Book Review: The Seawomen by Chloe Timms
Released (UK): 14th June 2022
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
As I buy a lot of 2nd hand books from charity shops, I decided to support authors too by pre-ordering a new book each month (or thereabouts). I pre-ordered the hardback copy of The Seawomen by Chloe Timms via Amazon for £12.69. This is Chloe Timms’ debut novel.
The Seawomen by Chloe Timms is a Dystopian novel set on Eden’s Isle, an island cut off from the rest of society and heavily dominated by religion. In this skewed view of what I presume is Christianity, females are basically considered as less beings and hold the blame for all sin. When women come of age, they are married off, usually without any say, and are expected to produce children.
Should anything bad befall the island, be it famine, livestock deaths, illness or storms, then a woman is believed to be to blame for invoking the Seawomen, who are classed as evil beings wanting the island to fail. A witch hunt will ensue for the woman to blame, and usually this woman’s only crime is that she hasn’t been able to produce a child.
The story follows Esta as she grows up under this religious oppression. She is sent to live with her grandmother after her parents die in fire. Esta grows up not knowing about her parents nor why she has a shadow over her. Her grandmother is a religious zealot and childhood for Esta is very strict and harsh.
However, as she gets older she develops a longing to go against her religious indoctrination and as she does so, she learns things which contradict what she has been made to believe. When she reaches age, she is forced into a loveless marriage and she faces the danger of the untethering herself as she is reaching the end of her motheryear without bearing a child.
The story progresses with Esta uncovering truths about her family and the true nature of the religious control imposed on the women on the island. It becomes about Esta’s desire to break free of the religious oppression and of the very island itself.
I found the story gripping and felt a need to keep reading, as such I finished the book in about 3 days. I felt engaged with Esta and found myself rooting for her as the story progresses. She shows great strength against her oppressors and bravery in pushing beyond the boundaries set down for her. Despite this, she also still struggles with fears of punishment by her god and with reconciling her religion with what she learns. The danger of what she is doing is ever present and creates a sense of tension.
Though there are moments of hope in the story, for the most part it is quite bleak, especially the constant female oppression. Though I read this fairly quickly, I would still class it as a heavy read for this reason. There is male on female violence and there are mentions of sexual violence and coercion, though this is not graphic.
The supporting female characters’ behaviours and actions can be understood as their varying reactions to their own religious indoctrination. However, for the most part male characters appear cruel and ultimately selfish in nature and this really sets the tone for the main part of the book.
One aspect of the story which bothers me is that we are to believe Esta falls in love with a man that she has seen once each year and only for a few hours each time. She is willing to risk everything for this man, who on the face of it, she knows very little about.
Another issue for me is the ending, I found it rather unsatisfying and a bit vague. We are left not knowing for sure what happens to Esta, just a mere suggestion. We don’t know what has happened to the man she loves. We don’t know what happens to the women left behind who Esta connects with through the story. We also don’t see any repercussions happen against the villains of the story; their evil actions overall go unpunished. There are hints that changes may afoot but we never actually see them.
I don’t mind stories that don’t tie everything off neatly at the end of the book, but to me nothing was and it left me feeling a bit flat when I turned the final page.
Overall, I enjoyed Esta’s story and her strength in questioning and going against her religious oppression. The feeling of tension was strong throughout and it made the story gripping. However, the book is quite heavy going and bleak. This is definitely not happy story, but it is one about trying to break free and does have moments of hope.
The ending for me was a let down and I found it hard to believe a relationship could be so strongly formed over such short a time together. For this reason I give the book 4 out of 5 stars. I am glad I pre-ordered The Seawomen by Chloe Timms and believe it is still a really strong and impressive debut novel. I would recommend the book to others but would suggest checking any content warnings first.