blaze his own trail. There’s also some really interesting, subtle magic (literally) that takes place between mother and child in the way of coercion, which can be used both for good, and almost as an abuse. And there’s ways friends can share memories by touching skin and whatnot. It all adds to a really multitextured tapestry that always has something going on, no matter what. Basically, the action isn’t always where you expect it to be.
I want to talk a bit about the world building, because this is a Caribbean styled world, written from someone who is from that region of the world. I absolutely love OwnVoices, and this book is absolutely that. Bernie has written a lot of what he knows into this book to create the world. I often found small details, like the coqui frogs that fill the book actually exist in the real world, and his uncle can’t fall asleep without hearing them, interesting because it’s just something that, no matter how much I read about a place, I never would have added. So, his personal experience with this region, his personal connection to it, really floods the book. Furthermore, he takes some inventive liberties and has filled his jungle paradise with some creatures that are just surreal and so awesome I wish I’d thought of them first, like plants that actually wander around hunting people, and wolves made out of moss. Tree lords, and root roads, and just so many cool things. I literally spent about 75% of this book just soaking in his genius because oh my god, this world building is incredible.
I also want to give a shoutout to the diversity. There is a lot of LGBTQ+ in this book, and it’s done in such a good way, from the m/m fathers mentioned, to the polyamorous relationships, and just about everything else. A lot of the time, people seem to try to make their books diverse in this way, and then they sort of hang up flashing lights and say, “Look at all my diverse characters” but this book isn’t like that. In this book, diversity exists because it exists, and no one blinks twice at it because it’s just part of the world in which they belong. I do have to admit, on a personal note, that I get tired of carrying the prejudices of our own world into secondary worlds, and while sometimes that needs to be done, I do always find it extremely refreshing when a character can have two dads and literally no one in the world says a word about it because it’s fine, normal, and not worth mentioning.
And then, as if there isn’t enough here that I’m praising, the prose is absolutely superb. Bernie has a way with knowing when to slip into poetry, which I love, and knowing when he needs to use his words like a hammer. He has real skill with knowing how to use words to set an atmosphere, and how to paint a picture that is so vivid his world and the people and events that transpire here breathe with their own air, and seem more real than the world around me.
Okay, so now that I’ve gone on quite an impressive tangent, I really want all of you to read this book. It’s full of action and adventure, part coming of age story, part stay true to yourself story. Mix in some OwnVoices, and some LGBTQ+ representation and we’ve got one of the best epic fantasy books I’ve read in a long, long, long time here. It deserves all the praise, and I really hope it does as well as I think it deserves to.