Salt & StormSalt & Storm by Kendall Kulper

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on September 23, 2014

Source: Publisher

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My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

A sweeping historical romance about a witch who foresees her own murder–and the one boy who can help change her future.View Spoiler »

There’s something about a YA novel with a gorgeous cover that makes me immediately suspicious; I’ve been burned so many times by “cupcake” books, those that look really appealing but never seem to satisfy. So imagine my delight when I found that my wariness about Kendall Kulper’s debut novel Salt & Storm was completely unnecessary.

Avery Roe has always known that she will one day take her grandmother’s place as the witch of Prince Island. For hundreds of years there has been a Roe witch to help the community there – for a price. The economy of Prince Island is almost entirely dependent on whaling, a dangerous and unpredictable trade. In order to be successful year after year, the sailors depend on the charms, potions, and spells of the Roe witch to bring them home with their spoils.

While presumably other witches on other islands (Prince Island is a very insular community and there isn’t much discussion of other witch families) can perform these spells, there is one skill that only a Roe witch possesses: tying the wind. To tie the wind is to control its speed, its strength, and its path. It’s an incredibly complex and powerful magic, one that drains Avery’s grandmother more and more each time she performs it. Avery longs for the day when she is the Roe witch, so that she may take the burden from her grandmother and finally access the power that she knows lies within her.

But how can Avery become the Roe witch when her mother keeps her trapped, refusing to let Avery return to her grandmother’s cottage? While her mother maintains that she’s trying to prevent the pain and suffering that comes from being a Roe witch, Avery sees only fear and hatred of the magic within all of them. Which is the truth? Like most things in life, the answer to that question is a lot more complicated than a simple binary.

Like all Roe women, Avery has a magical gift that is unique to her: she can “tell dreams” and interpret their meaning. While some of the finer points may slip through her grasp, her interpretations have always been correct. She’s never heard tell of a dream that she couldn’t unravel, couldn’t understand. And now, just as she’s poised to return to the cottage and her grandmother, Avery has a disturbing dream that tells of her own murder. How will she ever fulfill her destined role as Roe witch if she is to die before she can be reunited with her grandmother?

Scared and angry, Avery lashes out at pretty much everyone around her. Honestly, she’s not a very likeable protagonist. Prone to uncontrollable fits of rage and ire, Avery is unstable at best and dangerous at worst. Just because she doesn’t understand how to use her magic doesn’t mean that it can’t manifest in unpredictable – and violent – ways. Avery may not be someone I’d pal around with, but she’s compelling and finely wrought, just like every other aspect of Salt & Storm.

Setting is paramount in Salt & Storm, usually arranged in pairs of opposites. There is the island and the sea; the residential area and the wild land occupied by the Roe witch; and there is the palatial home of Avery’s mother and the dilapidated ancestral cottage inhabited by Avery’s grandmother. The time period is also an important consideration. Of course there is the inevitable Puritan clash between magic and religion: when Avery’s mother marries a clergyman to escape the life of hardship she would’ve experienced as the Roe witch, she exposes her daughter to the fear and bigotry commonly associated with 19th century New World Christianity. It’s hard out there for a witch.

Avery is isolated and alone, torn from her life with her grandmother and placed among people whose fear of and anger towards the Roe witch grows by the day. So when she meets the young sailor Tane, a beautiful boy with dark skin and mysterious magic, Avery sees her way out: if she can’t learn the Roe magic from her grandmother, she’ll learn new, foreign magic from Tane. Of course the most powerful magic of all is love, and lord knows you can’t control when it happens and with whom. Personally I totally buy in for that “love is the strongest magic” stuff, but I know it annoys many people so just be aware that it’s a part of Salt & Storm.

Despite the synopsis, which states that Salt & Storm is a “sweeping historical romance,” this novel is more concerned with personal identity than with love. Avery’s romance with Tane is pretty damn swoon-worthy, but it isn’t the center of the novel by any means. Yes, it does have consequences for Avery’s role of the Roe witch, but it’s the Roe women themselves that remain at the heart of this novel. The Roe witches need men for business and to give them daughters, but at the end of the day the witch is always alone.

“Men were simply a part of our job, meant for buying charms and procuring supplies and giving gifts, not anything to take seriously. And they didn’t own the cottage. They didn’t own us.” – page 159 of egalley

There’s power in having independence, but there’s loneliness too. As Avery begins to understand all that comes with being the Roe witch, she begins to question whether she wants that life after all. Ultimately Salt & Storm is about a young woman caught between fate and choice, uncertain which to choose but knowing that either option will rob her of something vital.

Kendall Kulper’s lyrical prose and strong voice mark her as one to watch in the coming years. Apparently she’s been contracted to write a companion novel to Salt & Storm, about one of Avery’s predecessors. I for one am eager for news of that book’s publication, and will happily strap in for whatever Kulper comes up with next.