The Forever Sea felt like an explosion of creativity and imagination. I had so much fun with this story. I am indeed one of those people that saw the cover for this book and immediately knew I wanted to read it without even knowing what it was about--I didn't care what it was about, anything with that cover had to be an incredible adventure, and it really was! The world-building is easily one of the strongest aspects of this book (though that's not to say the plot suffered, because it certainly didn't) and I could easily spend hours daydreaming about this world. It took me a surprising amount of time to actually catch on to what this world was like, but once I did I was blown away by the detail and care Johnson put into crafting this world.
Before diving into this review too deeply, let's stop and talk about the world. The Forever Sea itself is essentially an endless prairie-like field of grasses upon which ships sail above them using hearthfires to keep them afloat. The fields stretch endless both horizontally and, it seems, vertically. Occasionally people have attempted to explore and see how far down the grasses reach, but the most they've discovered so far is that you can go about four miles down and still not be even close to reaching the end of it. What makes the Forever Sea even more difficult to explore is that the people who do go down to explore and spend an excess amount of time in the Sea often come out a bit "Sea-touched" and not quite the same mentally as they used to be. This also happens to people known as harvesters (members of the ship's crew who cut and harvest the grasses that are then used to sell on land) over time, since they spend the most amount of time in the Sea. There are also pirates and wyrms that haunt the Sea, both of which bring havoc and misery to any who fall in their path. Sounds fun, right? Honestly, it really is.
Our main protagonist and POV is that of Kindred, granddaughter of the Marchess (who is Captain of her own ship) who has left her grandmother's ship to become a Junior Keeper, or apprentice to the Keeper who runs the hearthfire. It took me a little while to warm up to Kindred, but once I did I really couldn't help but root for her and her struggle to find out who she is and what she is meant to do. I also loved her relationship with Ragged Sarah and Captain Jane Carraway, both of which brought a lot of depth to both her and their characters and personal development. Kindred struggles to feel like she belongs in any particular place throughout this book, and I think Johnson did a great job of showcasing that struggle in a myriad of ways, and by showing how her struggle often puts her at odds with both herself and occasionally the goals and/or desires of others. There is definitely an abundance of conflict throughout this story and I found it captivating to watch how everything was resolved in such a wide variety of ways. There was one secondary character who played a large role in this book who I struggled with a bit since her personality and development seemed a bit drastic and unpredictable at times, but other than that I felt Johnson's characters were really well drawn and extremely engaging.
I especially loved getting to explore the Sea, and once they arrive at the Once-City I was blown away and so excited to see what new world-building would come next, and I wasn't disappointed. I can't really go into much without potentially going into spoilers, which is disappointing because I'd love to talk about everything in this Once-City, but suffice to say that it is full of mystery and intrigue and I just wanted to spend hours there exploring everything. There's also a place called the Forest that I was so enraptured by for it's dark and somewhat twisted nature, but alas, that's all I can say about that.
Overall, I highly enjoyed The Forever Sea for its incredibly imaginative world, the adventure on the seas, and the fantastic characters. It's 4.5 stars from me! I cannot wait for the sequel to see what everyone is up to.