Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep by Philip Reeve
|Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep by Philip Reeve|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Reeve's blog mentions how small his locale is here, and it's true that a small island, mostly populated by sea-fearing sorts, might seem to limit the spectacular. Just read on...|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: September 2021|
|Publisher: David Fickling Books|
|External links: Author's website|
In a word, rich. There is certainly an abundance of riches in this story set on a peculiar island called Wildsea, British but way west, beyond the Scillies. There are troll people on it, and sea-witches, and legends of the Dark family that has to keep watch for magical islands and their monster approaching from even further west, where no ship dare sail. The current Darks are the Watcher, Andrewe, who has to keep notes of activity from the Hidden Lands, his brother Will who lives in London with too much science in his head to worry about such local yokel superstitions, and Andrewe's foundling daughter, who washed up out of the sea one day eleven years ago. But when Andrewe Dark drowns himself, both his sullen brother and his curious ward are thrust into the world of protecting their island, like it or not.
And it's a wonderful island to experience in this way – as I say, curious characters and habits and legends and lore are all over the shop. Utterly Dark, named after a childish whim, is more or less the standard young woman finding her destiny in books of this ilk, but seldom do they have so much intelligently-wrought fantastical stuff waiting to be revealed to them. The folklore and geography and people of the island are utterly convincing.
This might, then, be a book for all ages, as the best young readers, are. But here you realise Utterly and others are a little bit naive – she dismisses old Watch logs as being irrelevant, even if she's obviously in them; and nobody dares to think what it means for a girl to be washed up from out the western seas where all the magic and mystery and alleged danger also comes from. Still, if what we have is padding to cover the obvious from our eyes, it's bloody good padding. And for all my talk of the island, and all my talk of how some elements here seem predictable, there is also the sea and its utterly unpredictable inhabitants...
Ultimately, happily, this is most certainly a book I would not quibble at any age range reading. It just has that – that word again – that richness, the conviction of a well-told, intelligent fantasy that doesn't really fit into that as a genre, but lacks better words to describe it. Every beat of the characters' lives and every scene of the wondrous were as clear as an alpine pool, and reading this breeze of a novel was just as refreshing. It wasn't merely in its underwater scenes where it left me breathless.
While this is probably for anyone of secondary school age and up, their younger siblings would still enjoy the author's Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre. And is the sea being a theme in 2021? Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston is equally memorable.
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