“Sink Or Swim: The Search for Aveline” by Stephanie Rabig and Angie Bee

This is another of my queer NetGalley reads, and one I had high hopes for because, come on, predominantly queer female pirates? Count me in! But sadly, it turned out to be rather a let down. I often don’t post my more negative reviews to my blog, but as I mentioned in my last post, I’m a bit short of reviews for this month so I’m just going to have to be a bit brutally honest if I want to keep on schedule. (Sorry.)


Publication date: February 1st, 2017

This book featured a diverse, interesting set of characters thrown together by circumstance and the soft heart of a pirate captain. Unfortunately, it didn’t feature a plot to match.

Look, if you want a series of enjoyable vignettes about a group of mostly queer pirates with hearts of gold, many of them fleeing their past but others just in it for the adventure… well, this book’s got that. But a series of vignettes is all you’re going to get. This book is episodic to the point where even the ‘search for Aveline’ aspect of the plot is a passive background goal that rarely actually influences any decisions the characters make — finding Aveline is a matter of coincidence rather than plot.

Yes, you’ll get some sweet relationships. Yes, you’ll get diverse characters of all kinds (disabled and mentally ill characters, racial diversity, and characters of all sexual orientations). You’ll get sympathetic portrayal of sex workers, among others. You’ll get some moments of emotion and some humorous dialogue that had me reaching to highlight it on my Kindle. But there just wasn’t enough plot to hold it together, in my mind — it felt more like a series of short stories or individual scenes that hadn’t been entirely strung together in a convincing way.

The worldbuilding could also have used some more work. As the book went on, I managed to establish that it was effectively our world in the 19th century — references to Dickens and Darwin made that clear enough. But it was also a world in which mermaids, the fae, and intelligent lizard creatures are accepted as fact. And it took me about half the book even to get that much sorted — for a while, I was convinced I must be reading a sequel, because nothing was ever explained. I double checked, though, and it was definitely the first book in the series. It just lacked explanations and depth, so that the worldbuilding was more confusing than intriguing.

Add to this the fact that the various flashbacks and backstory scenes weren’t clearly indicated — e.g. in chapter headers that might easily have said something like ‘five years ago’ or whatever didn’t, so you just had to guess when something was set — and it was really hard to get any sort of grip on the book as a linear plotline, mostly because… well, it didn’t have enough of a plot.

I loved a lot of the characters. I really wanted to like the book. Queer pirates are my deal, especially when we also get to see disabled, mentally ill characters, and racially diverse characters along with them. And a ship called the Sappho? I mean, awesome. This had so much potential, but it wasn’t a novel. It felt like the initial ideas someone might sketch out, the scenes you’d exchange to give glimpses at the characters you were coming up with that you hadn’t yet figured out how to fit into a book. Some of the prose felt more polished than the rest, and I had to admit the development of relationships felt just as choppy and disjointed as the storyline, so that I wasn’t really convinced by any of the romantic pairings, but the characters had a TON of potential.

My reading of it probably wasn’t helped by the fact I had to read it in several short sessions over the course of about a week, which isn’t how I usually read books: it definitely contributed to the episodic feel. On the whole, though, this was a disappointment. It came so close to being something I could love, and then missed entirely. If the authors figure out a way to do these characters justice and give them an actual solid plot, I’ll be more than happy to read it. Sadly, this one didn’t do it for me.

Rating: **

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