I absolutely adore the legends of King Arthur. Not only is King Arthur awesome, there are so many other wonderful characters and stories from the mythology to love as well. Some of my favorite novels are reimagined versions of the King Arthur legends in some way. Most of these retellings are amazing, and Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Perez is no exception. Sweet Black Waves was released on June 5th and is a retelling of the legend of Tristan and Iseult (it’s also less commonly spelled Eseult which is the spelling used in the book).
The story of Tristan and Iseult follows two star-crossed lovers who were not supposed to fall in love. Iseult, princess of Iveriu, is supposed to marry Tristan’s uncle, King Mark, to help establish peace between their warring nations. Due to a mix-up with a love potion, Tristan and Iseult fall in love with each other instead. While their affair goes on, they are assisted by Iseult’s handmaiden, Branwen. This is the way the story typically goes, and the romantic pair we are meant to root for. Usually.
The Story of Sweet Black Waves (Minor Spoilers Included)
Sweet Black Waves takes a slightly different approach. We follow Branwen, Eseult’s cousin. After her parents were murdered by Kerntvak raiders, she lives with her aunt and uncle. The queen is a skilled healer and user of magic, and she begins to teach Branwen how to use her talents to heal. As Branwen grows stronger, she struggles with her gifts.
On the anniversary of her parent’s deaths, she finds a dying man washed up on the beach. After she saves him, she realizes he’s one of her enemies. Despite that, she tries her best to heal him. Soon, they grow closer and she helps him escape before he can be killed by the Royal Guard.
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Of course, he’s actually Prince Tristan who has come to win her cousin’s hand for his uncle. As Eseult prepares to travel to her new husband, Branwen and Tristan fall in love and plan their own marriage, as soon as things settle down with Eseult and Mark. To ensure her cousin’s happiness, Branwen makes a powerful love potion for the new couple. But on the journey across the sea, things take an unexpected and tragic turn…
Branwen is the protagonist, so we see the other characters through her eyes. Eseult is a young and beautiful princess who is sweet and a little spoiled. Eseult, or Essy, is headstrong as well. She wants to marry for love, not for country and is determined to experience an epic love like the ones in the stories. Although Branwen loves her, we see her frustration in the way Essy acts at times. Since they were raised almost as sisters, it’s nice to see two women who are dear to each other but still argue and fight.
Tristan’s a character who is fiercely loyal to his uncle, the King. Having experienced firsthand the devastation of the conflict between Iveriu and Kernyv, he’s determined to achieve peace, especially after falling in love with Branwen. He faces censure and hatred while in Iveriu but handles it well. He is also a talented singer and harp player.
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Branwen is a strong character, though not in a typical way. She is fiercely loyal to her family and her country, willing to give up everything to keep her people safe. Ever since losing her parents, she has embarked on the path of a healer. She hopes to save lives. Her aunt teaches her about healing with herbs, as well as how to heal with magic. Branwen soon learns that she not only has healing powers but also has powers to kill. When Branwen realizes this, she becomes fearful over what she can do. Her love for Tristan is unexpected and surprising. Especially when she realizes how much she loves him. Her life takes an unexpected term when she learns of her destiny. The land itself has chosen her to protect it, and this is a task that frightens her, though she’s determined to do her duty.
If you like star-crossed lovers and tragic love stories, you will probably enjoy Sweet Black Waves. Personally, I prefer happy endings, but I thought that the romance between Branwen and Tristan was sweet enough throughout the novel to keep me happy. As the story goes on, the two of them learn to love each other, despite their diverse backgrounds. Both have lost loved ones because of the other’s family, and this is a serious roadblock in their relationship.
As the story goes on, however, the two are supportive of each other, even before they really trust each other. It’s a beautiful enemies-to-friends-to-lovers story, with a lot of bittersweet things thrown in. The top priority for both Branwen and Tristan is peace, and they are willing to sacrifice their own happiness to achieve that goal.
As I was reading Sweet Black Waves, I found myself engrossed in the wonderful world that Perez created. It was a familiar, yet different place than any I had been before, and I love that. I also kept thinking that there would be a happy ending and found myself wanting one for these characters. The characters are dynamic and wonderful, and even though I knew where the story had to end up, I enjoyed the journey there. If you like the story of King Arthur, tales of star-crossed lovers, or stories of enemies to lovers, you should give Sweet Black Waves a read.
Obviously, any movie adaptation of Sweet Black Waves would need Kristina Perez to be heavily involved. I kept picturing Richard Madden as Tristan, because I think he can play the both the serious and funny sides of that character. He would also be able to do the fighting, which is important. For Branwen, I imagine someone like Claire Foy. I haven’t seen her in The Crown, but I’ve heard good things. For Eseult, I picture someone like Grace Holley or Rose Leslie. No matter what, Eseult is always a red-headed person in my mind. This should be a movie, and one that allows for the first-person narration of Branwen. Her thoughts are such an important part of the story that it would be a shame to lose that. This could be a gorgeous, thought-provoking movie, though!
Content Warning: This would be a PG-13 movie. There is violence, as well as some sexual situations, particularly in the ending of the story.
Have you read Sweet Black Waves? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!
“You had me at hello.”
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My
feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me
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