This book was suggested to me when I asked for queer and polyamorous romance recommendations available through Barnes and Noble (I had a gift card burning a hole in my pocket) and I’m so glad it was! I enjoyed almost everything about this story, the world, the romance, and the characters. I’m going to do my best not to give too many spoilers with this review, as I definitely want to recommend anyone looking for an engaging queer and polyamorous fantasy romance to check this book out!
If you’d like to see this review in a more dynamic format, you can find it on my new YouTube channel, or you can continue reading.
A Sea of Pearls and Leaves takes place in a world with sorcery, magical beings, intrigue, and the smell of ocean salt. All while I read this book, the thing that stood out the fastest for me as one of its strongest points is the descriptions of the island nation it takes place on, Norella. I always felt like I could smell the ocean, feel sand, taste the salt. The prose was engrossing and the setting was ever present in a beautiful way. Additionally, the world was crafted in a way that didn’t feel like too much information was being thrown at me most of the time, and all the information supported the story.
One small detail with worldbuilding that took me out of the story for only a moment but I can suspend my disbelief for in light of the rest of the book was the use of the word chardonnay to describe a wine. This is a fantasy world with its own unique countries and lands, and chardonnay wine is specifically named after a village in France in our world. The author also mentioned a merlot wine, but since merlot isn’t named after a specific region just a French word, that’s more ignorable. Still, I feel like it was a missed opportunity not to name the wines after regions in the book, or to have some unique special vintage of alcohol native to the island, such as ‘sea-plum wine’ or something. Again though, this really is a small detail to harp on.
The main characters are Princess Ingrid, the priestess Lilura, and Prince Soren. They are all absolutely a delight in their own ways. Ingrid is a great main character, with determination and fire while still sensible and intelligent. The main conflict that starts the book is her father and stepmother insisting she be married to a man, and so she and her girlfriend Lilura figure out a way to hopefully get all her suitors to leave her alone within the legal rights Ingrid has as the Island nation’s princess. Unfortunately, the plan backfires, and a competition begins to see who will be the prince to marry Ingrid. I loved the way that Ingrid and Lilura worked together to be together in such a way that really made them shine as people. Soren, one of Ingrid’s suitors, particularly stood out to me because he has such a relatable, tangible sense of anxiety. I loved the way he coped with it, by counting things and reciting the alphabet backwards. It was all so endearing and I could really see my own anxious self reflected in his character. It made him feel so believably real.
I liked a lot that the story didn’t start with Ingrid and Lilura meeting and falling in love, but rather well into their relationship. It’s not a romance about them learning to love each other. Instead, it’s about them growing as a couple in the face of hardships. I haven’t read many books with relationships that are already established in the beginning, and it was very beautifully done. There is a lot of fade-to-black except for a few small sections when it comes to sex in their relationship so while they are very sexual and apparently kinky, it’s implied rather than shown, and what ends up in details on the page is relatively vanilla compared to the whips, ropes, and paddles that are hinted at yet never taken out – though this isn’t bad, of course. Vanilla can be great fun, and I enjoyed what I did get. Still, don’t start reading this and get put off by kinky mentions if it’s not your thing and don’t expect more kink if that’s what you’re looking for.
The plot didn’t have any real twists or surprises for me. It was all very straightforward and predictable, though I don’t know if that was the intent. I think the murder mystery was supposed to be a little more secretive, but I had it figured out fairly early on. The journey was nonetheless enjoyable, as I don’t think unpredictability is the marker of a good or bad story. It had fairytale vibes, which is good since it’s a re-imagining of a Brothers Grimm story called the Three Snake-Leaves. There was a section I didn’t care for that felt like the conflict was a little manufactured as they were figuring out an issue, but I can’t go into it with much detail because it would involve spoilers. But, it wasn’t something that would diminish the enjoyment of the rest of the book!
The romance was beautiful to me, as I mentioned before regarding the sapphic relationship between Ingrid and her girlfriend Lilura. I will say I felt that the final choice regarding how the polyamory played into the story felt a little forced by the end and I think a different polyamorous configuration might have felt more natural to the characters given their personalities and previous actions, but I could still enjoy it and the fairytale ending it gave. I won’t say more than that to avoid spoilers.
Happily, I can say that there wasn’t anything unhealthy in the relationships! No macho-man posturing by Soren, no unreasonable jealousy. Given the setting and the situation that gave rise to all the romance, I think that the relationships were as healthy as possible, and that was beautiful to read. No Twilight Pineapple is needed for this book. One could make a note that there could have been a bit more communication between Ingrid and Lilura about their relationship at a few points, but considering Lilura’s empathic magic ability to feel Ingrid’s emotions in addition to her own, taking time for herself rather than forcing herself to communicate seemed like important self care that was necessary and completely fine. You can’t have a healthy relationship if you don’t take care of yourself first!
I would rate A Sea of Pearls and Leaves by Rosalyn Briar the following, with 5 being the max:
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5/5 for the writing style. The prose was just so engaging and beautiful. *Chef’s kiss*
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5/5 for the characters. I particularly loved Soren and his anxiety, but enjoyed going along with the ride for all the characters!
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5/5 for the worldbuilding. There was the one note about the wine, but I don’t want to be too harsh on that. Loved the mythology and everything about the island, its people, its culture, and its history!
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4/5 for the plot. Overall it was a good fairytale plot! I was a little annoyed with [spoilers redacted], but otherwise very enjoyable.
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4/5 for the romance. I honestly loved every second on the romance and the only reason I’m taking off a star is due to the choice made on how the polyamory ended up that I felt wasn’t the best fit for all the characters, but could still be enjoyed as a fairytale.
🩺🩺🩺🩺🩺 5/5 for the health of the relationships. No Twilight Pineapple necessary!
Total rating: 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 because I’m generous!
🔥🔥🔥 3/5 heat level. This is not a grade, just a statement. There are a lot of fade to black scenes and hints of kinkiness, which I would normally put at a 2, but there are a few sex scenes that were very heated, though not particularly lengthy or super explicit, which I would put at a 3. A 1 for me is no sex, 5 for me is straight-up erotica.
You can find A Sea of Pearls and Leaves on Barnes and Noble and on Amazon, and maybe somewhere else, but that’s where I’m linking for now, lol. Would definitely recommend this book if you haven’t read it already!
If you enjoyed this post, give a like and follow for more content. Be sure to check me out on Twitter at @EternalEvelyn, YouTube, or Facebook and stay tuned for information on my upcoming paranormal romance novel, The Bloodline Chronicles! Subscribe to my newsletter to keep up with new developments here.
Linktree assorted social media available here.