Please don't count how many old "reviews" of mine say "review later", "more later", or variations thereupon. ... Actually, just ignore my blog until further notice.
Part of the reason I didn't enjoy this book as much as the first is because some Amazon reviewer didn't give a spoiler warning. So, consider this my second warning to make up for that.
I'm a little sad to be the only reviewer on this book so far and to give a negative review, but so it goes.
I wanted to like this book. I adore each of the four main children, but if I absolutely had to choose a favorite, it would be Abeke. The first book focused on all four children equally, while Hunted gave Conor's arc the most attention, Blood Ties followed Meilin closest, and Fire and Ice gave us a better look at Rollan, so I assumed this installment of the series would be Abeke's. Finally, the time for my favorite to shine! Not so. She doesn't get much other than the occasional "I miss Nilo" and "I miss Shane". She does cool things, but I didn't feel like we saw any development from her, which disappointed me.
The way this book handled almost all of the characters disappointed me. I didn't feel like Sutherland had a firm grasp on their personalities. Meilin was reduced to the mean girl. Rollan was just the snarker. Tarik lost a lot of his trademark professionalism and practicality that made me like him so much.
I said in my review of Blood Ties that it was my least favorite writing-wise thus far, but looking back on it, it's much better than Against the Tide. The stylistic choices just about drove me crazy. For one thing, it lacked the subtlety of the previous four books. At one point, after several of Mulop's monologues, the narration says something like "It seemed like he was talking to himself". Well... that's because he is. You just implied that for an entire paragraph. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh on this point, because it is middle grade, and I had a similar complaint with The Avatar Battle.
I'd like to give a demonstration for my next point. Read this paragraph:
"I hope my review isn't too harsh, Maxy thought. I don't want to discourage Tui T. Sutherland if she happens upon this review. After all, my 11-year-old cousin, Sam, loves her books. And maybe the issues I had with Against the Tide would work in her favor when she's writing her own story. At the same time, though, I want to give my honest opinion, and there were too many aspects of the book that bothered me."
Now read this paragraph:
"Maxy hoped her review wasn't too harsh. She didn't want to discourage Tui T. Sutherland if she happened upon this review. After all, her 11-year-old cousin, Sam, loved Sutherland's books. Maybe the issues Maxy had with Against the Tide would work better in Tui's original stories. But at the same time, Maxy wanted to give her honest opinion, and there were too many aspects of the book that bothered her."
This is partially a matter of opinion, but I find that paragraphs like the latter one read a lot better, not to mention look nicer on the page. Giving the characters' thoughts in first person during a third person narrative jolts the reader, or at least me, so I feel like it's something to avoid unless it drastically improves a passage.
The writing was also quite casual and modern, with [not verbatim] sentences like "Oh and PS, giant sharks trying to kill you". If the series took place in a less antiquated setting, or if it were first-person narration, or if sentences like this were in the dialogue instead, this could work. Casual narration can be fun--look at Percy Jackson and the Olympians--but it was out of place here. Especially coming after authors like Shannon Hale and Maggie Stiefvater, authors known for their lyrical styles.
The main thing this book had left going for it was the plot twist with Meilin and the Bile, which might have worked had an aforementioned Amazon review not spoiled the secret for me. I'd idly wondered why everyone except Meilin enjoyed the taste of the Nectar at their ceremony, but I think it still would have surprised me otherwise. There were some good moments. Having to read Meilin's chapter where Gerathon took control of her was distressing and difficult, as I'm sure was the goal. I'm not sure how that problem will resolve. And there were a few good conversations, like Rollan arguing with Meilin about how he kept his honor when he lived on the streets. The growing sense of trust between Abeke and Conor was at least as interesting to me as the crush developing between Rollan and Meilin, so I appreciated that it got some attention as well.
I'll still pick up the last few books in the series, and this one will end up on my shelf at some point so my collection can look nice and complete, but I don't see myself re-reading Against the Tide for enjoyment.