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Putting all things aside about ‘judging a book by its cover,’ the second I saw the cover of this book, I knew I was going to love it. I had never heard of Sarah Glenn Marsh, but we received the US hardback edition of this at the book shop I work at to see if it was worth getting the Aus edition when it comes out. In short… We will 100% be stocking many copies of the Aus edition!
One of the main reasons I was drawn to the cover was its resemblance to one of my favourite YA series The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. I’m an absolute fan of books that have darker undertones and hold deeper meaning as you scrape through its layers, making you live in their worlds long after you’ve finished reading them. This is one of those books!
Sixteen-year-old Bridey Corkill longs to leave her small island and see the world; the farther from the sea, the better. When Bridey was young, she witnessed something lure her granddad off a cliff and into a watery grave with a smile on his face. Now, in 1913, those haunting memories are dredged to the surface when a young woman is found drowned on the beach. Bridey suspects that whatever compelled her Granddad to leap has made its return to the Isle of Man.
Soon, people in Bridey’s idyllic village begin vanishing, and she finds an injured boy on the shore—an outsider who can’t remember who he is or where he’s from. Bridey’s family takes him in so he can rest and heal. In exchange for saving his life, he teaches Bridey how to master her fear of the water—stealing her heart in the process.
But something sinister is lurking in the deep, and Bridey must gather her courage to figure out who—or what—is plaguing her village, and find a way to stop it before she loses everyone she loves.
Small seaside town? 1900s? Isle of Man? Mysterious disappearances? Secretive (yet handsome) love interests? Deep, dark, unexplainable forces? And hints at the supernatural? Yes! This book was definitely calling my name. It is basically the book I wish I had written myself, so my love for it is mixed with a twinge of jealousy.
Despite it’s occasional cliches (I pretty much guessed the mystery of Fynn’s true identity – the love interest and boy Bridey finds injured on the beach – from the get go), Sarah Glenn Marsh is a creator of atmosphere. Each sentence powerfully drew me into the eerie, Gothic setting and made the underworld of sea monsters and witchery believable. And whilst there were no mental asylums in sight like in Mara Dyer, there is definitely the palpable tension of the village community’s disbelief and distrust of Bridey, Fynn, and Morag the ‘witch’ and their entanglement with the supernatural. There were times when it felt as though I existed like Bridey, somewhere between intrinsically part of the town and simultaneously at odds with it. Not only did this beguile me to keep reading (fast) but it also made me feel like Bridey was a character I felt linked to; I was part of both her external and internal journey, and her characterisation was stronger for it.
There is also the minuscule feeling of uneasiness I felt throughout the book about the historical details. While I don’t doubt that the author did her research, there were moments where I couldn’t help but feel like the language and customs of the townspeople were a bit too modern. I read my fair share of historical fiction, especially set between the 19th and early 20th centuries, and to me there were aspects of Fear the Drowning Deep that could have been more embedded within the era. A main example being the propriety between young men and women of the time, although the smallness/remoteness of the town could be held accountable for the lack of scandal that surrounded events such as a sixteen-year-old girl holding hands in public/being left alone at home with a male outsider.
All this aside, the romance between Bridey and Fynn is positively delectable, yet ultimately genuine. I felt the spark of their meeting radiate off the page and their growth together was drawn out beautifully, and I felt the ending was necessary and somewhat unpredictable (NO SPOILERS!) The romance arc of the story defied the usual Young Adult cliche, probably in part due to Marsh’s astute characterisation and observation of the human condition. Even characters that were only glimpsed briefly felt like people I knew. Lugh (Bridey’s male best friend) wasn’t the stereotypical jealous ‘first-yet-never-believable-love-interest,’ Bridey’s relationship with her three other sisters was colourful and Lizzie Bennet-esque, her parents were far from sidelined, and Morag’s archetypal ‘witch-on-the-remote-cliff’ figure was repeatedly (perhaps even as a parody) shot down.
Overall, my issues with this book could in no way outweigh my love for it! I had trouble putting it down, it consumed my thoughts when I wasn’t reading it, and it most definitely left its mark on my soul. Plus, that cover!! I can’t wait to see what else Sarah Glenn Marsh brings to the Young Adult scene because whatever her name is on next, I will definitely be reading it.