Beneath the Burning Wave by Jennifer Hayashi Danns

I was incapable of imagining what I had never seen…

Kaori and Kairi are the first twins to survive infancy on the ancient island of Mu, where gender is as fluid as the crashing waves. One was born of fire, the other of water.

But there’s a reason why none have survived before. A prophecy that has haunted the elders since time began. A rivalry destined to sink the entire island beneath a twin catastrophe of volcano and tsunami.

As hatred spills from the forbidden twins like the deadly poison of sacrificed sea snakes, they must decide what matters to them most…

The fight for the island – for tradition and duty.
Or the fight for freedom – for love and light.


I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.


DNF @ 27%

This is now the second book I’ve read this year where an author has promised to explore how society forms when the modern understanding of gender roles is re-interpreted and immediately decides to regress to a strict cisnormative society.

Beneath the Burning Waves piqued my interest with the single line “gender is as fluid as the crashing waves”. I’m always fascinated by how authors explore gender in society, especially once the barrier of binary gender roles is removed or re-interpreted. Outside of all characters using the same set of neo-pronouns mu/mem, roles on the island of Mu are strictly divided by biological sex. Only those with penises are allowed to become “experienced”, or the leaders of this society, as “carriers”, or those with wombs, are intended to focus on producing more children (maymu) for society. Cis couples are paired together by the Experienced and they used to go through a lottery system to decide who would be encouraged to produce children together, tho currently after a famine all couples are encouraged to “Create”. Naturally, sex outside of maymu creation is heavily discouraged.

Additionally, I found the writing and dialogue to be incredibly confusing, often finding myself re-reading paragraphs to make sure I didn’t miss some context. Characters seemed to be at one location, then another, then suddenly doing something else entirely, sometimes with unlabeled timeskips. The internal monologues felt so choppy and disorienting, partially due to really simple sentence structure that I felt a hard time following anything the characters thought.

Overall, I rate this book a 2/5. The summary offered a lot of potential for a genderfluid society and some interesting worldbuilding, but none of that was delivered.

r/Fantasy 2022-23 Bingo Squares:

  • Anti-Hero (hard mode)
  • Published in 2022
  • BIPOC author
  • Features Biological Family Ties

Publication Date: 4 August 2022
Publisher: One More Chapter
Format: eBook, ARC
Pages: 354
Word Count: ~66,000
ISBN: 0008491186 
Buy It Here: Amazon | Google Books | Barnes and Nobles | Goodreads

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