Goodreads: Salt & Storm
Publication Date: September 23, 2014
Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island’s whale men safe and prosperous at sea. But before she could learn how to control her power, her mother, the first Roe woman in centuries to turn her back on magic, stole Avery away from her grandmother. Avery must escape from her mother before her grandmother dies, taking with her the secrets of the Roes’ power.
When Avery awakens from a dream foretelling her own murder, she realizes time is running short—for her and for the people of her island, who, without the Roes, will lose their ships and the only life they know.
With the help of Tane, a tattooed harpoon boy from the Pacific Islands, Avery plots her escape from her mother and unravels the mysteries of her mother’s and grandmother’s pasts. Becoming a witch may prevent her murder and save her island from ruin, but Avery discovers it will also require a sacrifice she never expected—one she might not be able to make.
Kendall Kulper’s Salt & Storm is a masterpiece witch book. With an elaborately developed system of magic and a rich history of witches and their tenuous relationship with the normal people they help, Salt & Storm approaches the topic of witchcraft with insight and realism. In Salt & Storm, magic can earn one power and respect—but it also comes with a price. Protagonist Avery, who has dreamed of becoming the Prince Island witch since her childhood is willing, determined, to pay that price and more.
There are all kinds of witch books in the world, and although I am a fan of the Harry Potter type, where magic is glitzy and fun with an occasionally quirk, I also have a soft spot in my heart for books that portray magic as a little more, well, complicated. In the real world, witchcraft has been historically stigmatized, and I enjoy seeing characters who have to face a bit of that history, who wrestle with what it means to be a witch surrounded by people who are not. Salt & Storm is such a book.
Avery has always wanted to be the Prince Island witch, partially because it is a family tradition (or perhaps a destiny), partially because she has seen how magic has enabled her grandmother to fend for herself in a man’s world, and partially because she wants to help the people of Prince Island. Her family’s witchcraft has kept the Prince Island whalers safe and profitable for generations. Without her family’s aid, men die.
Salt & Storm is the story of Avery’s attempts to fulfill her dreams, and the obstacles she encounters—mainly in the form of her crazy mother. But it is also the story of how she realizes that becoming the witch could be painful, and how she discovers that people love a witch when things go right but hate her when things go wrong. Magic is not fun in Salt & Storm. It is a responsibility, perhaps a curse. And Avery must decide if it is worth bearing. Salt & Storm, though entertaining, is also psychologically complex and asks a lot of good questions about how much people owe society and how much they owe themselves.
Avery is a fantastic protagonist to encounter these questions. She is strong and absolutely determined to take control of her own destiny. Personally, I do not think that Avery always makes the best decisions; her age occasionally shows in the fact that she thinks she has all the answers when she clearly does not. However, I can still respect a character who sincerely tries to do her best and to be resilient against adversity. Her mistakes only make her more realistic. I think a lot of readers will enjoy her.
Avery’s story is beautifully set on the fictional Prince Island, which bases its economy almost solely on whaling. Kulper paints the island vividly, with an almost tangible atmosphere. Salt & Storm is a pretty accurate description of the place, in addition to the story. The island also has a thorough history going back generations. The occasionally insertion of family lore evoke the stories of L. M. Montgomery writing about Prince Edward Island over a century before.
The romance, unfortunately, is less impressive than the other aspects of the novel. Despite spending a significant amount of time together and sharing their hopes and fears (usually great ways to build a realistic romantic relationship in novels), Avery and Tane simply seem to be lacking chemistry. They say they care for each other, they act as though they care for each other, and they probably do. I just don’t feel it. However, Avery undoubtedly chooses a good man—which can sometimes be a challenge, both in books and in real life. So if she chooses a nice guy that I personally cannot imagine her spending the rest of her life with, well, she could do worse, especially as a teenager dating for the first time. I’m willing to let a less than compelling relationship go, especially since I do view Salt & Storm primarily as a witch book and secondarily as a romance.
Salt & Storm is undeniably well-written—a complex story about a complex girl who must find her way in a world that turns out to be less certain than she believed. Fans of strong heroines, sea stories, or witch books will all find something to love in Salt & Storm. A very thoughtful, moving, and imaginative book.