Life isn’t better under the sea.
Lenny Dolan is all too familiar with this reality. A Selkie slave in the realm beneath the waves, he has no choice when charged with leading a crew ashore to capture an elusive runaway. If unsuccessful, the loved ones kept behind will pay for his failure with their lives.
But when their target leads Lenny and his crew to deeper, darker secrets, the Selkies are faced with a moral dilemma. Secure their own freedom at the expense of others, or return empty-handed to face the grisly consequences?
How Lenny and his crew answer the question will teach them the harshest truth of all. Only through the loss of innocence does one become Salted.
We have seen a glut of young adult fiction that has made its way to bookshelves. Vampires, werewolves and post-apocalyptic survivors have become the dominant characters in many books for young readers. It’s a trend that has very much worn out its welcome if you ask me. That’s why it is so refreshing when an author creates something new and genuinely interesting. Enter Aaron Glavin’s Salted, a book that actually presents a mythology that I never knew existed.
Forget singing fish and Jamaican-accented crustaceans, Salted tells a tale of the sea that is nowhere near as cheery as a Disney animated feature. Under this particular ocean, readers will find the world of the Salt. The Salt is a realm that is home to humans with the ability to shape shift into various underwater creatures. With seemingly magical suits, the many characters throughout the book are able to become seals. These shape shifters are called “selkies.”
It’s the presentation of this new world and its history that will keep readers interested early on. Honestly, it’s hard for to think of a fantasy world geared towards young adults that is said to regularly smell of “body odor, vomit, and excrement.” It caught my attention anyway. It works well and provides a brief hint as to the type of story readers are in for.
At the same time, being immediately dropped into a new world, a world that is certainly new to young adult fiction, can be a little disorienting at first. Readers will be introduced to a few new terms and words that they will definitely be unfamiliar with. As in any book with a fantasy or science-fiction setting, what things are and how things work will be explained later on. With Salted, the same is true here. It’s just a matter of sticking with the story and waiting for these necessary explanations.
I’m getting ahead of myself however. A question needs to be asked. What is a selkie? I asked that same question myself. Let’s lean about it together! Originally found in Scottish, Irish and Scandinavian folklore, selkies are creatures that live in the ocean as seals. When on dry land, they shed their seal skins in order to become human. According to ancient tales, male selkies had the ability to seduce human women with their dashing good looks. Female selkies were highly coveted by human men. In order to obtain a selkie wife, men would have to steal the seal skin of a female selkie. Galvin borrows from this mythology and applies these fables to his very unusual world of the Salt.
In Salted, many of the selkie characters that readers come to know are slaves. A fair share of these selkies are tasked with the responsibility of capturing other escaped slaves. These selkie hunters, called “catchers,” conduct their slave hunts on dry land. Catchers are both revered and feared in the Salt. Those who are “privileged” enough to be chosen as the captain of a selkie hunt take great pride in their newly acquired position. Made up of various races and ethnicities, the selkies are fascinating to follow due to their various dysfunctional relationships with one another.
The first of the selkie characters that readers will be introduced to is named Lenny Dolan. What makes Lenny a great protagonist is the fact that you don’t know how to feel about him. He’s been named captain of a selkie hunt and is willing to hunt down other selkies to fufill his own desires in his miserable life. He’s a cold character and it’s likely that readers will be opposed to his mission as soon as it begins. The conflicts that are created within him and with others will have readers guessing as to what side Lenny will eventually fall on. He has a cool accent too. Nothing is better than reading a character’s dialogue out loud in a thick Boston/New England accent. At least that’s what I do. It’s not weird!
To balance the more fantastical elements of the story, the “Drybacks” are introduced. The Drybacks are the humans of Salted. They live in a modern-day world very much like our own. If the book has one weak point, it’s here. I understand that Galvin wanted to create contrast with his more fantasy based world. It’s just a little difficult getting used to jumping from one character with the ability to turn into a seal, to another character be bullied in high school. Thankfully, it doesn’t last long and more time is eventually spent on the selkies and their mission.
Presented as a YA novel, Salted may be a bit too mature for younger readers. There are quite a few adult themes addressed in the book. Yes, you’ll see some of protagonists of the story confronted with high school bullying and a bit of teen angst, but the real seriousness is introduced with the slave characters and their abusive masters. Salted is probably best suited for readers in their teens.
There is much left to be explored in Salted. As the book states on its cover, this is the first in a series. Hopefully, Galvin will have the opportunity to explore more of the world he created and delve deeper into the minds of his various characters. It’s a strong first entry in a series. It provides an engaging plot and a well thought out mythology for readers to enjoy.