The Pearl Savage by Tamara Rose Blodgett (2011) Review

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An irritating piece of sand.

The Pearl Savage (2011) by Tamara Rose Blodgett: 5 out of 10: is a young adult dystopian novel set in a distant future where the world is either mostly covered in water because of global warming or humans made a collective choice to live in the Great Lakes. The story follows a seventeen-year-old princess from Ohio who is slated to marry the King of Kentucky. Her father has passed away, leaving her with an insufferable mother, who gets drunk and beats her almost daily. As the narrative unfolds, the princess navigates the challenges of her impending marriage, contends with the unrequited love of her male best friend, and encounters a rebel with gills who captures her attention.

Simultaneously, in a rebel camp, women are mysteriously dying, creating a connection between the princess and the rebels. The initial impressions highlight some familiar tropes, with the bad guys portrayed as caricatures and the rebels conveniently hunky. The narrative lacks depth in dialogue, relying more on third-party descriptions than character interactions. As the story progresses, more is revealed about the gill men, a separate species from the outsiders.

The tribes negotiate for women. However, the tribes seem to lack a compelling reason for the bubble people to comply. Our virginal heroine princess faces challenges, including an attempted rape by her evil betrothed, and is saved (or kidnapped a bit of column A and bit of column B) by attractive and muscular gilled outsiders. World-building remains unclear, and the threat from a separate group of dangerous outsiders is introduced somewhat belatedly.

The Good

The Good: Twice I compare The Pearl Savage to Game of Thrones in my notes. There are some similarities. There are a lot of unnecessary rape scenes and the characters seem on the whole remarkably dim. And there is some late to the party kingdom diplomacy stuff. Kind of like Game of Thrones for the thirteen-year-old girl set.

If there is one takeaway from The Pearl Savage is that it gets better the longer you read it. By the end, you might even think this is a story you wouldn’t mind pursing. (I mean there are seven of these things.) Author Tamara Rose Blodgett seems to find her footing in the last couple of chapters.

Okay, maybe I am getting a little ahead of myself

The Bad

The Bad: There are a lot of harsh reviews of The Pearl Savage. I call the reviews harsh, but I am not in disagreement with many of them. I certainly understand anyone who DNF’s this book. The first half is rough going indeed.

There are apparently ten characters in the entire kingdom Of Ohio. From what I can gather, the Kingdom comprises three rooms, a tunnel and an oyster field. I am unclear if the Kingdom is under water or it is just really humid outside. I do not know where the oysters come from and why Ohio has a monopoly on them. I don’t know if the air outside is breathable by the characters in the Kingdom and if it is; I don’t know if the people of the kingdom know this.

I don’t know how far the Kingdom of Kentucky is from the Kingdom of Ohio or if they take the tunnels between the two. I do not know how the Kingdom of Kentucky grows wine if they never go outside.

There is almost no world building in The Pearl Savage. Some of these questions eventually get answered because of the needs of the plot, but hardly all of them. And this is just the questions raised by the Princess’ Kingdom. The gill men’s kingdom (Which comprises regular people like the Ohioans and special tall hunky gill men) also seems to comprise ten people. They have like two fertile women left. It is going to take more than a princess to get them back on track.

The bad guys are paper thin characters. One could argue that perhaps all the characters are paper thin. And while true, the villains are particularly shortchanged. The Queen beats the princess because she is a mean drunk. No other reason. Beloved king is dead, so evil queen beats our heroine. The novel, to its credit, does not shy away from the brutality of these beatings. There is an attempt at the end to give a little dimensionality to the queen’s reasons for beating her daughter, but it is halfhearted.

Our other bad guy is the evil prince of Kentucky, who also beats the princess viciously and then attempts to rape her. He is her betrothed and even the most evil of men would usually wait till after the wedding to show thier hand, but not our prince. He beats her almost to death soon after being introduced.

Having one evil character who beats our princess without mercy or explanation is, of course, perfectly fine. While many novels might try out some characterization to create at least a motivation, there is a primal fear generated by an illogical, unexplained evil. Having two, however, in a book with only a baker’s dozen of characters is definitely overkill. This in not the Pearl Savage being scary or clever. This is a book that has paper thin characters and a limited palette to boot.

The Pearl Savage also features characters that almost never talk to each other. At least in the first half of the book. Instead of forcing us readers to gather what the characters may think or what emotions they may have, through dialogue or actions by the characters, the author simply tells us.

Every Kingdom is tiny in both scope and population. This is not a battle for the ages. This is an HOA with a dozen homes and some hunky fish people moved in. And the fish people are single bachelors eyeing the local talent. (Seriously, by my count between Ohio and the Fish People kingdom… well encampment… the two groups seem about eight woman short. The princess may want to look into drinking more wine.)

The Ugly

The Ugly: So at the end of the book our Princess needs to choose a suitor and everyone is hot and bothered. It reads just like the first chapter of a free use porn novel written for thirteen-year-olds. I cannot think of any other way to describe it. It is out and out bizarre. Much of the novel is baby’s first Game of Thrones and now we have baby’s first Three Alien Bachelors need a Nanny.

Our heroine does not make a choice and, despite acting like Geri Halliwell singing a Weather Girls’ song at a gay club, seems to have her virginity intact if not her modesty. Oh, and all the Gill Men have blue balls. Well, assuming thier balls were not already blue. Seriously, Tamara Rose Blodgett really does not like giving out clear descriptions of anything.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: The Pearl Savage reads like someone’s first novel. It gets better as it goes along simply because it seems the author is getting more comfortable writing a story. The Pearl Savage has some pleasant scenes and some parts that work. The characters, however, really let it down and the world building is so dire it is almost accidentally entertaining.

