Image: Penguin Young Readers
Sometimes the best way to follow a hit novel is to switch things up and try something completely different.
Or at least that’s the case with YA author Mindy McGinnis and her latest book, epic fantasy novel Given to the Sea.
The novel follows four intertwined characters — Khosa, Vincent, Donil and Witt — as each struggles to confront fate and loyalty in the warring kingdom of Stille. At the center of the story is Khosa, a girl destined to sacrifice herself to the sea to save her village. After surviving an attack on her village, Khosa is taken to safety at the royal palace in Stille where she finds herself enmeshed in a love triangle — or probably more apt, love square — that could not only alter her own fate but the fate of her kingdom.
"I had this idea that writing fantasy would be easy because I get to make up all the rules, no research required. Not true," explains McGinnis. "In fantasy, nothing is a given, nothing is assumed. I have to do a lot of explaining… and keep that interesting. I’ve written post-apocalyptic, historical, contemporary, and now fantasy. Fantasy is by far the hardest."
The book comes fresh off the heels of McGinnis’ 2016 contemporary YA novel Female of the Species. The novel followed Alex, a teenage girl who seeks vigilante justice on the sexual abusers in her town. Female of the Species was much acclaimed at the time of its release for its exploration of feminism, sexual violence and justice. (The MashReads Podcast actually recommended it. Twice.)
It’s this juxtaposition — contemporary YA to fantasy — that may shock McGinnis’ fans picking up her latest book. Yet McGinnis teases that Given to the Sea contains something for all types of readers.
"There’s something for everyone here – romance, gruesome deaths, magic, sword fights, scary animals, and inevitable death."
Given to the Sea doesn’t come out until April 11. In the meantime, check out a sneak peek of the book’s first two chapters below.
Image: Penguin Young Readers
It is in my blood.
It is in my bone.
It is in my brain.
One day my body will betray me, dancing into the sea, my mind a passenger only. The water will close over my head and I will drown, my death bringing a reprieve for those who are not me. This is what I’ve been born and bred for. The food passing into my mouth, the clothes covering my body, every breath I draw—these are smaller offerings, each a promise that I will endure, bear my own cursed daughter, and then succumb.
How that will happen I do not know. My mother suffered the touch of another at least once, long enough to fulfill her duties and bring me about. I know it was badly done. I see it in the faces of my Keepers, these people who care for me without caring. I hear the small things in their voices. They worry I will not be pleasing to the sea, that my mother and her chosen mate created something less than perfect. I understand their concern, but cannot share it. Why should I care if the tides rise again, if I am only a corpse riding the waves?
To live aware of your own doom is no easy thing. I spend my days at lessons, my body fulfilling the expected duties, though my mind is elsewhere. The Keepers are worried that I have not prepared well, have not set my face in the appropriate response to their commands. “Happy,” for instance, is an emotion I cannot be expected to parade, but they tell me it is necessary. “Melancholy” I excel at.
My mother and grandmother had other lessons, ones to please at table and dancing. Proper chewing, proper speaking, proper walking—only expected, of course, when we are in control of our limbs. My lessons have taken a different course, my other instructors quietly dismissed once I learned all that was expected.
All except how to contort my stone face appropriately.
The Keepers have tried, their emotions chasing through their faces so quickly I can’t keep up, my own trying to mirror what I see. They say to me, “Pleased,” but look nothing like it themselves, and I am easily confused on this point. So I often retreat, my mind escaping the room where I learn to mimic emotion, returning itself to some well-ordered facts absorbed from a musty book, its scent still lingering on my fingers, a source of comfort.
Their pages follow me through the day, their words imprinted on my mind. I know the history of my land better than the Scribes, better than the royals who rule it. I can recite the names of my predecessors, from the woman who gave birth to me all the way to Medalli, one of the Three Sisters whom the sea gave back after the wave that took nearly all. Seaweed was pulled from their hair, their locks drying as they worked alongside other survivors to rebuild what had washed away, not knowing they would be taken again, the first of the Given.
The sea waited until the sisters had married and had children of their own before it called for them, the price of its leniency the blood of their line. For the children went too, and their children after them, the first twitches of their childhood pulling them toward the water, the final coordinated movements driving them deep into the waves, the dance of death one their kingdom deemed the will of the sea. And so it continues. Their footprints in the sand not returning, my feet now itching to follow. Medalli’s line—mine—remains strong, the other two Sisters falling short, the last names in their column females who did not produce heirs, the ink that wrote them now faded with time.
