For Bonus Book Review Saturday, I’ve got a book that I found myself immediately drawn into. It had potential to be the best book I’ve read all year, but sadly it fell a bit short…

Salt in the Water

There are a thousand ways to die in the desert—desperate outlaws, deadly predators, murderous elements, and betrayal. . .

Kaitar Besh, a veteran scout as legendary for his cynicism as his skills, is ordered to brave the deadly Shy’war-Anquai desert one last time. Escorting Leigh Enderi—a greenhorn Enforcer with a reputation as shady as his own—he soon realizes the ghosts of his past have come to haunt more than his nightmares.

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When the mission breaks down in the wake of bitter hatred and mistrust, even Kaitar’s fabled skills may not be enough to bring them home again. Stranded in the red wasteland without contact, food, or water, they uncover a betrayal that could bring all they hold dear crumbling to the dust. . . and tear down the wall of lies surrounding them.

My Review: 4 Stars

Let me start off by saying that the characters in this book are GOLD! I haven’t read characters so unique and intriguing since I put down the last Scott Lynch novel. Every person in this book is beautifully developed, serves a purpose, and has something to make you want to find out more about them. There is no clear villain, which is what made me love it all the more. Every one of the characters is simply trying to get what they want in a grim dystopian world. On characters alone, I would give this book six stars.

The world-building is where the book fell VERY flat.

Let me be clear: the world itself is very well-developed. While I wasn’t as drawn into the world as with other books, I always had a clear sense of setting and location. I could feel the desert heat, taste the grit in my mouth, and see the empty expanse.

But the world-building in terms of describing the world, politics, religion, and character backgrounds was VERY underdeveloped. There were a lot of names thrown around—Toros, Enetics, Bloom, Junkers, Harpers, and more—that snagged my imagination and made me crave to find out more about them. But the further into the book I read, the more frustrated I grew. By the end, I was actually angry (and still am) because I never found out as much of the backstory of the world as I wanted to.  While I’m not big on info dumps or backstory, I think the authors fell really short of giving me the details of the world and all these amazing, fascinating, and epic concepts. I may not read Book 2 because of this mistake.

Of course, that could be just me. Some people won’t care about what the Bloom is, why there’s a guy sitting in a shack guarding a well (and from who), what the hell’s the difference between Shyiine and Sulari, and what Toros is. But for someone who wants a rich, well-developed world, Ibelieve the book will leave you dissatisfied.

Here’s a Taste:

They’d heard her, and were coming closer. Their eyes glowed in the blackness as they crept around the acacia stump she’d been sitting against only a few moments before. One threk leaped onto it. Moonlight gleamed along its twelve-foot length, making scales and feathers shine like molten silver. Then, the beast slipped into the shadows and out of view once more. Leigh clutched the cell lantern so hard her fingers ached against the grip, and frost danced in front of her nose with each ragged breath.

Where did they go? What did Orin say about cell lights? Zres uses one out in the fields, doesn’t he? But—

Something brushed her leg. A shadow against shadow, big and smelling of blood.

Chirrrup? Hssss . . .

Leigh squeezed her eyes shut. She pictured the jaws ripping into her midsection, puncturing her flesh with poisonous teeth, her muscles falling slack from paralysis. They’d eat her alive, and she’d be unable to move or scream for help or—

The faint rasp of scales against her fatigues almost tore a scream from her throat, but she bit it back, teeth clamping down on her tongue. She tasted blood.

“Keep still. Keep still,” some hidden instinct whispered. “Keep still.”

Her eyelids opened as if pried by unseen fingers. There, just ahead of her and so close she could see it, a monstrous threk raised its head and sniffed the air. It regarded her with brilliant, sun-bright eyes as the wide jaws parted. A long, serpentine tongue flicked out, heralding breath that reeked of fresh blood. Strings of thick saliva glistened in the moonlight. Poison.

The threk sat on its haunches, studying her. Its curved claws flexed against the sand, leaving long gouges. Leigh tried to swallow, but her throat seized from the weight of the leaden fear hanging there.

Where’s the other one? Where did it—

A nudge from behind nearly knocked her down. She caught her balance, biting her lip to stop from crying out. The second threk glided by, peering up at her. Its shoulder brushed against her waist, bristling, stiff feathers grazing her fingertips. They rippled like water, silver and blue in the gloom. It circled again before joining the other, still crouched in front of her, close enough to touch. The first turned and nosed its companion, a low, raspy growl emanating from its throat. Leigh stared wide-eyed at the predators, her body numb. Beyond them, she could just see the campfire, looking impossibly small and far away. Kaitar Besh stood near the glowing coals, awake and alert, peering in her direction. His eyes shone every bit as brightly as a threk’s.

He sees everything and he’s doing nothing!

Chirrrup?

One threk slid toward her. Leigh watched, too afraid to move, as a scaled snout bumped against her thigh. The threk’s nostrils twitched as it sniffed her fatigues, its hot breath tickling her legs through the material. It hissed, staring directly at her, mouth opened to reveal a long tongue that flicked against the edge of her jacket.

It’s going to kill me. Kaitar! Why are you just standing there? I’m going to die!

“Keep still!” the voice—it sounded almost like the scout—whispered in her mind, more insistent now. “Don’t move, don’t reach for the Firebrand. Keep still.”

About the Author:

Sarah Cushaway lives in the snowy wastes of northwest lower Michigan with her husband (co-author Jeremy Ray) and their young daughter. She has a passion for historical fiction, but enjoy reading and writing many genres, including fantasy, science fiction, literary fiction, and speculative fiction.  Sarah began writing at a very early age, inspired by such books as the Little House series, Watership Down, the Hobbit, and Animal Farm.

When not busy working on writing the next books in the “A Lesser Dark” series, she enjoys spending time with her family and two grumpy cats, dabbling in art and music, and trying to hide from the snow eight months out of the year.

Find the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01M6UR3JY/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31950623-salt-in-the-water

Read her thoughts on her website: https://srchushaway.wordpress.com/

Connect with Sarah on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorSCushaway/

Tweet at her: https://twitter.com/SRCushaway