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Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Title: The Abyss Surrounds Us
Author: Emily Skrutskie
Length: 288 pages
Publication: February 8th 2016 by Flux
Note: Flux sent me this e-book via Netgalley for free in exchange for my honest review.
For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.
There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.
But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she’s not about to stop.
This book is written in first person present tense making the main character the narrator. Cassandra Leung is a seventeen-year-old Reckoner trainer. She has a strong voice, which clearly defines her and her place in the story, aiding to the reality of the book.
World: This world is hinted at being post-apocalyptic with the mention of a historical event known as the Schism, which leaves the world fractured into many small nations. This explains the necessity for water travel. However, the main focus isn’t on the apocalypse, but the present, where the Reckoners, and their scientific origins, take root. Thus the world relies heavily on science fiction, which enraptured me from the get-go. Every scientific detail is added to explain something in order to build the world and draw in the reader, which it frequently utilizes in this novel.
Pacing: The pacing of this novel was a bit jarring. The scenes shown in the book are quick and suspenseful, but the overall book takes place over three months, skipping large sections of time. Acknowledging these skips slows down the reading. Skips in time draw away from the energy of the novel and drag the reader out of the world. Even so, the scenes shown after the skips make up for it with high intensity and intrigue.
Characters: The main character Cassandra is a seventeen-year-old who’s spent her entire life in the world of Reckoners and training them, which already makes her a bit of a daredevil. After all, she climbs into tanks with sea monsters to train them. That automatically sets her up as a brave character, but the caution she takes to prevent any hazards negates possible reckless behavior. The book sets her up as a promising character. At time she’s annoying to read about when she’s conflicted about something, but that reinforces just how young and unexperienced she is in the world, adding to the element of realism.
Non-Spoilered Plot: The main plot of this book is extremely fascinating and well written. It focuses on Reckoners, genetically engineered killing sea monsters, and their trainers and the importance both have in the world of the book. While some of Cassandra’s ideology may be flawed in the beginning, she grows throughout the book. The journey forces her to make difficult decisions. It also opens her eyes to a world she previously saw only through bias. Thus, she changes drastically from the girl she was at the beginning, ending as a character reflective of the events that occur.
While the synopsis doesn’t mention a love connection there is a mild love story, but it never becomes the sole focus and never overpowers the main plot. Thus, as far as love plots go, it’s well done and an added benefit to this novel.
Plot: The overarching plot is Cassandra fighting her instinct of training Reckoners to destroy pirates by being forced to train a Reckoner to defend pirates. It goes against everything she stands for. Naturally, she’s expected to kill herself and keep to the code of protecting Reckoner training secrets, but instead she lives. It’s the very thing she’s sworn not to do. The only problem is her justification for helping the pirates and not offing herself: to figure out how the pirates got the Reckoner pup and the equipment and intel necessary to keep it alive. She wants to discover the secret so that she can warn her parents and the International Genetically-Engineered Organisms Council(IGEOC), and prevent it from happening again. Unfortunately, never during the book does she actually investigate or snoop for clues. Thus, her reasoning for staying alive is flawed.
From there Cassandra simply falls into a routine of training the Reckoner pup. It’s no different from what she’d be doing had she made it home safely and not been captured by pirates, besides the fact that she’s a ‘prisoner’ and her life is on the life. The threat on her life, while reinforced verbally time and time again by the Captain Santa Elena, is never really given weight by any actions. Even so, Cassandra doesn’t truly fear the threats because she was supposed to kill herself in the first place and fail or succeed in training the pup will inevitably end with her death.
Without any real precedence for the death threats, the story focuses on Cassandra’s training of the Reckoner. That in and of itself is fascinating. The detail is extreme. A lot of work goes into the training and care of the pup and all of it is explained to such an extent as to seem real rather just a story from a book. It’s also the only thing that keeps the story afloat since the interactions and conflicts between her and the rest of the pirates are lacking.
Naturally the snippets of the pirate crew shown throughout the book demonstrate their brutality and their murderous tendencies. However, it also nudges the concept of their mercy. They only kill the people who resist during attacks and leave the ships in well-enough condition that people might be rescued. Children and innocents live on the pirate ship, as well. All the scenes hint at the idea of community doing everything they can to survive and provide for the ones they care about, made even more evident by insight into Swift’s life.
Swift is one who fights tooth and nail to stay alive and do everything she can to prove herself, even brutality, simply so that she might earn enough to support her family. The glimpses into the real Swift, a seventeen-year-old girl who joined a pirate ship to help her father and siblings, melts the hard exterior. This thaw coaxes Cassandra into having feelings for Swift, which Swift reciprocates. However, their relationship grows slowly. It has the obvious emotional struggle on both sides given that Cassandra is a captive and Swift is her captor, which only aids to the reality of such a relationship. Their circumstances don’t allow them to be together. They know that and rather than running around after each other like a couple of love-struck teenagers, they accept the fact that nothing can happen and instead focus their energies on staying alive.
The ending was the best part of the story because Cassandra realizes that she’s a monster herself and will never be able to go home. Instead, she fits in with the pirates. Thus, she joins the crew, but unfortunately must discard Bao to the freedom of the sea in order to protect the innocents aboard the pirate ship from the wrath of the IGEOC pursuing them. This leaves her only skill as Reckoner trainer null and void. It begs the question: ‘what on earth does Cassandra plan to do on the pirate ship now?‘ It becomes even more pressing when the Captain reveals that Swift killed Durga(Cass’s original Reckoner before she was taken captive by the pirates), officially annihilating any relationship Swift and Cassandra could have. However, this ending proves that Cass doesn’t join the pirates for Swift. She joins the pirates because she knows that, with her monstrous nature, it’s where she belongs. Even so I can’t help but wonder what kind of life she plans to have abroad a pirate ship when the only thing she knows how to do is officially useless. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the untitled sequel(2017) to find out, but for now I leave my rating of this novel at four stars.
AUTHOR: Emily Skrutskie
Emily Skrutskie is six feet tall. She was born in Massachusetts, raised in Virginia, and forged in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado. She holds a B.A. in Performing and Media Arts from Cornell University, where she studied an outrageous and demanding combination of film, computer science, and game design.
Her short fiction has been published by HarperTeen, and her debut novel, THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US, will be published by Flux in Winter 2016. She is represented by Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.