The Abyss Surrounds Us
Author: Emily Skrutskie
Release: February 8th 2016
Genre: Dystopia, Science Fiction, YA
#1 in the Abyss Surrounds Us duology
Sequel: The Edge of the Abyss (#2)
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.
I went into this in the hopes of finally coming across a well-written f/f ship. There's been so much praise for this book, especially for the romance and its female characters. I have to disagree, however. If you want good, healthy femslash, you won't be finding it here. Instead, I would even go so far as to call this the poster child for Stockholm syndrome.
I'm not kidding. Yes, that might be a harsh descriptor, but it's literally all I was able to think about the entire novel. You see, Cassandra is being captured on her first Reckoner trainer mission, after having to witness the sea beast she's known and loved die before her eyes, miserably I might add. I imagine it to be as traumatic as watching my dogs die a slow and brutal death right in front of me. Not very great. She's then being held captive on a pirate ship and forced to train a Reckoner pup to do what it shouldn't do; basically, Cassandra is forced to go against her nature, against what she's set out do to her entire life, and that every single day. Her life is bound not only to the sea creature, but also, for arbitrary reasons that are fucking beyond me, it is also bound to one of the captain's lackeys who helped bring her in. She has absolutely no reason to let that bother her, to have any regard for that girl's life. And yet, even though that girl (her name is Swift) is nothing but an asshole towards her for the better part of 200 pages, somehow, she manages to fall in love with her and wants to protect her. Fucking why? And it's not only her, but she also manages to somehow bond with the pirate ship and its crew, even though she spends literally zero amount of time with anyone on the crew. Like, I'm not even joking, there are essentially six people on the ship she has contact with, and with 5 of those 6 only sparingly, ever. Tell me HOW that doesn't scream Stockholm syndrome to you. How and why the fuck does Cassandra develop these deep feelings for the crew, for Swift, when she's constantly being threatened, held prisoner and mistreated? It's beyond me.
Honestly, I really, really wanted to like this. It has a racially diverse cast, wlw main characters (are they lesbian? Bi? Pan? Good fucking luck figuring it out 'cause it's never mentioned), and an extremely awesome sounding premise. But it's so lackluster in almost all aspects that I'm really wringing my hands for any good thing to say.
The world-building is almost non-existent. There is a little bit of back story explained somewhere in the span of half a page and it was so insignificant and vague that I've already forgotten about it. But anyway, the world has split into tiny tiny states, so as to "have better control over the people" of each state (what?) and then there are also unregulated pirate states, I guess? Called floating cities, but they don't float in the air, just in the ocean (called the NeoPacific, just cause). It sounds so cool, but that's really all we ever get on the information side. The world was flooded for some reason that we're never told and now there's lots of water mass, which caused the pirate trade to flourish and now every good ship needs a Reckoner, a sea monster, to accompany it on trips and protect it from pirates. That's basically the gist of it all; that's all you need to know and all you will know for the entire book. Why was the world flooded? How exactly did piracy get so out of hand? When were the Reckoners created, and how? They're genetically modified ... somethings created in labs, but who came up with the idea and when? So many questions, so little answers.
The characters, oh boy... We have Cassandra and Swift, who are both well developed, but that's it in terms of characters. There is a large cast of side characters, but they never play a huge role ever and so they never got any defining qualities, identities or, heck, a personality, not really. I loved the idea of a pirate queen ruling her crew and ship with an iron fist, but Santa Elena is such a flat and boring character that the whole aspect fell in the water pretty quick. Also, Santa? Really? I mean, I know it means Saint and all, but the whole time I sort of pictured her with a long white beard in my head. Sorry not sorry.
Yeah, anyways, back to Cassandra and Swift, the only characters worth talking about. I felt Cassandra's struggle about what she was doing in training and raising Bao (the pirate sea beast) was very well-written, authentic and realistic, she had a really hard time thinking it over and all, but one thing that really nagged me about her characterization (apart from the Stockholm syndrome, of course) was that she was so inconsistent about her ambitions, I guess. She devises a plan after being captured, where she tries to gather as much information from the pirates as possible and then try to flee (solid plan), but she never... does anything about it. She never risks anything to eavesdrop or something, never even tries to ask, I just... The only time she ever ACTUALLY finds anything out, it's because of sheer dumb luck. Not because she actively did anything. And then it's only like 70% into the novel already. What the fuck? I'm sorry but did you even try? (The answer is no.)
Swift, oh Swift... at first, I liked her sassy attitude, her spunk and her fire, but after a few pages, that like slowly diminished more and more. She's bossy and unfriendly to Cassandra, which is fair enough, but not if you're supposed to be the love interest. And then, whenever Santa Elena comes strutting in, she's like a weak lap dog who only lives to serve. I hated the hypocrisy of those actions, the way she's always puffing her chest but then hiding behind her mother's skirts when her boss is around. I mean, that was probably supposed to be her intrigue, the way she switches personalities that fast and all, and was supposed to showcase her character depth, but... I just disliked it all. The only time we ever get to see a deeper side that I liked a lot more was during the last 20% and by then, I guess I was already too far gone to start liking her then.
All in all, I guess it's safe to say I probably won't be coming back for a sequel. If the plot still sounds cool to you, by all means — go give it a try. So many people loved this book, maybe I'm just the odd man out. And please, for the love of all that is holy, if you dare say I'm "homophobic" simply because I didn't like the book and its relationship for (what I think are very) objective reasons, I will kick your ass. Don't try me.