ONCE STOLEN BY D.N. BRYN // a fantasy steampunk novel of that explores autism, queer identity and environmental exploitation

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Mabuhay, friends!

Today I am bringing a review of a book I hold so dear. Once Stolen by D.N. Bryn is the second book in These Treacherous Tides series. There is so much heart and adventure packed into this book. I can’t wait to share my thoughts with you! So, here it is.


Return to Our Bloody Pearl‘s steampunk-inspired world of merfolk in this fun, fast-paced adventure with a hate-to-love romance, a boat-load of sass, and even more heart. 

No one with half a brain would rob the jungle’s most notorious energy cartel. The vibrations of their power-producing stones are the only thing that calms the mer-snake Cacao’s agonizing sensory condition though—and after being banished from his homeland swamps for similar thefts, he’s desperate.

When his attempt fails stunningly, a chaotic escape leaves him chained to a cartel prisoner: a self-proclaimed hero with a hidden stash of ignits so large, Cacao would never need to steal again. He’s determined to get his hands on it, even if it means guiding her home straight through the mist-laden and monster-filled swamp that exhaled him, with scheming poachers and a desperate cartel leaders on their tail.

But the selfish and the self-righteous can only flee together for so long before something snaps…


TRIGGER WARNING: Cultural ableism, adolescent abandonment, two instances of animal injury and death, accidental house fire, kidnapping, secondary character drinking alcohol including non-violent drunkenness.

D.N. Bryn never fails to cheer me up with their beautiful writing, diverse and snarky characters and the sparkling world of merfolks. You don’t have to read Our Bloody Pearl before you start Once Stolen, however, I highly recommend that you do. This is because characters from the previous book make a short appearance in this book and it feels like reconnecting with an old friend. Set in a steampunk world, Our Bloody Pearl and Once Stolen is filled with beautiful and luscious scenes, from the ocean to the river, from a mechanic’s shop to a dark jungle.


In Once Stolen, we follow a boiuna named Cacao who pretty much just wants to live in peace with his shiny ignits which is a type of energy producing stone. But when along stumbles Thais who knows the location of a horde of ignits, Cacao risks the anger of cartel leaders and his home elders, for a chance to possess those stones. Once Stolen is an adventure story of reluctant allies covering themes of community equity and its lack of disability support, friendship and found family, the need of a support group and environmental aggressors.


Once Stolen is a beautiful world where being queer is normalised. Cacao is very aggressive and reckless; for his whole life he had been called “selfish” that he now believes it, even acting on instincts that aren’t right. Because if people think of him as selfish and worthless, why not behave that way, right? For some readers, this makes Cacao unlikable, however, I would ask you to be patient. Cacao’s character arc is an important narrative, not only in this fantasy book but also in reality. Cacao is flawed, yes, and he is held accountable for the actions he takes. Part of his character development is the effort he puts into the friendships he has formed. D.N. Bryn has written an article on this: Autism in Relation to Character Flaws.

Thais is quite the opposite of Cacao, a self-righteous musician. Her relationship with Cacao – their banter, their pettiness and the eventual affection that comes from being very reluctant allies was fun to read. Being the exact opposite of Cacao, Thais is a character study on how sacrificing too much of yourself or prioritising others before yourself can poison you.

I not only love Cacao and Thais but also Fern and Xera. Xera is a warrior of the Murk who is deaf and has a huge crush on Fern. Fern is a bouina who loves collecting skulls and gardening. The bond these four characters form is so warm. Xera is so accepting and Fern is loyal. They show Thais and Cacao that family do not have to be related by blood. They showed up and fought for Cacao and Thais, even risking their lives and home. Another aspect I loved is that the characters communicated using sign language.


The world is constructed so beautifully with its swamps and the homes of Murk dwellers. There are also several other creatures like the Hoatzi’s and Botos. Once Stolen also explores the consequences of environmental exploitation such as the Murk’s dwindling population and the destruction the cartel leaders wrecked on the Murk. I love books where the environment is just as alive as its character. Also, I really appreciate that D.N. Bryn implemented this theme in their book as it portrays how exploitation destroys the symbiotic relationship between people and the land.

D.N. Bryn began writing short stories in middle school and has yet to stop. They received their bachelors degree in Biochemistry and Cell Biology from UCSD, and enjoy a day job involving respiratory disease research. They bring their love for animals, science, and mythology into all their writing, and are passionate about creating inclusive worlds where a diverse array of characters can go on grand adventures without being hindered by social misconceptions based on their appearance, sexuality, or gender.

Author Links: Website | Twitter

🌸 Have you read Our Bloody Pearl by D.N. Bryn? Would you pick up Once Stolen?

🌸 Which would you rather meet: a siren or a bouina (a mer-snake)?

🌸 Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour hosts!

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5 thoughts on “ONCE STOLEN BY D.N. BRYN // a fantasy steampunk novel of that explores autism, queer identity and environmental exploitation

  1. Susy's Cozy World says:

    This was a compelling review, and now obviously I have to try this series out! I may take a peek to your review of the first one before deciding if trying it from the start or just going in with this second one, but I am pretty curious!


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