~This is not the book I signed up for~
I was expecting a high seas adventure with pirates, epic love, reincarnation, a unique curse, and exciting treasure hunts. Instead I got a fractured story that never went anywhere and had gratuitous rape, sex, animal abuse, and violence. Based on the description, I really wanted to read this book. I still do. Unfortunately, that isn't the book A. S. King wrote.
~The plot that went nowhere~
I felt like an abused donkey with a carrot hung in front of my face and, like the donkey, I never got that carrot. I slogged through boring and hugely depressing scenes as first Emer and then Saffron (who is Emer reincarnated, sort of) recount their tortured existences. Emer starved in Ireland during the 1600s and Saffron lived through the 1970s-`90s with her alcoholic, trashy, do-nothing parents and drug addicted brother. I read through chapters and chapters of this and, looking back, they served very little purpose. Saffron's scenes were especially superfluous, providing neither character growth nor plot advancement. To say the conclusion of her storyline (and the book) was anticlimactic is an understatement.
Emer's story was at least somewhat satisfying. Like the blurb, I thought it was a great idea. There was epic love, unrequited love, pirating, battles, and treasure. Except, this was more told than shown, and the telling was far too brief. More time is spent in dreary, depressing Ireland with a young and starving Emer than on the high seas treasure seeking. I didn't care so much for Emer as I did for the idea of a woman in her position. She was more like a legend than an actual character. Her romance was equally hollow with her barely there and almost entirely unknown love interest (like a Disney prince back in the day, Seanie spoke about five lines).
The curse was something I was very much looking forward to exploring, but it too failed to deliver. I wanted to know more about the curse, but at the very least I wanted to see how her time spent as 100 dogs affected her character. The answer, apparently, is that it didn't affect her. Saffron shows absolutely no growth or, really, any effects of having once been a dog. How do you go 300 years and over 100 lifetimes without ever growing as a character? The point of these lifetimes seemed to serve only to allow Saffron to be reincarnated 300 years later, which could have been accomplished without the unexplored curse. I was disappointed.
All of the characters fell flat for me and felt like caricatures. The bad characters lacked any depth or nuance and are instead simply straight up vile people (really, if you want to make me hate your character, by all means make him a perverted, rapist, animal abuser. I'll hate him for sure, but I also might hate you a little for introducing me to him).
The "good" characters were almost as annoying, with few redeeming qualities themselves. None of the characters grew or changed throughout the book at all. This made their experiences seem pointless to read about.
Except, Emer and Saffron were not the same person at all. I'm unclear as to how the reincarnation worked exactly. Saffron was Emer, but she also wasn't. She shared Emer's memories and knowledge, but she did and thought things Emer wouldn't have, to her detriment. Is this poor and inconsistent characterization? Is this a convoluted plot point? I don't know, but that alone isn't a good sign.
~Shock and awe~
As stated above, there are copious amounts of gratuitous violence, abuse, rape, and sex (both hetero and homosexual). This is a YA book, but in name only. Abuse against dogs is written about repeatedly, and with little to no relevance to the plot. I have never read animal abuse that even comes close to this in both frequency and detail.
Emer is raped, and the act is described in detail. Again, this has only the barest relevance to the plot, and the graphic nature of the act is unnecessary to get the point across. She also crudely refers to sex in an off-hand manner that also serves no purpose. None of these acts help build character development, with the sex mentions coming across as especially irrelevant and "shocking" for the sake of being edgy.
There are a few attempts at making a point, but each time the message comes across more like an afterthought or a throwaway concession to try to half-heartedly justify the violent scenes. It is one thing to show scenes like this if there is a purpose, but there wasn't any here. It was just rambling violence that continually digressed from the barebones story.
I wish I had never read this book and it was only the hope of Emer's story improving that kept me reading until the end. I feel deceived by the false advertising and disappointed that I never got to read the book I was hoping this would be. In my library I do still recommend books I didn't like to my patrons because their tastes may be different, but I can't comfortably recommend this book to a YA patron. Their parents would kill me.