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Book Review: Ashes on the Waves by Mary Lindsey

“Can the bonds of true love ever be severed?” – front cover blurb

Some books are inspired by other authors.  Golden by Jessi Kirby, for example, channels the works of Robert Frost.  For Mary Lindsey, her dream was to write a book inspired by Edgar Allan Poe.  Ashes on the Waves is inspired by not only by the works of Poe, but by the poem Annabel Lee in particular.

“It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.”

Complete poem by Edgar Allan Poe here

Ashes on the Waves is set on a secluded island that is almost like a different world.  Here, the locals live a life of extreme poverty and are overwhelmed by ancient legends that dictate much of their daily life.  The locals know that there are various creatures, called Otherworlders, that live in the sea; they are wary because you can be drawn in by them to your death.

 “It’s difficult to reconcile the fantastic with reality; hard to accept that things we can’t see exist—terrifying, in fact.”  – Ashes on the Waves

Anna, Annabel Leighton, is a rich socialite who has gotten a lot of negative press lately so she is sent by her family to stay out of the spotlight in their island mansion while her brother plans a wedding and his political career.  It would be so easy to dismiss Anna as a socialite, but Lindsey gives her tremendous depth of character as she stands up for justice and the poor.  She performs some truly heroic, sacrificial acts and I really loved her.  She is a strong female role model.

Liam MacGregor lives on the island, shunned and forsaken.  It is believed he is of the devil because of a birth injury that left him with damage to one of his arms.  Like I said, the people on the island are truly backwards and primitive.  At times it almost feels like you aren’t just going to a different island and culture, but through a portal to the past.

Anna and Liam played together as kids, and Liam has always been in love with her.  But because of who he is, he knows that he is unworthy and has no chance.  Except that Anna totally rocks and sees into the heart of him and a love grows among them.  The Otherworlders see this love and make a bet: they will test the couple’s love and the outcome determines which of the two supernatural groups will have to leave the area forever.  They throw every test and temptation that they can think of to the couple, and what happens is the real meat of the story.  The second half of the book is particularly strong and interesting.

 “The pain had no ebb or flow. It was a constant ever-increasing knell in my chest, timed to the beating of my broken heart.”- Ashes on the Waves

Overall, I really liked the premise of the story. The bet between the two factions of Otherworlders will remind readers of the story of Job.  This part didn’t happen, however, until around page 170, so it took a really long time to get to it.  I would have liked it to have happened earlier to propel the story forward more quickly.  The pacing of the first half of the story may be problematic for some readers.  It was very exciting though to see what would happen next, how the couple would – or would they? – survive it, and the strength of our two main characters.

However, there is really good character development and romance readers will definitely find a lot to swoon over. I am never a fan of that obsessive I can’t be away from you love, but in this world there is at least a reason for it.  Liam and Anna are both shining characters, as is Liam’s only real friend and supporter Francine.  Most of the other characters are cruel, superstitious, self serving and prone to secrets.  Again, I love just the moral being of our two main characters, their strength, the choices they make.  What Anna does for a local girl is simply inspiring.

I really liked how well a life of poverty was depicted; Although, as I mentioned, there were times where it felt more historical than other elements suggested, like Anna going back and forth to the island in a helicopter, and that caused a real disconnect for me.  Of course, this is a work of fantasy and there were very strong fantasy elements, and they were not your typical fantasy creatures.

Teachers, in particular, could really love this book.  It would be great to read along with a unit study on Poe.  Each chapter begins with a quote from a poem or story by Poe that relates to what happens in the chapter.  There are so many creative writing ideas to do here with teens.  It would also go great with a study of mythology, local legends, or superstitions.  There are also strong discussions of justice, discrimination, and women’s issues in Ashes on the Waves.

“For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.”

At times haunting, especially towards the end, this dark, gothic love story should find many fans.  Share it with fans of Jane Eyre or The Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin (which is also Poe inspired).  3 out of 5 stars.  There are 41 reviews for Ashes on the Waves on Goodreads and it has gotten an average rating of 4.25.  Ashes on the Waves by Mary Lindsey. June 2013 from Philomel.  ISBN: 978-0-399-15939-8.