Review: Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Review: Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

‘The gods of the Myriad were as real as the coastlines and currents, and as merciless as the winds and whirlpools. Now the gods are dead, but their remains are stirring beneath the waves…

On the streets of the Island of Lady’s Crave live 14-year-old urchins Hark and his best friend Jelt. They are scavengers: diving for relics of the gods, desperate for anything they can sell. But there is something dangerous in the deep waters of the undersea, calling to someone brave enough to retrieve it.

When the waves try to claim Jelt, Hark will do anything to save him. Even if it means compromising not just who Jelt is, but what he is…’

Initially, I wasn’t sure that Deeplight was my sort of read (only because I tend to sidestep features of horror and generally favour books with female protagonists) and I was a little apprehensive about it, but after having read it cover to cover without pause, I think I can safely say that any worries were unfounded. Due to be released on Halloween, I think it’s the perfect read for the season, its blend of quiet horror and living mythology one that easily grabs hold of the reader and refuses to let go. I loved the mythology that isn’t actually mythology in this one, for the gods are both very real and not entirely what people believe they are all at once, and even the gods themselves have their own stories and legends that bleed into the narrative.

The story primarily follows the story of Hark, an orphan who has grown to rely on con work and other less than legal tasks to survive. Hark’s best friend goes by the name of Jelt and is, from the start, rather obviously set on manipulating him, though he claims that he only wants good things for Hark. Jelt repeatedly claims that Hark needs to grow up, and most of the ways that he presents to do this involve doing as Jelt wishes him to, his emotional manipulation and guilt-trips something that continue for much of the story. While Hark believes that Jelt is a good friend and genuinely cares for him, I would hope that it’s obvious from the very start that this is, in-fact, not the case, and despite their being bigger and badder forces at work, I have to say that my ire was most often directed at Jelt.

During one of the missions that Hark is manipulated into taking on, he gets himself caught and put up for auction as an indentured slave, subsequently bought by a supposed scientist who is investigating the nature of the Undersea and the gods. He’s put to work looking after the priests who used to commune with the gods by travelling underwater to speak with them through a variety of communication methods, though Hark’s actual work is extracting information and encouraging the priests to share their stories of their experiences with the gods with the purpose of furthering his owner’s research. It’s the stories and expansion of the history involving the gods from these sections that I particularly enjoyed, especially as more and more of the truth comes to light and the ethics behind the whole endeavour become something to consider even more seriously than before. There’s a lot to unpack here and I very much enjoyed the different angles from which characters undertook their actions and made their choices, at once able to defend their decisions and, in the larger picture, often not, and I admit it was many of these features, as the threads of the narrative began to draw together for some and simultaneously unravel for others, that made me flinch as much as, if not more than, the darker elements of the more physical aspects of the tale.

It’s during another ‘adventure’ with Jelt that he’s coerced into that Hark discovers something that stands to change the course of history, though first it begins to change his life and that of Jelt in dangerous and disturbing ways that only he seems concerned about. I don’t want to ruin the plot, so I’m not going to linger long on the direction in which this takes the narrative, but I enjoyed that it includes further consideration of morality and what it means to perceived as ‘fixable’ for what is a natural response to a traumatic event.

Deeplight is out on October 31st! Thank you to Pan Macmillan for sending me a proof copy!

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