The Inhabitants of this world are defined by their super powers in a world created by offworld gods as an experiment to see if humans could one day survive on the planet Fortune. Unfortunately there is nowhere near enough salt for human survival on Fortune and the Crystal Corporation controls the salt distribution (hence the title - NACL is the chemical formula for salt). This has given rise to a rebellion of sorts - the Salt Pirates, of whom one-armed pirate captain Salome Parata is one. Her expertise at the helm is instrumental in the group attempting to escape the clutches of the Corporation as is shown in an exciting race through rocks surrounding an island sanctuary. Her disability is never a disadvantage for this uncompromising woman and her ability to stay focused on what is important for the survival of the group in the face of crippling heartbreak is no doubt due to genetics - her uncle is the infamous Pirate King and her grandmother is another famous pirate leader who is incarcerated inside the Salt Spire.
The characters drive the story and the world is built around them - and what a fascinating and original world it is.
The Salt Spire is a mine in the center of the ocean and all manner of atrocities take place therein - pay attention to the content warnings for this book if such things are important to you! I quickly became invested in the stories of each of the main characters - which made the recollections of the atrocities they had suffered hit even harder - particularly Vera, the “Conflicter”. Her tragic time spent incarcerated at the Spire has changed her to the point she is almost unrecognizable to the “Mender”, Torin, to whom she was “Bonded” as a child.
My favourite character was Lani, a dangerous loner who keeps away from others due to her unstable powers having caused death for those she has cared about.
Unbeknownst to them, the main characters have banded together through the expert manipulation of Precog Merihem “Mo” Crystal, a maniacal godlike figure able to teleport to other worlds, whose puppet mastery is all powerful. All of these characters are severely broken in some way, mostly due either directly or indirectly to their superpowers. Mo is the arch supervillain of the story, persuading them to be his minions in an explosive plot to end all others.
The book has a great deal of warmth and humour as well as its fair share of social commentary:
“Real motivations are ugly things. Survival is brutal. We live by killing. All of us. Animals, plants, each other. We fuck to achieve immortality. We step on the skulls of others trying to attain a better life, and excuse it as ‘hard work’.”
There isn’t a lot of room for wholesomeness or social niceties in this dog eat dog environment - but the characters gain emotional strength and comfort from those to whom they are bonded.
I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure, finding it hard to put down, and will look out for other books by these authors!