Book Review

“But she underestimated me. I played my cards, I laid in wait, I let myself be beaten and manipulated. If she keeps that promise she made to me, I’ll show her the truth I’ve learned on her boat. I don’t just raise monsters. I am one.”

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.

RATING: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

The Abyss Surrounds Us is a hidden gem in young adult fiction and the glowing reviews didn’t lie about how fantastic it is. This book was fun from page 1 until the end, leaving me with a wanting to pick up the sequel immediately. Seriously, if you like fiction like Jurassic Park, or books like Into the Drowning Deep, you are sleeping on this book, because you’re its target audience.

Set in a futuristic United States where sea levels have risen, most of the world is underwater due to catastrophic climate change. Now, floating cities exist all over the world and water vessels are the primary mode of transportation. The collapse of civilization resulted in many refugees, who were forced to live and find new work in these floating cities.

Consequently, piracy on the seas is not uncommon and now people are in the business of raising monsters. But in Cassandra’s world they’re known as Reckoners, genetically engineered monsters that take the form of animals like terrapoids (turtle-types), serpentoids (snake-types) and simioids (monkey-types), and probably more. In this book we only see Reckoners in the form of terrapoids, but we do get to see them at different stages of life, even conception, and the subsequent training they receive throughout their life span which was so much fun! As a monster enthusiastic I felt that there was a generous amount of time exploring the life of a Reckoner trainer. I definitely want to see more types of Reckoners, which has been promised in book two I believe. 

Cas’ family is in the business of raising and training Reckoners to protect wealthy vessels that cross the ocean. She’s also a Reckoner trainer who’s about to embark on her first solo mission with her terrapoid Reckoner Durga to ensure everything goes smoothly across the seas. Shortly into her first solo mission, pirates are sighted, but Durga is acting suspicious and it turns out she’s been poisoned. Although its in her nature to defend the vessel, Durga is bested by pirates and the cruise ship is overrun by them. Cas is found and taken us prisoner abroad the enemies ship to fulfil a secret mission for the Pirate Queen, Santa Elena.

I got so much enjoyment out of this book, from the pirating to the monster training. But I think I especially enjoyed the character work, because this book is host to a few interesting morally grey characters, and not just the antagonists. The main character Cas has to make questionable decisions and doesn’t view them favourably. Even when she knows she’s making them partially out of her own self-interest. Side character and love interest Swift (who begins the story as an antagonist) has amazing characterization that I struggled to view her as wholly evil too, despite being a crew of Santa Elena’s pirate ship. You might think that being a ‘pirate’ makes her the bad guy, but really every one has their reasons for being apart of Santa Elena’s ruthless crew.

Aside from the characters, I loved the tense, angsty enemies to lovers romance. (When do I not?!) Cas and Swift’s dynamic is one of the most complex relationships I’ve seen in YA. Watching them toe the line of their attraction whilst knowing they’re enemies was my favourite thing. Also this romance is tropes galore (one bed trope and handcuffed together, um yes please.) Personally I thought this romance was too PG. The tension alone had me hot and bothered, I really couldn’t get enough of these too. I can’t help but think what a shame it is that this book is YA.

“And it sucks, because I want to kiss her. It’s infuriating how perfect it would be to kiss her right now, perched on a cannon on a pirate ship under the stars.”

The sexual tension in this book isn’t the only aspect that makes me feel like it’s toeing the line of being young adult or new adult. It gets seriously dark at points of the story, particularly where the unforgiving Pirate Queen is concerned. I haven’t read a story in a long time with such an unforgiving villain, that actually acted like a villain and had me guessing what she would do next and not predicting.

This book is shy off five stars because I must admit that at times, the technical jargon about genetics, other science-y stuff and honestly even some of the water vessel jargon just had me clueless. (This is not uncommon with me when reading science fiction though 😂). Although this book is just shy of 300, I kind of wish the author had been a bit more generous with exposition.

Again, if you’re a fan of Jurassic Park or Into the Drowning Deep then you should definitely considering picking up this book. Tonally it matches both of them well for a young adult story, with a few high-stakes moments and a whole lot of pirating mischief on the high seas.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear what you thought of it!


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