Book Review: Beneath the Haunting Sea (Beneath the Haunting Sea #1) by Joanna Ruth Meyer
A-/B+ | If there’s one book I can hold up as the PERFECT example of how to do mythology, this is that book. The mythology within this gothic book is stunning. And the worldbuilding? chef kiss. You guys know how much I adore excellent worldbuilding. This rich mythology and worldbuilding are wrapped up nicely with a super exciting (but not so well-paced) plot and characters you want to strangle and hug. Unfortunately, this doesn’t get a perfect grade because of it’s pacing and unnatural, forced romance. Nonetheless, the ending was satisfying and well worth the less cool parts.
Minor spoilers below.
Let me start off by saying that this book is by no means perfect. I felt like the pacing was just atrocious, and the romance felt unnatural. However, I will sing praises about this book because the plot, characters, and worldbuilding are just so solid. It is swimming in symbolism.
As it states in the synopsis (so this isn’t really a spoiler), Talia — who could have become Empress — gets banished after there’s a coup. Her rival takes the crown, and ba da bing ba da boom, Talia and her mother are sent off to a distant land as punishment. Not even going to lie, I honestly expected this book to turn out to be a quest to regain the crown. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find it wasn’t what I expected. Instead, I was thrown into a stunning world of mythology.
So because I really want to avoid as many spoilers as possible here, I won’t really talk about the specifics of the myths that Meyer created for this universe. However, I just adored how she exposed us to those myths: from the creation myths to the stories about Rahn. They reminded me so much of the myths I have read (& I’m not just talking about the usual suspects, aka Greek and Egyptian). Those myths helped this world feel so much more alive, and those myths pulled me in deeper and deeper until I finished the book. It was also refreshing to see the myths from the eyes of a skeptic.
Speaking of Talia — can I just say how much I loved her as a character?
While I couldn’t really connect with her, I did feel a lot of emotions as I read the book. She annoyed the hell out of me at times, and I thought she’s a pretty damn selfish character. But you see? I like that. She felt human. I can’t even tell you how many times I simply wanted to smack her and urge her to sit down for a second to think. However, throughout the story, she does grow and develop.
This sort of brings me into her relationship with Caiden and Wen. God help me, this book would have been so much better had it not been for the forced romance. That dalliance between Caiden and Talia was not needed at all. It’s around this time that the book slowed down, attributing to the book’s atrocious pacing. It felt so ridiculous that we spent more time dealing with this “romance” rather than get to the nitty-gritty. Worse is that Talia is just so ** overly dramatic** about it.
Look, I get it! First love and all, but come on. I would have much preferred to see her attempting to grieve for all that she’s lost than dealt with the nonsense romance we got instead. It would have been far more interesting to see Talia arrive in Ruen-Dahr, having bottled up her emotions and thinking she’s okay. However, the discoveries she makes there force her to confront her demons. But instead, we get her in Ruen-Dahr relatively okay for someone who lost everything.
And yeah, okay, in a way, her actions in regards to the myths and Rahn are a way she’s attempting to cope with everything. But the thing is? It didn’t feel that way. The middle half of the book — although that is where we really get to see Talia reading more into the myths and stories her mother used to tell her — was so messy at times. I felt like I was reading two different books in this section: a perfect book that attempted to deal with someone’s grief and this never-ending question of why things happened. Meanwhile, the other book is this forced romance.
That isn’t to say that Talia’s relationship with Wen was just as bad. If anything, THAT relationship felt more up to par with the rest of the book: quality and heartfelt.
Still, for all my annoyance with the romance between Caiden and Talia, Meyer’s writing is superb. She’s able to weave words into lush, lively worlds filled with their own myths.
It’s a shame that things don’t pick up until about 70-80% of the book. I can understand why someone may DNF this book due to the middle portion. However, the payoff is so worth it. Despite the pacing, the ending was so satisfying. It felt so good to read a standalone book and have such a satisfying conclusion.
If you’re looking for a book with strong mythology and worldbuilding, a cast of characters you’ll both love and want to smack, and a satisfying ending, — this is the book for you.