Review: Salted (Salted, #1) by Aaron Galvin

Salted (Salted, #1) by Aaron Galvin
Publisher: Createspace
Released: April 18th 2014
Source: Review copy from author
Life isn't better under the sea. Lenny Dolan is all too familiar with this reality. A Selkie slave in the realm beneath the waves, he has no choice when charged with leading a crew ashore to capture an elusive runaway. If unsuccessful, the loved ones kept behind will pay for his failure with their lives.

But when their target leads Lenny and his crew to deeper, darker secrets, the Selkies are faced with a moral dilemma. Secure their own freedom at the expense of others, or return empty-handed to face the grisly consequences? How Lenny and his crew answer the question will teach them the harshest truth of all. Only through the loss of innocence does one become Salted.
I dove into this urban fantasy not quite knowing what to expect, save the fact that it didn't have any romance. The whole idea of selkie slaves sounded way beyond cool and I wanted to see how Galvin would translate and develop that into a complete story.

Salted has two main storylines: one storyline sees Lenny and his all-selkie crew on land tasked with capturing runaway selkie, Marisa Bourgeois; the other has bullied high school student Garrett Weaver discovering there's something about himself that doesn't seem quite natural. Both storylines meet around the novel's halfway mark.

This novel's uniqueness lies in its usage of the sealskin as a symbol of imprisonment and slavery. Sealskin denotes rank, ranging from Elephant Seal suits to Sea Lion skins and many more, with the Leopard Seal coat being the most prized sealskin of all. Freedom can be bought, but this rarely happens unless one can pay for it. Escaped runners live on tenterhooks while Lenny is on their trail, and family members they leave behind will suffer—a great insight to slaves' inner conflict. To escape, or not to escape?

Salted's other seafolk comprise of Merrows, Orcs and Nomads. However, basic context on them was non-existent from the start. While more information would've been more helpful, I still got a pleasant surprise in my favourite chapter involving Garrett and Wilda, a Merrow. I loved the connection between them, particularly Wilda's patience and kindness. Being already bullied at school, it was nice to finally have some mer helping Garrett understand the unfathomable changes happening to him.

However, it's blurry who the central characters are really supposed to be despite the two concurring storylines. Salted seems to be mainly distributed between Lenny, Garrett and Chidi (the crew's translator) third-person POVs, but there are additional POVs from other characters thrown in occasionally. It didn't help that the story pacing was slow in the beginning. It was a little disorienting, not knowing who to focus properly on.

Lenny doesn't grow throughout the book, and is distrustful and slow to forgive when a crew member screws up. Although his boss has made him the crew leader, a power struggle ensues between him, the boss' son Oscar, and cruel Henry (Oscar's guardian) during the trip. These complications, combined with Lenny's personality, hinder him from being able to lead his crew successfully. The real villain is not August the boss, but Henry, who claims the title with cruel threats and brute strength. That spongehead seems to be unstoppable, and I have to admit it kind of destroys readers' hopes of other characters ever beating him.

Then there's Chidi, the crew's beautiful, ebony-skinned translator. Being Henry's 'property', she wants to break free from him but is close to losing her will. With that evil spongehead being portrayed as unbeatable, she wasn't able to stand up to Henry as much as I expected her to. Chidi's smart, though, and I like the way she ponders over things. I also loved how she confronted Lenny about being a jerk. BUT, instead of processing that, Lenny merely "shook his head and looked out the window".
"... People don't change."
"Yes, they do," said Chidi. "I used to be naïve."
Lenny gave her a long look. "Ya not anymore."
"No... I changed. You could too, right now."
"How's that?"
"You could stop being a jerk."
Lenny smirked. "Then I wouldn't be me, sista. See? Can't change who I am. Don't got a choice."
Qu'est-ce que vous avez dit, monsieur?!
Holy codfish, Mr-Tough-Selkie totally contradicts himself. Ugh. And then he undergoes a 360º change at the end and becomes Mr-Not-So-Tough-Selkie. 

Oh, starfish.
In retrospect, while Lenny may not be a likeable character, I do remember having a good laugh about Mrs G. and Jamie at the aquarium ;)

As Lenny's crew consists of selkies from different walks currents of life, I thought it'd make for potential story material. A background of each crew member's Salting would've been the best approach to character development, but unfortunately, the absence of this rendered me unable to connect with the characters on a deeper level (especially Racer, Paulo and Ellie) even though I wanted very much to.

And Garrett... I guess the only thing I didn't like about him was when he exploited his injury to gain sympathy from Sydney, the Asian girl whom he'd set his sights on.

I am still unclear about the purpose of certain characters and events. Allambee was a sweet character, but what was his role other than being an extra hostage who gives sage-like advice to Chidi? Also, Marisa divulges nothing on this "freedom" she speaks of. When Lenny's crew learns of this "freedom"; they just keep chasing after Marisa without probing further about it, causing chase scenes to become repetitive. Lenny fails to catch her after two action scenes, thereby wasting the build-up of action, and the crew just switches targets after discovering Garrett.

As for the ending, I don't know why that scene in the police station was needed. And the Silkstealer... why was he needed?! O_o

I really think the sequence of events leading to the ending could have been less draggy.

In Salted, Galvin shows the worst in mankind through most of his characters and discusses tough issues like slavery and bullying. While its relevancy to the real world is commendable, I felt that he could have utilised more of the fantasy elements he created to his advantage, and given more oomph to his characters. Salted might be something worthy of a fantasy action movie, but it needs more undersea action, plot-tightening and character development. My curiosity for Garrett's story still remains, but on the other fin, something must be done about the selkie characters (especially Lenny!) if they are to sustain interest.

"Daar is altyd 'n keuse." — Marisa Bourgeois
"There is always a choice." My choice? I'm most likely going to give Salted's sequel a chance because I honestly want to know more about the other seafolk and what will happen to Garrett. For a debut author, I must say that Galvin has done an admirable job of centring his first novel around the theme of choice through an urban tale of mythical creatures in the Salt.

Salted is Aaron Galvin's debut novel. He first cut his chops writing original stand-up comedy routines at age thirteen. His early works paid off years later when he co-wrote and executive produced the 2013 award-winning indie feature film, Wedding Bells & Shotgun Shells.

He is also an accomplished actor. Aaron has worked in Hollywood blockbusters, (Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers), and starred in dozens of indie films.

Aaron is a proud member of SCBWI. He lives in Southern California with his wife and daughter.

Connect with Aaron: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

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