Book Review: Captain of the Sand by Amber Gabriel

Well, I’m back.

It’s been a long break, but an important one.

I’ve become a mother.

I’m learning this whole new role, the most important role I could likely ever fill, besides the role of wife, and the overall identity of Christian. I can’t fathom how deeply I love my new little human, the bliss of holding this little one next to me and feeling the softness of that marshmallow cheek on mine. It’s such a beautiful, exhausting, joyful, frustrating, incredible time, and I’m so, so grateful to the God who gave us the incredible gift of parenting this wonderful soul.

But, I will do my best not to get sidetracked. I’m here because I love books!

As a bit of an update, Seregn of course had to be postponed once I knew we were expecting our family to grow. What I didn’t know at the time was how long it would take to get into the swing of things again once it was put on hold. With a baby at the forefront of my mind, planning an author business was a low priority. But now I’m so happy to say I’m getting back into it. There have been some big developments and I’m increasingly confident I’ll be able to reveal an official launch date soon.

To all those who have been following along for many months now, thank you for your patience. I’m so grateful you’ve been willing to stick it out. For those of you who are new, welcome, I’m so pleased you’re here! If you’d like to know a little more about my writing, you can check out my book trailer, get the first three chapters free by signing up to my email list, or jump over to my Advance Reader Copies page to request the whole manuscript! To see what others are saying, check out the reviews tab.

All right, enough with the housekeeping. It’s time to jump into my latest review, of book six in Amber Gabriel’s The Edge of the Sword series, Captain of the Sand.

Let’s start with the characters.

We met Halem all the way back in A Crack in the Rock. A young boy at the time, I won’t spoil his backstory. Suffice to say though, it’s a good one, and gives oodles of reason for him to despise the Breakers.

Enter Obsidian.

We’ve met Obsidian before too, in The Princess of Everywhere. But it’s here we get a deeper look into who she is and how she works.

These two are a big part of the heart of this story. Right from the get-go Halem and Obsidian quickly find themselves in the company of someone representing everything they despise – each other. As one, then the other, seem to gain the upper hand, it’s anyone’s guess who will come out victorious.

While at first I found connecting with Halem and Obsidian more difficult than some of Gabriel’s other characters, they were nonetheless compelling and pulled me in to their adventure. This isn’t a reflection on the quality of the characters, more a reflection of what characters I personally connect to more easily.

Where Gabriel shines is in building a relationship between these two people who really ought to (and certainly do, at least at the start) hate each other. Slowly that pure revulsion shifts, and it’s one of the great points of this novel that those characters stay true to themselves, but somehow learn to value the other person. At the same time, they are surround by people – entire cultures – that don’t understand their shifting perspectives, and in fact strongly oppose them. This provides some incredible tension as the plot thickens, culminating in a story that ties you up wondering how on earth it will all turn out right in the end.

I also have to mention Chysh.

Wow. What a journey Chysh has been on. He’s come so far from the petulant, muderous, unstable tyrant we knew in earlier books. Seeing his character arc and growth has been a real delight of this series. I won’t spend much time here except to say Gabriel really does seem to excel at character growth that matters, that takes its time to develop and change, staying true to the heart of who each person is, whilst allowing genuine growth. It’s a pleasure to read. Seeing Chysh’s story here makes me really excited for where he is heading next. He ends up in the perfect place, in my opinion, and will be so much fun to pick up with in his next story. What a ride.

Now, the story.

We open on Halem as he and his warriors escort a camel trader to the Rakhlain Mountains. They are quickly attacked by the Breakers, and this is where Halem and Obsidian come face to face. I won’t say much more here, but essentially, this sparks a mission of ‘who’ and ‘why’. Why are the Breakers in the Crescent? Why is black powder being stolen from Cerecia? Who is buying it? Who is betraying their people to do it? Why?

Gabriel does an excellent job of handling these questions without them becoming frustrating as we wait for answers. Meanwhile, the character conflict and growth, and the great worldbuilding, keep us going as the intrigue builds.

Captain of the Sand is building up to something. It has a satisfying conclusion whilst not answering some important questions. I know Gabriel has another book in store for us, and I’m so eager to see what answers may lie there.

On to the themes!

There are a bunch of themes swirling in Captain of the Sand. One of the easiest to see is the prevalence of language barriers. In the endnotes Gabriel recounts her own difficulties learning Russian and living in the country for a year, and it’s clear how her experience informed this novel. Different characters speak a wide array of languages, to the degree there’s a handy table included to keep note of who can speak which one! It’s a very realistic problem I haven’t often seen portrayed in a fantasy novel in this way. The idea of struggling to make yourself understood is something I think we all can relate to, even if we’re speaking in our native tongue!

Another big theme here is identity. Who am I? It’s a question each main character seems to need to find an answer to, in contrast to those around them. For example, who is Halem at the start of the story? How is that identity challenged by, or questioned by, those around him? How do his experiences shape that identity while he tries to remain true to his values? Who is he when his emotions and his values seem to be at odds? This is such good storytelling and again, is the heart of the story, at least to me.

Another key theme is the ongoing pain of amputation. Gabriel explains her extensive research on the experience of amputees, and it shows. I so admire the efforts she goes to in her research to ensure the varying elements are realistic, it makes a difference not only for the casual readers, but especially for those who have gone through that themselves.

Captain of the Sand is a tale of intrigue, romance, mystery, adventure. It’s plot is perhaps the most complicated out of the series, but Gabriel does a wonderful job of weaving each thread together. Overall it’s another excellent instalment in the series, exploring characters we’ve met before in even more depth, and revealing more of this fascinating world Gabriel has created. Tonally, it fits perfectly with with other books in the series.

Speaking of the series overall, I was thrilled to learn book seven is on its way! I’m really looking forward to delving into this world again and seeing what’s in store for all our characters!

What do you think? Have you read The Edge of the Sword series? It’s available now on Kindle and in paperback. I encourage you to check it out.

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