“I feel skewed, as if someone’s taken my values and tugged them so far away from me that is seems ludicrous to reach out and try to grab them again.”
This was an absolutely phenomenal piece of imaginative literature. It had everything that I love to read about and even some things that I didn’t know I was missing; things I didn’t know that I needed.
The Abyss Surrounds Us follows a young woman named Cassandra Leung, who trains giant, genetically engineered, sea monsters to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. She’s been training to be a Reckoner since she was a wee little babe. All of her hard work eventually pays off and she gets her very first solo mission. However, shit seriously hits the fan when her ship is attacked by ruthless pirates and Cassandra becomes a part of the spoils. The captain of the ship, vicious and intimidating Santa Elena, orders Cassandra to help Elena with a science project of her own on pain of death–not only Cassandra’s but a couple of other folks as well.
When I went into this book, I honestly wasn’t expecting much. Most of the YA novels that I’ve picked up lately have been nothing more than just cover porn; pretty faces masking terribly boring or clichéd stories. Some of them have been flat out offensive to marginalised peoples. But this novel totally blew my fucking mind. The characters, writing, plot, technical shit–it was all just so brilliantly put together that I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself after I finished it.
Let’s start with the story and writing. This thing reads fast! I sat down yesterday and marathon-finished it in one sitting, from page 30 to finale. Every emotion that Cassandra feels, you can feel. When she’s excited about her solo mission, you’re happy, excited, and nervous with her. When grief hits her like a semi-truck after being attacked by pirates, you can feel a small twist of pain starting to engulf you right in the gut. When she’s pissed, you’re fucking pissed. I became so attached to Cas, rooting for her every single step of the way, and I didn’t even realize that I had become so involved. When a book can sucker you in like that, like a fucking maelstrom, you know that the writer has done their job well.
The story is told from the first person perspective of Cas and it unfurls effortlessly. Every developmental stage transitions from one to the next without any awkward and unnecessary additions. What I mean is that there’s no bullshit conversations, or terribly forced chemistry or violence to spurn you onwards from point A to point B. Point A simply mutates into point B before your eyes without any sort of hesitation. The novel knew where it was going and it was damn confident of itself, which made me more and more confident and secure in allowing myself to be carried away.
But Cas isn’t the only character that wraps their vines of feels around you. There’s also Swift, the woman assigned to guard Cas like a dog… and our lovely love interest. She’s got much more depth than first impressions allow. Hell, everyone on that bloody ship has some kind of backstory that leaves you itching to learn more. But alas, that’s what sequels are for (I hope). You want to hate her, but eventually you discover that you just can’t. Circumstances are everything in this book. They are a weapon with which you can defend yourself, as well as the noose that shall execute you without warning. Did I mention at all how fricking diverse the cast is? I mean like, awesomely diverse?
I could probably go on and on about this book for much longer yet, but I’m going to make this my last favourite aspect, and then shut my prattles. The romance. It was unexpected and bittersweet. The Abyss That Surrounds Us is a queer, F/F (female-female) romance story. It’s actually my first one (and if you’re interested in knowing why, or how this was such a big deal for me, you can check it out in this post here), so I wasn’t exactly sure of what constitutes a “good” queer relationship in novels. All I had to go by was my own experience of F/F r’ships. I love that the book doesn’t make a huge, fantastical deal about two ladies being in love. It’s a simple and natural occurrence very much the way straight relationships feel to straight people. There was no glamour, or bigoted show of it at all. Two individuals developed a friendship that then becomes something much deeper. That. Is. It. The chemistry is sensationally ordinary and instinctive. Their personalities were a compliment to one another and the flow of emotions that begins to emanate is an evolution in their relationship. Another positive facet of the lovey-doveyness was how subtle and limited it was in nature. It reflected the circumstances surrounding the two individuals and then grew from that. It does leave you wanting much, much more in an aching way, however, the way that it stalls isn’t an abrupt and startling end. It’s just an effect for a very terrible cause that paves the path towards further growth. There is a lot of fucking room in their relationship for a mature development. I’d rather have an author take her time with romance than create some insta-love bullshit, which we don’t get here (thankfully).
Now that I have completely rambled on and on, my overall summation of the point of this novel is: this is a great book, with loveable (and hate-able) characters, an addicting and wholeheartedly engrossing storyline, with plenty of potential for more awesomeness and badassery in future installations–two thumbs up and a toss into the favourites bin.
5 sea monsters out of 5!