Flowers for the Sea: A Gorgeous, Rage-Filled Fantasy Horror

In Zin E. Rocklyn's darkly gorgeous novella, anger is more than a metaphor.

The cover for Flowers for the Sea
Photo: Tor Books

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Flowers for the Sea is a bewitching tale that engrosses for the entirety of its 112 pages. Trapped on a deteriorating ark, afloat in a treacherous and endless sea, Iraxi is the inadvertent hope for the vestiges of humanity who managed to survive the flooding of their kingdom, and the slow decay of their floating salvation.

Without revealing too much about the plot: Iraxi is pregnant, and the child she carries would be the first born in a long time, but she does not want it. She despises her condition, and the circumstances that surround it. She is ostracized on the ship, as her family was on the land before the flooding. Those who remain now regard her with disdain, a contemptuousness further fueled by the fact that she of all people may be the one to carry a healthy child to term.

Flowers for the Sea is disquieting. Author Zin E. Rocklyn brings you into the world with a prose that is ornate and enveloping. The setting is described in such vivid detail that one can almost feel the texture of the damp wood, smell the brine and the mold, and hear the wings of the sharp-toothed beasts cut through the air. The same is also true for descriptions of labor, which are graphic and unsettling, if not altogether lurid.

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Pregnancy is not depicted as soft or gentle here. Iraxi’s experience is tortuous, and as the narrator, she describes it harshly. Further, Iraxi does not regard her unborn child with fondness or concern, it is to her a parasite, and possibly a monster. This callousness may be hard for some readers.

The world in Flowers for the Sea is immediately recognizable as something akin to our own, but stranger, more magical. There are those who hold power and the ability to exert control over others, in this case royalty. And there are those who are feared and ridiculed because they are Other, or because they refuse to acquiesce to those in power. Before the flooding, Iraxi repeatedly refused to accept a prince as her husband, and the crown retaliated violently.

Flowers for the Sea is a story about rage and resilience. Or perhaps it is a story about the power of our rage, the regenerative power of our wrath, the strength that is summoned by our ire. Iraxi is as much fury as she is flesh and bone. Her anger, like the air she breathes and the blood that pumps through her, fuels her cells. Like the legumes she eats, and the desalinated water she drinks, anger is sustenance.

The Tordotcom novella’s tagline is “we are a people who don’t forget.” Iraxi comes from a line of people who have an affinity with the land and the sea. They were blessed with gifts that made people fearful and suspicious of them, and were pushed to the fringes of their kingdom. Her people were outsiders, and many in the kingdom reviled them. That hate turned into violence and many of her ancestors were killed.

We carry our stories in our DNA, as though our ancestors’ memories are imprinted onto our very cells. We instinctively respond to traumas that linger in the blood, traumas that are passed down from one generation to the next, traumas that inform every moment of our existence. Iraxi is the bruise and the scar, the result of pain from both the distance and immediate past. She is not just her anger, but the collective outrage of her ancestors.

Anger is not just a metaphor here. Anger is a force, like gravity, with its own intention. Iraxi is imbued with it, and it is all-encompassing.

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As consumers of stories, especially those of the fantastical, we often seek an escape from the world we inhabit. We want to live in the imagined realities where people who look like us are not oppressed, where they are allowed to be who they are without fear of ostracization, subjugation, suspicion, fear… We want to visit worlds that fix the problems of our own.

Flowers of the Sea is not that kind of escapism. It feels more like a reflection of our world where eldritch horrors exist.

What flies above and lurks beneath is a mystery that is never fully explored, like the specific way in which Iraxi’s people’s gifts manifest. The ambiguity of the monsters and the magic feed into the otherworldliness, leaving room for interpretations that are more frightening—or more hopeful. But one can’t help to wonder what more could be revealed with more pages.

That’s not to say this novella needs more pages. Flowers for the Sea could be longer, but it is a satisfying read at its current length. It tells a concise story beginning to end with brief detours into the past as memories begin to surface.

Flowers for the Sea is now available for purchase. Find out more here.