Book Review: Fire in the Sea by Myke Bartlett

Sadie is bored. Summer, beach, gossip – nothing ever changes.

Then something comes out of the sea, and everything changes.

Sadie receives a mysterious inheritance. A strange young man turns up, claiming to be someone he can’t be. And a horned beast roams the city, bellowing for blood.

Soon Sadie is catapulted into a centuries-old conflict on the brink of a final, terrible showdown. At the centre of it all is an ancient relic that has the power to save her city – or destroy the world.

But the relic has been stolen.

And time is running out.

Imagine John Marsden and Suzanne Collins cowrote a Narnian story. That’s the closest approximation I can make for the entirely unique story, tone, and feel of Fire in the Sea. Allow me to elaborate…

Aside from both being male and Australian, and bringing the inevitable sensibilities of this to their writing, both Marsden and Bartlett write with simplicity and elegance.

Like The Hunger Games, Fire in the Sea is a fast-paced and visual novel. Bartlett has a background in film criticism, and I feel his passion for that medium really shines through in his writing. The action sequences flow frequently and seamlessly, like any good movie. And like any good book, they are easy to follow, and easy to imagine.

The plot is seeped in old-world mythology – the kind of mythology where ancient creatures are covered in blood rather than glitter. The book’s cover may scream pre-teen boy action-adventure, but don’t let it fool you – Fire in the Sea is violent and sophisticated. On more than one occasion while reading it I’d shudder, grimace, and finally concede ‘okay, that’s awesome’.

Marsden and Collins are both renowned for strong female protagonists and Fire in the Sea’s Sadie could hold her own right alongside Ellie and Katniss. Sadie is more concerned with actions and consequences than what she’s wearing. She’s made all the more likeable for having depth to her emotions – she navigates incredibly complicated situations with all the difficulty of a teenager who has a painful past, a sense of familial duty, and her own conflicting desires. Most importantly, she doesn’t always do so successfully.

For readers who need a little bit of love or a lot of eye-candy in their YA, Fire in the Sea will not disappoint on that front either. While it does feature the unrequited-love scenario, Bartlett adds life to an old angst by bestowing it upon Tom, the supporting male character.

My only criticism of Fire in the Sea is that because the book starts with such strength, and sustains it through the often-tricky second act, the climax was a tad underwhelming. I wanted slightly bigger fireworks for the final action sequence to really stand out. Fire in the Sea is Bartlett’s first book beyond the self-publishing realm, and it does have that new-author feel. I can’t wait to see what book comes next.

It’s been too long since I was excited about a debut book. It’s been too long since there was a strong, new, male voice in the Australian YA scene. It’s been too long since I felt confident in recommending a book to an older teen (particularly male) audience. Thank you, Myke Bartlett and Text Publishing.

Fire in the Sea is released on 25 July, 2012.

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