THE TIDES OF MANA by Matt Larkin is the first novel in the Heirs of Mana saga. It is a book that automatically wins points with me because of the fact that it doesn't take place in your typical Medieval European setting. Instead, for the first time I've read in a fantasy series, it is Polynesian-based fantasy with use of the myths of Hawaii and other Pacific Island cultures to form the basis of the story. I'd hate to use the description, "Like Moana except more violent and adult" but that's not a bad place to begin.
The premise is that the world has survived the Deluge but the results have been humanity surviving on tiny island kingdoms while the Mer dominate the underwater lands. Namaka the Sea Queen and Pele the Queen of Flames are dueling sisters that each wield fantastic mystical powers over their element. The Mer are racist and brutal towards humanity but that doesn't mean mankind can put aside its own petty conflicts long enough to repel them.
Matt Larkin dumps the reader square into the elaborate and fantastic world that he's created with little preparation. This is not an idealised or sanitized version of the Pacific peoples but a violent, politically-orientated, complicated and fascinating group of people. There are taboos, political rivalries, pragamtic decisions, and just enough cultural differences to make sure you never know how individual people are going to react.
The rich world that Matt Larkin has created is not always easy to understand as he makes use of many real-life terms that the meaning must be deduced by context. This is meant to make the work feel more authentic and does but is sometimes confusing. There's many non-authentic fully fantasy elements mixed together with the accurate mythology but that's to be expected with a fantasy novel.
The main characters are a pair of fascinating women who are both supremely arrogant, brutal, and not entirely sympathetic but always grandiose. The god queens fight a fairly grueling war across multiple islands and its some truly well-designed action sequences that mere mortals are easily swept up in. There's also some fascinating and hilarious characters as well like a boar god that is as vulgar as the other goddesses are stately.
If I have any complaints about the book, it is all a bit too much at times. Readers will be deluged with a complicated mythology, politics, and character interactions that can threaten a reader's understanding. Namaka and Pele hate each other for several reasons, often referring to past offenses or outrages with each of their scenes. However, their strong personalities are never boring and that gives grounding for the story.
This is definitely worth checking out and I picked up the sequel almost immediately.