Review: Daughter of the Sea and the Sky by David Litwack

Review: Daughter of the Sea and the Sky by David LitwackThe Daughter of the Sea and the Sky by David Litwack
Published by Evolved Publishing on April 12, 2014
Pages: 290
Goodreads |

After centuries of religiously motivated war, the world has been split in two. Now the Blessed Lands are ruled by pure faith, while in the Republic, reason is the guiding light—two different realms, kept apart and at peace by a treaty and an ocean.

Children of the Republic, Helena and Jason were inseparable in their youth, until fate sent them down different paths. Grief and duty sidetracked Helena’s plans, and Jason came to detest the hollowness of his ambitions.

These two damaged souls are reunited when a tiny boat from the Blessed Lands crashes onto the rocks near Helena’s home after an impossible journey across the forbidden ocean. On board is a single passenger, a nine-year-old girl named Kailani, who calls herself “the Daughter of the Sea and the Sky.” A new and perilous purpose binds Jason and Helena together again, as they vow to protect the lost innocent from the wrath of the authorities, no matter the risk to their future and freedom.

But is the mysterious child simply a troubled little girl longing to return home? Or is she a powerful prophet sent to unravel the fabric of a godless Republic, as the outlaw leader of an illegal religious sect would have them believe? Whatever the answer, it will change them all forever… and perhaps their world as well.

I received this book from Masquerade Tours in exchange for an honest review.

The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky is an understated, thought-provoking novel that I enjoyed reading. After I finished reading it I went to Goodreads and was putting it on my shelves. I had a hard time categorizing it. Is it fantasy? Is it science fiction? I saw that some people think it’s YA. I don’t think it’s literary. Is it dystopian? I find this an interesting phenomenon because I can almost always peg the genre of a book. I can’t help but wonder if that’s why I enjoyed it so much. It doesn’t really fit with a genre so those genre conventions weren’t really slapping me in the face. I suppose I’d call this a “what happens after a dystopia” novel. We know of the war between the two factions but the book begins well after peace was established. The pieces have been put back together.

The story itself is understated. It has a quiet narrative that is introspective even during the climax at the end. I enjoyed that. The premise is that two nations are at a tentative truce. The Blessed Lands value faith. The Republic values reason. There is no middle ground. I expected a grossly exaggerated story focusing on how “right” one or the other is. What I found was that Litwack uses his quiet narrative to show the gray area that exists between faith and reason. The major characters all experience a kind of destabilization that shakes their core beliefs. It seems like the farm’s role is to act as a space where others can enact their doubts without feeling fear from the government. My only qualm here is that Litwack disproportionately depicts these doubts in characters from The Republic. I’d have liked to see a better split. But, Kailani does experience moments of doubt in her beliefs, especially when confront with Benjamin’s extremism. Since we see so few characters from The Blessed Lands, perhaps this is enough. Or, and this is something I’m just thinking of now, perhaps Benjamin’s ejection from The Blessed Lands exhibits a kind of rationality that doesn’t take a destabilizing moment for us to see it.

The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky is almost literary. It’s like reading Margaret Atwood with the volume on mute. It had the potential to live up to these literary speculative fiction pieces that we’re familiar with but it just isn’t executed as flawlessly. Helena and Jason’s relationship at the beginning of the novel is glossed over. It’s too understated. I’d have liked to have read a little more about their connection before they lost touch. I get the general idea but they’re such interesting characters that I wanted more. I think it could have helped give Litwack’s world a little more dimension too. I feel like I had enough of the story to process all the information in the novel but I craved that extra little *something* that makes a fictional world come alive. Though, I do think learning about The Republic and The Blessed Lands from Carlson is a nice touch. Viewing the world from a middle-management perspective is an interesting take on world-building.

Kailani is a riveting character. Litwack writes her alive in the text. She embodies the kind of innocence and curiosity that all people have when they’re young. But that magic dies for me at the end. Yes, she’s the daughter of the sea and the sky but not in the magical-mystical-faith kind of way. Her mother’s name means sea. Her father’s name means sky. It’s a literal phrase she calls herself when she wants attention. This bit of information changed my opinion of her a little. She runs away to do penance … but what if she runs away to get attention? I doubted Kailani for a bit. But, she is a child. Helena and Jason remind everyone of that throughout the book. Why wouldn’t she want attention? So, in the end I think I wanted Kailani to be this mythical child of the sea and sky. I wanted to believe she was this prophet that could change the world. What I got was a child who is a child. But she’s an extraordinary child who has the ability to see inside of you and pull out all the good parts. I’ve decided that’s good enough for me.

I think Litwack does a good job showing just how negative religious extremism is. Though, I think he doesn’t go quite as far as he could have. Benjamin has a lot of wasted potential. This brings me to my one problem with the novel: the climax wasn’t really climactic. The stakes weren’t high enough. Zealots exist all over the world in every religion, destabilizing and shaking our core beliefs, making us choose sides, and relishing the aftermath of the chaos they cause. Benjamin represents all of this. His actions are only 3/4 developed though and Litwack’s point gets a little muted. He never really causes chaos. He causes problems with the potential to be chaos but the actual chaos part never happens.

In the end, The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky is a quiet tale that makes you think about why faith and reason are represented in black and white ways in today’s world. Personally, I think we’d all benefit from having Kailani around and pulling all of the good things out from inside of us. She’s the embodiment of hope. She brings it to the farm and to all the characters in the novel. Helena certainly needs hope. So does Sebastian and Carlson. So does overtly rational Jason. This book is certainly worth reading and thinking about.

four-stars

© 2014 – 2016, Jessica Workman Holland. All rights reserved.