I rub my fingers together, drawing the scent of the book pages from them as my male Keeper says, “Sad.” Sad I can perform, closing my eyes and picturing my name, Khosa, the ink slightly darker than my mother’s name before me, Sona.
“Don’t close your eyes,” he says.
I open them again to see my Keepers, their faces so easily read.
“I’m sorry you have to wait, my lord.”
“Not a concern,” I answer the guard, but my eyes are on my hands, the clean nails freshly clipped, the smoothness of my palms interrupted by the lines that Madda insists hold my future.
In any kingdom other than Stille, the future of a prince wouldn’t need to be read in his hands. It would be clear in his actions, the preparations taken to ensure he sits the throne well, does his duty, leads his country. Somewhere else I would be wed already, the announcement of my own child eagerly anticipated, the girl I keep on the side politely excused, with her pockets lined for her trouble. Instead I sit outside the throne room at the age of seventeen, awaiting my turn to speak to King Gammal—my grandfather—healthy, hearty, capable. At his side, my father Prince Varrick, already gray and lined, but still sitting in the lower throne.
I shift on the wooden bench, and the trapman next to me slides farther away, the smell of sea salt rising from his clothes. “I’m sorry, my lord. Do you need more room?”
“More than enough room,” I insist, patting the space between us.
He’s quiet for a moment, and the lady on the bench next to ours fills the hall with the clicking of her wooden knitting needles. One foot rests casually on the ball of coarse wool beneath her feet to keep it from rolling away as she works. She’s assured, content. As a citizen of Stille, she is entitled to speak to the king, and her turn will come. Eventually.
I look back at my empty hands and the lines that Madda the Seer wrinkles her brow at. Her answers to my questions are always vague and muttered.
“Am I right to say my lord?” the trapman asks. “Is that what you’re called?”
The words it doesn’t matter are half formed in my throat, but I choke them back.
The woman’s needles continue to click. Her hands are gnarled and work-worn, but her color is good, and the hat she is knitting small. For a grandchild. Or great-grandchild. They are lucky to have her. I tell myself these things every day: Stille is fortunate. Stille is healthy. Stille is strong. Years of peace and prosperity mean that the old linger and the middle-aged flourish, while the young inherit only boredom and aimlessness.
“Just Vincent,” I say, finally answering the trapman’s question. “No title necessary.”
“You’re of royal blood,” the woman says, not glancing up from her work. “It should not be taken lightly.”
“No . . .” My voice fades away. I have no words to explain succinctly, only memories from my childhood when I was called the baby prince, and then the young prince, and now there’s a hesitation, a slight pause before acknowledging my rank. There is no name for the third in line, one whose hands will wither with age long before they hold the scepter.
I’ve come to hate the blank space before my given name, the deferential glance of the servants as they search for a title that represents nothing. So I make it easier for them, and for myself.
“Just Vincent,” I reassert. The old woman makes a disapproving noise in her throat and keeps knitting. The trapman smiles at me, his teeth even, strong, and white in a face lined with wrinkles.
“I’m Agga.” He holds out a bent hand, gnarled from years of pulling in the crab traps, the lengthy ropes rubbing it raw. Even the trapmen don’t go into the water, letting the tides carry out the traps. His skin feels of age and the scars of work, years of absorbed salt water pressing back against the softness of my own hands.
“How is the sea, Agga?” I ask.
He shakes his head. “Eating the beach with hunger. We’ll be needing her that’s given to the sea, and soon.”
“I will pass that along,” I say. I don’t add that my voice doesn’t carry in the great hall, only echoes back into my ears.
“Here to do it myself,” Agga says, and I wonder if he followed my thought.
“I saw when the last one was given,” the woman says. “She danced beautifully.”
“They all have,” Agga says.
“But their faces, they do . . . twist,” the woman adds, her own mimicking the memory, a brief mask of horror that slides off easily as she counts her stitches.
“Do they want to go?” I ask.
Agga shrugs. “It’s their own feet taking them. No one in Stille makes them go. We’re not the Pietra, feeding sea monsters with the flesh of their aged.”
“No.” The woman shudders, dropping the first stitch since I’ve sat here. “We’re not the Pietra.”
There’s laughter in the throne room. It reverberates under the closed doors, my grandfather’s hearty one underscored by my father’s, which has never ceased to produce goose bumps on my skin, even in a lifetime of hearing it.
“I’m sorry you have to wait, my lord,” the guard says again.
“Not a concern,” I repeat, looking back at my hands, where lifelines extend forever, marching right off the palm.
Waiting is what I’m good at.
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