Review | A Sea of Pearls & Leaves – Rosalyn Briar

About the Book

Princess Ingrid of Norella Isle does not want to get married. So, her priestess girlfriend, Lilura, devises a wicked plot to deter suitors with a nearly impossible marriage contract: should Ingrid die first, her husband must be buried at sea beside her.

The plan backfires when all seven suitors agree, and the king announces a competition for Ingrid’s hand. Ingrid must keep her head above water as she deals with the suitors, a jealous girlfriend, and the news of two murdered priestesses.

As the suitors are eliminated, one man stands out: the quirky and anxious Prince Soren who charms both Ingrid and Lilura. 

When Lilura goes missing, Ingrid and Soren must piece together who has murdered the priestesses and why before it’s too late.

CW: This novel contains violence, sexual situations, and adult language.

322 pages (kindle) 
Published on December 1, 2020
Buy the book 

I recently went onto Twitter and asked for LGBTQIA+ indie fantasy recommendations (If you’ve got suggestions, hit me with them). When someone suggested A Sea of Pearls & Leaves, I knew I had to give it a try. I’m a huge sucker for fairytale retellings. While I’m not familiar with the tale this one is inspired by, I still felt the fairytale aspect of it throughout every page. 

First of all, can we all take a moment to admire that cover, because it is absolutely beautiful. I could just look at it forever. 

And honestly, the cover is a good representative of the book itself. It’s unique, gets your attention right away, and makes you want to know more. 

A Sea of Pearls & Leaves tells the story of three people. Princess Ingrid, who is being told in no uncertain terms that it is her time to get married and produce the next generation. Ingrid’s girlfriend, Lilura, who obviously does not want Ingrid to get married (neither does Ingrid, for that matter), and Prince Soren, who sweeps into the scene along with a handful of other princes and begins to win over hearts and minds. 

However, not everything is hinging on this marriage arrangement. There is plenty going on that does not focus on romance. For example, Ingrid is being stalked by some evil doppelganger, and people start dying in and around the palace. 

There’s a lot to unpack, but thankfully this is the kind of book that can handle it, and manages to balance all the different elements really well. The pacing is perfect, never a dull moment, and yet the author doesn’t shy away from quiet, intimate moments either. This made things feel well balanced, never too much focus on any one aspect of the book, always something to keep the reader engaged and moving forward. Plenty of twists along the way. 

I want to speak a bit about the relationships, because this book is, fundamentally, about relationships. I really enjoyed seeing a well-established relationship from the start between Ingrid and Lilura. It was stable and balanced, with each party offering something the other needed. The fact they were comfortable with each other, and their place in each other’s lives, was really refreshing. It isn’t often in fantasy where I read about established, comfortable relationships like this, and while they go through growing pains, and some changes in their dynamics with each other, it felt right and true to the nature of who they were, and their relationship. 

In fact, I will say this book deals with relationships in a way I didn’t expect, and I found the sex-positive aspects (sex is spoken of, hinted at, but never explicit, really. This is not an erotica, do not mistake it as such.) also incredibly refreshing, and the representation in this book was well done, and carefully, thoughtfully written. So, bonus points for established relationships, and sex-positive dynamics.

There are three perspectives in this book, and I will say this might be where I struggled a bit. Their voices, while unique, aren’t unique enough to always be able to tell them apart, so I did occasionally find myself flipping back to the chapter headings to remind myself who I was reading about in this chapter. This was especially noticeable in Ingrid and Lilura’s chapters. However, this didn’t ultimately detract overmuch from my enjoyment of the book as a whole. As time passes, each of these characters has enough going on in their own arcs to be able to distinguish from actions easily enough. 

A Sea of Pearls & Leaves is carefully written, with a flowing style that sweeps its readers away. I enjoyed how descriptive the author could be, without ever really dipping a toe into purple. She knew when to lean into things, and when to back off and leave just enough hints. She was great at dropping cues, and unraveling things in a way that kept readers engaged and constantly moving forward. 

The magic system truly shines as well. I love magic systems that have definite boundaries and parameters and that’s what I found here. Magic is used, but only so much, and only for certain reasons and in certain ways. I enjoyed how thoughtfully done it was, and how it’s strengths and limitations played into the book as a whole. 

All in all, A Sea of Pearls & Leaves was a surprise, and a welcome one. This book swept me away. Once I got started, I had a hard time putting it down. Well-written, thoughtfully crafted, with characters you can’t help but love, A Sea of Pearls & Leaves is well worth reading, especially if you’re a fan of LGBTQIA+ representation and fairytale retellings. 

4/5 stars