Reviewing: The Navigator’s Touch by Julia Ember

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“Come with me,” he said, breathless, and extended his hand to her. “I will make you a queen among gods.”

“I have a duty to my people.!

The god bowed his head. Fate had directed his hjarta, and he was as powerless against the Norns as any mortal.

“Then my duty will be to you.”

Immediately following the events of The Seafarer’s Kiss, The Navigator’s Touch follows Ragna, book one’s shipwrecked captive. A descendent of the union between Heimdallr and a human woman named Sigrid, Ragna bears the shifting, magical maps on her skin marking her as other, as desirable – because many men would kill to have a map that would take them safely wherever they wanted to go. We first met Ragna when her captors’ ship was wrecked in the ice of the trap, and her life was saved by a mermaid’s curiosity. Now we follow Ragna as she recalls the events that took her from her home and left her family dead, and see the lengths she is willing to go to for revenge.

Fear and promise, in equal balance, that was the only way I was going to survive. To lead this crew, I had to promise them the world and dangle their nightmares from the tip of my silver hook.

Leading a crew of mercenaries who had once worked for the man who destroyed her home and accompanied by a mermaid whose gifts are god-given and bought with blood, Ragna is forced to change if she wants to succeed. The children of her village, her cousin, all are kept prisoner in the hopes that maps will appear on their bodies and to save them she will do anything at all. Ember has done a wonderful job of differentiating the narrative voices in this series. Ersel and Ragna are two very, very different women. Drawn together by the events that made them allies, and then lovers, they still do not fully understand one another. Where Ersel was motivated by desperation to save herself from an unwanted fate, Ragna is altogether a more viscerally angry person. The violence ramps up in this installation, and there’s a pretty brutal scene towards the end where Ragna encounters the man who murdered her young brother. She is motivated to the extent where it often blinkers her to what is going on around her. There are moments she seems to see Ersel more as a weapon to be used than as a young girl, a person in her own right in a world she doesn’t yet understand, and she views her stolen crew with nothing less than paranoid contemp, and yet she is still a character for whom I felt a great amount of sympathy. Her home was burned down, her family murdered, she almost starved to death on a glacier, she’s been left with one hand and a hook and in order to save her young cousin she must do the impossible. She’s a young girl wanting to take on an army, and for that she needs to be stronger than she has ever been.

I couldn’t decide what I hoped. To see her again? To stop being too selfish to love her? Or that the god would take her far away, and she would never come back, so I would never have the chance to betray her again.

We see more other creatures of Norse Mythology as Ragna and Ersel journey on, Fenrir lurking in the mountains, Sleipnir with blood dripping from his teeth as he eats a man alive. These stories are given new life, and despite Ersel’s warnings against deals with Loki, Ragna finds herself inextricably tied to the trickster god. To get what they want, a bargain must be struck.

The character development in this book is wonderful. Ragna is not the world’s most likable character but I kind of love that. She’s angry and bitter and trusts literally nobody and she can be rude and selfish but let’s be honest, that’s kind of understandable for someone who has been through hell. She’s also ferociously loving, passionate and determined, and she’s a stone cold badass. If you were faced up against an angry lady covered in moving tattoos with a hook for a hand, you’d run away. Ersel learns to stand on her own two feet – or eight tentacles – in both a literal and figurative sense in the background while Ragna’s rage takes the forefront of the novel, and while there’s this promise of perhaps one day, both women have their own goals and dreams independent of one another.

For me, this book build upon the first one extremely well. The pacing, where it had been slightly slow in areas of the first one, was brilliantly fast in this one. The cast of characters were diverse and individual and I love them so much. The ending of the book was perfectly set up for more, so I hope it’s coming! This is definitely an author on my list of ones to watch and I can’t wait for more writing!

Overall rating: 🧜🏻‍♀️🧜🏻‍♀️🧜🏻‍♀️🧜🏻‍♀️🧜🏻‍♀️ 5 mermaids out of 5

A Copy of The Navigator’s Touch was kindly provided by netgalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. 

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