Salted by Aaron Galvin
Salted by Aaron Galvin is a book that takes an interesting idea and does nothing with it. Instead of showing us how the merfolk live in todays time, their habitat under the sea is merely glossed over. Instead, we get a strange high school setting that seems taken from third-rate movies and an over the top chase in todays US. What to write about this book has cost me a lot of time and thinking. I could simply make a list with all the things that don’t work in this book and the very few that do. That list would be long. Let me instead start with what works and only show you some of the more pressing problems with the story afterward.
But first: What’s the book about?
Some merfolk hunters get offered a big reward for finding a runner. They are slaves and despise those that manage to flee, because the families of the escapees will get punished. Their master wants this particular elusive slave caught, to punish her and make a show of it. So this group of slaves goes into the human world and tries to find the runner. What follows is a chase throughout the country, without the reader any wiser on what is actually going on. That there is more to this runner than they were told is apparent from the start.
The other storyline follows the high school boy Garrett that gets bullied. At the beginning, he is nearly killed by drowning and discovers that he’s more than he thought. He is the only believable character and his viewpoints are the most enjoyable because he actually acts like a real human might. He clashes with the merfolk world of the other characters in action filled sequences, because apparently the only thing those so-called “Salted” people know to do is take what they want by force.
Let’s get to the good points next!
The setting of merfolk like dolphins and sharks that can turn into humans and have always lived side by side with humanity is interesting. Especially the selkies featured in this book and their hoodies are interesting. To change into different kinds of seals, they have to wear the hood. To change back into human form, someone has to remove said hood. An interesting idea that is not always used consistently.
While the high school seems awfully stereotype (as do a very many things in this book) reading about Garrett, Garrett’s virtual girlfriend, and that ass who calls himself Garrett’s friend but acts like a total douche is the best part of this book. I ask you, would you call a guy your friend that at every possible moment does everything in his power to wriggle himself between you and your crush? Especially when it is obvious you two belong together? And not to forget that he runs at the first signs of danger and abandons you. Yeah, I have no idea why they are friends either.
Still, following Garrett through his short everyday life and watching him trying to score with his kinda-already girlfriend was enjoyable, especially with the questions about his strange appearance at the drowning incident coming up. The interactions between Garrett and the girl were the most enjoyable moments in this book, if one forgets the cringeworthy first dialog, where Garrett invents a deadly illness to see if she might like him. Well, I can understand that he’d want to know, especially since his friends don’t even like him enough to visit him after he nearly drowned. His drowning is one of these happenings in the story that happen for only one reason, but all the other repercussions these happenings should logically speaking have are simply forgotten.
I’m afraid that that’s already all the good things I have to say about this book. And as you noticed, I got into already listing some bad parts too. There are simply so many problems in this book that I can’t even mention the good parts without having to tell you about bad part too. Now to some more problematic parts in the book:
There are plot holes in the book. A lot of things simply happen because the story demands it, not because they are the logical conclusion. For example, the way the Salted stumble through the US makes it certain that the existence of the merfolk could have been in no way a secret to the humans. They attack their target in broad daylight in an Aquarium full of visitors, pull out a gun, use a magic thing called ‘forgetty’ to get everyone to sleep, and actually change in their salted forms. Then they escape from a SWAT-Team by simply jumping in a near lake. I mean, it’s not like the police would follow a young girl that jumped into a lake after an armed attack, wouldn’t they? Nope! Bet she’s not important and will definitely be alright, let’s go guys, nothing more to see here. Oh, and what about all the cameras, which will definitely have captured that one guy who stood in the middle of the room and suddenly changes into some kind of seal. Yeah, that would definitely make national news.
Accents are done horribly in this book. The main character has one where the words end on ‘a’, like ‘runna’ or ‘catcha’. It gets annoying really quick. But that’s not all. There’s a Frenchman with the group of ‘catchas’ and it feels like the accent is done by someone who’s never heard someone speak english with a french accent. It would have been a lot better to simply mention they have an accent and how it sounds instead of making a lot of the dialog very hard to read.
The book tries to incorporate a lot a big issues like slavery, racism and rape. It does not do that very well. The reader is basically told that these bad things happen and that they are bad. Nothing more. The presentation is simply lackluster and you’ll ask yourself: Why should I care?
Let me give you an example. The book deals with slavery, which seems to be all the rage in the Salt (the merfolk’s underwater world). But there’s no real way to enforce slavery as it is depicted in this book. Those slaves can turn into seals and simply swim away. What “shackles” them is that their families will be punished. So why not take them with you? I have no idea. It’s not like slaves had nowhere to go either. In older times, slaves simply had nowhere to run, or at least had to run a very long way to reach land in which they could be free. The salted slaves however live so close to the shore, they could simply go to the US of our time, where slavery is forbidden. There is no way the slave owners could find them and bring them all back. Not with the sloppy methods depicted in this book.
The problems with this kind of slavery actually get somewhat tackled towards the end, but there is still no reason why these slaves wouldn’t run away the moment they set foot on the shore.
I could easily write a couple thousand words more about the problems in this book. While it is proofread, a developmental edit would have done wonders. Instead of boring you with long explanations of what doesn’t work, let me just tell you that I can’t recommend this book. I finished it, but that’s nearly the only good thing about this story.