The Abyss Surrounds Us

abyss surrounds usby Emily Skrutskie
YA Science Fiction
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: February 8, 2016

This book was an amazing surprise! I’ve had this on my list since I heard “pirates + sea monsters + LGBT” and it was nothing like what I expected–in a good way! The setting was a lot to absorb. In the first few pages we learn the United States has dissolved due to rising sea levels, and pirates are destroying the limited sea trade that’s trying to survive. In response, giant, genetically engineered monsters (Reckoners) are bred and trained in labs to sink pirate ships. Cassandra (Cas) Leung is one of those trainers–in training. As you can probably guess, her first solo mission is a complete disaster. Enter: the pirate queen Santa Elena and her crew of miscreants!

The first fifty-ish pages are a bit clunky from explaining what the world is like and introducing a bunch of characters amidst near non-stop action. After that, it was smooth sailing (sorry, I had to)! Santa Elena ties Cas to one of her trainees, Swift–a teenage girl with a partially-shaved head and a short fuse–and orders Cas to train the Reckoner she’s mysteriously acquired to fight FOR the pirates. If Cas doesn’t do it, Santa Elena will kill Cas and Swift. At first, Cas doesn’t care. Swift is just another pirate girl responsible for terrible attacks on innocent people. All pirates are the same.

But as Cas shares Swift’s room and learns what the pirate girl is really like, the lines between “good” and “evil” begin to blur.

Cas is an incredibly nuanced character! She is the gold nugget of this book. Cas starts off seeing the world as black and white, and her narration matches that. She’s direct, honest, stubbornly holding to her principles. But then Swift introduces all sorts of shades of gray and Cas realizes she herself might be as monstrous as the pirates–it’s just hidden on the inside. (I don’t want to say more because of spoilers). As she gradually develops mixed feelings about her past and her current imprisonment aboard the ship, we see how someone’s point of view can change so subtly, with just one choice at a time. And it’s not until the end when you realize you are so far from where you meant to be.

The end of this story had me completely riveted, and I’m pretty sure my jaw was hanging open for most of it. Cas is a new favorite character for me (even though I’m not sure I like her–explain that!)  and I’m incredibly exited for a potential sequel!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Abyss Surrounds Us is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

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