There is not much to really recommend the book with so many better young adult novels out there. It would not surprise me if Tamara Rose Blodgett’s later novels are much stronger and better written. She is a decent storyteller. She just needs to be a better novelist.

Random Notes from reading

It is the distant future. The world is covered in water because of global warming or people have just decided to live in the Great Lakes for no apparent reason. Anyway, our seventeen-year-old princess is to be wed to the King of Kentucky. (She is the Princess of Ohio.) Her sainted dad is dead her mother (Stepmother maybe) is insufferable she has a male best friend who is in love with her but she does not see him that way and out her window she saw a rebel hunk (Who has gills) that made her lady parts get all mushy.

Meanwhile, in the rebel camp, all their women are dying (For no apparent reason so far except as a reason for them to need princesses)

So far, the bad guys are drawn crudely with tons of mustache twirling. The princess is about two minutes from spoiled bratdom and the rebels are conveniently hunky and horny.

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There is little dialogue in the book itself. There are a lot of third party descriptions of how people feel and who they are. Lots of telling where showing would be easier. Princess and Lady in waiting are into the stalking hunks as a second more rapey hunk (Per internal dialogue) is now spying on the girls and he is not nearly as romantic internally. Still unclear to me if the domes are underwater or if it is just really humid. Is the princesses bedroom on the first floor and her walls just windows with muscular fish men watching her undress every night? Cause that is where we seem to be.

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It isn’t really growing on me, but I am finding it less offensive as well. The set up is decent, and the writing is not that bad. There are some pretty harsh reviews on the book and the book may certainly live up to those reviews. But as of right now, even though it is not setting the world on fire, it is not half bad.

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So we get a bit more backstory with the gill men. Apparently, the gill men are a separate species from the outsiders and have spread themselves somehow relatively evenly among the outside tribes. They can be a little rapey as we get background on the tribes of one of two women and how she fled another tribe to avoid a rapey gill man who assaulted her. (This book is for teenagers. Apparently, he is successfully fended off with a rock to the noggin.)

The outside tribes have an idea how they are going to negotiate with the bubble people for the much needed woman. It is a ridiculous and fanciful idea. Again, perhaps because of the presumptive audience, our “good guy” tribe’s leader abhors violence and will not consider threats of violence during negotiations.

This is all well and good, but outside of threats of violence, I am not sure what the outside tribes bring to the table. Especially for such an ask as give us your daughters. It is way too early to judge, but I have a feeling we are getting into the book has no idea either territory.

It is perfectly fine for the characters to be wrongheaded and stupid and naïve. In fact, I love this idea and use it myself. I still say no one does this better than George Martin in Game of Thrones, where the vast majority of characters are so wonderfully stupid and wrong all the time and they have no idea how stupid they really are. The key is in Game of Thrones, the book is well aware how stupid they are and consequences can often abound. We shall see if The Pearl Savage raises to such heights.

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The book is getting better. Our heroine has gotten pretty badly beaten up and knows her evil betrothed is attempting to rape her. Only to be saved by the really good looking and muscular gilled outsiders.

The issue (and it is a big one) is that the world building is so lax I am still unclear about the atmosphere they are in? Are she tunnels under water? What about the clam farms? They are taking a tunnel to walk to West Virginia from Ohio? Does this civilization with like ten people, have giant (well, long at least) tunnels going from one kingdom to another, complete with rest stops?

The book is also introducing (though that is a strong word) this group of dangerous raping outsiders like the Reavers from Firefly. I almost feel this apparent threat should have been mentioned before now. (If it has, I honestly missed it). I can see that a threat is being set up for the “good” outsiders, as the people in the bubbles are about as threatening as kittens.

Like I said, the book is getting better, but the foundation is still mostly sand.

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So we have a scene from left field that is surprisingly dark. A warrior who was kidnapped/ a member of the Reavers equivalent found himself helped by one of the women in the clan. They punished her for showing kindness by raping her to death and making him watch, then depositing the crumbled body at his feet. Reminiscent of the Tyrion Lannister story of his first wife (a whore in the show, a slow village girl in the books) being gang-raped by all the soldiers in the village while Tyrion Lannister is forced to watch.

So outside this left field story, there is the collection of three groups of characters. The author still struggles with setting a scene and making it easy to tell who is whom.

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I might have accidentally skipped ahead, but since I cannot tell, I am going with it. So our princess is now queen though she irritatingly corrects everyone saying your highness., Her boyfriend Charles is super aggressively in love with her and she cools his jets with (checks notes) a very passionate kiss. Oh dear, still, for both political and lust reasons, she is leaning towards the super muscular outsiders whom her clan has allied with. The evil rapist Prince is still on the run and in a very throwaway line, we learn the Kingdom of Kentucky has disowned him.

Oh, and her actual mother is a mermaid and we have a stained glass picture to prove it? Anyway, that means the queen was an evil stepmother rather than an evil mother wash honestly is disappointing and takes a little oomph out of the narrative. But being half mermaid is a quick way to explain why the gill men make her all hot and bothered, so I will allow it. Book still has issues with setting a place time and scene but seems to get better at it in the later chapters in its defense.

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