Author: Frances Hardinge
Publication date: 2019
Synopsis: The gods of the Myriad were as real as the coastlines and currents, and as merciless as the winds and whirlpools. Then one day they rose up and tore each other apart, killing many hundreds of islanders and changing the Myriad forever.
On the jumbled streets of the Island of Lady's Crave live Hark and his best friend Jelt. They are scavengers: living off their wits, diving for relics of the gods, desperate for anything they can sell. But now there is something stirring beneath the waves, calling to someone brave enough to retrieve it. Something valuable. Something dangerous.
Nothing is quite as it seems, and 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 . . .
As I said in the New Year Booktag on my Catalan YouTube channel, I discovered Frances Hardinge in 2019 and loved “A Skinful of Shadows”. So when I had the chance to buy her newest book (signed!) I didn't think twice.
I like Hardinge's descriptions of both places and characters. She’s a very sensorial writer, and knows how to get you into the story. In fact, although with Deeplight she was freer to create a world without worrying about historical documentation, you can feel there’s a research process behind about how life near the sea works (though as the disclaimer says… “The laws of physics were harmed during the making of this book. In fact, I tortured them into horrific new shapes while cackling”)
This world (from which we focus on the compendium of islands called the Myriad) wonders what would have happened if pirates and coastal people of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries had become used to working with never-seen-before elements from the monstrous depths of the ocean. It reminded me a little of “Pacific Rim” (the movie), where giant monsters emerge from the sea (although in this story they are gods that people worshipped).
The beginning of the story is fast-paced. We meet Hark, a fourteen-year-old boy who looks cunning, observant, manipulative, and knowledgeable about human nature. I liked him because he reminded me slightly of Moist Von Lipwig, the swindler created by my favourite writer, Terry Pratchett. Both Hark and Moist lie and cheat to survive, but they have a small heart deep down. What's more, I loved Hark's resilience and willingness to act despite fear, not giving up when things got tough, showing us that we always have another choice.
Well, at least that’s what I thought for the first three or four chapters... because afterwards he seemed to turn into a small fish trapped in a current in the middle of a storm, completely at the mercy of the elements... something I can’t stand about from YA main characters. Most of them end up having no say in events, falling into all sorts of traps, and repeatedly telling themselves that they have no choice but to get carried away... This is what I liked about Makepeace (the main character from A Skinful of Shadows) that, against all odds, she wasn’t going to give up, and kept looking for ways to be smarter than her enemies, working under the circumstances and catching the wind in her sails.
Elseways, Hark unfortunately clings to a lie to make his life more bearable. To me he is a good example of how toxic relationships work, and what happens when you ignore all the red flags. Still, in the end there might be a potential antihero inside of him (I liked the book to be self-closing, but... will there be a second part?)
As for the rest of dramatis personae... I found them a little flat, because they only appear in a convenient way and we don’t get to know them in depth. I especially want to know more about the female characters (what’s the doctor’s past and real motivations?)
On the other hand, I thought the way the writer integrates characters with hearing impairments was so interesting. I had only seen it before in Rick Riordan's "Magnus Chase" trilogy, and, in her book, Hardinge develeps this theme to the point that deafness is respected within the story. She herself explains that she came up with the idea when a young reader asked her whether she would ever consider including a deaf character in one of her books, triggering a small avalanche in her head. You can also feel the author did a lot of research on the topic and tried to be as faithful as possible to the daily lives of people who live with deafness.
As for the plot... after reading the synopsis and seeing the beautiful cover by Aitch, I imagined a series of thrilling underwater adventures, but I came across a slowly developing story that spends 80% on the surface. Furthermore, the way the elements came together made the events quite easy to predict, and plot twists didn't surprise me much. Although the ending is quite exciting, I was waiting for a little bit more action and adventure throughout the novel.
Ultimately it seems Deeplight is more of a story which ponders human nature... the ease in which we humans allow ourselves to be manipulated, the fact that sometimes there are no right choices (just the ones we can live with) and our fears and our limits (we are often capable of much more than we think, we just have to stop fear from blocking us… because fear is so powerful: it feeds very real monsters that swallow us...)
But this book also talks about the importance of stories, how easy it is to twist them and make them dance to the sound of our voice... and how we feed on them, breathe and drink them, because they are, partly, what make us human... Whether we pass them on through word of mouth or book, while there’s still somene to remember us, we remain immortal.