[Friday Flash Review] The Abyss Surrounds Us, by Emily Skrutskie

Untitled-1❧ Title: The Abyss Surrounds Us
❧ Author: Emily Skrutskie
❧ Publisher: Flux
❧ Publication date: February 8th 2016
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦
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Cas has fought pirates her entire life. But can she survive living among them?

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

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the abyss surrounds us❝In A Nutshell❞

 

✎ Pirates! Sea monsters trained to defend against pirate attacks, bred for purpose and trained hands-on by a single person they bond with. Cas is taken captive by a pirate queen and told to raise the Reckoner pup she somehow managed to steal, or die. Cas is forced to choose between loyalty and her life.

✎ Broken social/political system across oceans and floating cities where the pirates so very obviously aren’t just The Bad Guys else why would this book have been written come on.

✎ Diverse ☒ (biracial MC, sexuality, f/f romance – not #ownvoices afaik)

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❝What I loved❞

✎ The Reckoners are amazing. Everyone says “Pacific Rim” when you mention sea monsters, but I didn’t like Pacific Rim but so this was much better. The relationship between Cas and the Reckoner pup is intriguing and also pretty fun to read. This book is fun in the best sense of the word. It is exciting and I’d have happily read another hundred or so pages, so it was a little disappointing that it was so short (under 300 pages for the ppb ed).

✎ The careful way the potential romance is handled, in the possibly-problematic situation of Swift and Cas definitely not being equals on the ship and Cas, in fact, being a prisoner. It makes it fairly difficult for the two to have a clear and easy romance, but they do manage and even though a lot is held back on both sides, there’s still enough romance on the page for it to not feel entirely frustrating. The romance is hate-to-love, which can be a little “oh my god get on with it; pick one!” but the initial attraction here really shows that the eventual romance doesn’t just spring out of nowhere: what holds them back more than anything else is the odd power dynamic (captor/captive) and their own views of one another.

✎ The Reckoners. They are everything. But so is a Chinese American MC who is also queer. The cover is also so good.

✎ The fact that it’s pretty clear there’s much more to the world than the black-and-white version we see through Cas’ narrative and the suggestion that we’ll get to see more of this develop in the second part The Edge Of The Abyss.
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❝What I didn’t love❞

✎ Cas’ absolute loyalty at first and her determination to take the pill and end her life instead of being taken by the pirates just… it doesn’t work for me. I’m never really a fan of the theme of people putting things like keeping what amounts to trade secrets higher than their own lives, and, whilst I get that it’s how Cas has been raised, I like people to call out BS like that internally and realise how brainwashing it is. Eh, maybe I just don’t like authority in situations like this, so the whole “if you’re captured, you must sacrifice yourself!” my first reaction is “why?” followed by “hell, no”. Maybe it comes from me being the kind of person to question absolutely everything ever, ever, ever who knows.

✎ Not really something I didn’t like, but I wish, wish, wish this book had been longer because I enjoyed it so much and wanted more.

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❝If you liked this…❞

…then you might also like: Zenn Scarlet, by Christian Schoon, which is kind of similar-ish with the theme of the “monsters” and a girl who’s really good at what she does. The sequel Under Nameless Stars is not recommended as highly, however, since it honestly bored me rigid and was so much worse than the first book I didn’t even buy it after reading and reviewing the ARC. But! Zenn Scarlett can definitely be enjoyed as a standalone, so go ahead!

[Review] Timekeeper, by Tara Sim [Timekeeper #1]

Title: Timekeeper (Timekeeper #1)
Author: Tara Sim
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Publication date: 8th November 2016
Rating: ★★★★★

25760792Timekeeper, by Tara Sim, is a clockworky, period fantasy-mystery-romance-everything that mixes an investigative ‘whodunit’ element with that of myth, magic and mayhem, with the added exploration of everything from parental relationships to what, exactly, being human might mean.

Set in an alternate Victorian England (yay) where time is quite literally a force of power and must be harnessed through clock towers in order to function correctly and keep life flowing and moving as it must, Sim’s debut novel is a brilliant example of making myth and mystery merge with the burgeoning industry associated with steam/clockpunk to create a story that is completely addictive and rich.

Time was once controlled by Chronos, but after his death, time needed new, mortal guardians to ensure that all flowed and ebbed according to its natural order: The Mechanics. They can sense time, touch it and feel its strands and fibres as if it were fabric. They are its guardians, attending to the maintenance of the clocks across the world.

Danny Hart is one such mechanic—the best in his class and a natural prodigy; the youngest mechanic in the union—like his father before him. But Danny is particularly gifted, able to not only repair the towers with ease and a delicate, careful hand, but to feel and touch the very fabric of time itself in a way far deeper than his peers. Danny understands time.

Which is why, when an accident traps his father in a Stopped town, now for three years and counting, Danny is certain that if he could just be a part of the controversial construction of the new tower in Malden, that he’ll be able to save his father.

But with fears that Danny might not be up to the task, following on accident that could have cost him his life, Danny’s requests to work on the tower are gently refused by the Lead Mechanic. Before the accident, before he drew the sympathetic stares of his colleagues, there would have been no question as to whether he was fit for the job or not. In order to get the assignment to Maldon, Danny needs to repair his reputation and prove that he’s fine after the accident.

So what if he has nightmares, still, and the presence of so much of the clockwork that exploded and scarred him makes him break out in sweats? He can handle it—he has to. With this in mind, Danny sets himself to any assignment he’s given with determination, desperate to help his father.

Things begin to change, however, when Danny takes a job in Enfield.

Clock spirits don’t exist—not really. Every mechanic knows the stories, but they’re a myth, a fiction. Only, Danny might be forced to change that assertion when he meets Colton, the clock spirit of the Enfield tower. Filled with deep loneliness, Enfield’s clock spirit begins finding any way he can to draw the mechanics—to draw Danny—to the town. So much for Danny’s focus on work and saving his father… Before long, the two are drawn together and Danny’s visits to the tower have less to do with the clock and more the boy who powers it.

But when a similar incident to the one that almost killed Danny occurs and there’s no visible culprit or motive, things begin to take a sinister turn. With clock towers being attacked, maybe it’s only a matter of time before another town is Stopped. And perhaps Danny won’t be so lucky a second time.

It soon becomes clear that Danny must solve the mystery before something unthinkable happens and before long, there’s more at stake than just Danny’s father. With the help of Colton, a rival mechanic, and his best friend, Danny delves headlong into untangling the distorted threads to find the truth about what really happened to him—and to his father.

Timekeeper is an expertly-written debut that is both thrilling and enchanting. Sim has a talent for crafting real, feeling characters and capturing the subtle and nuanced realities of every emotion from loneliness to grief, as well as weaving realistic and deep relationships between the characters. This is always something I hone in on immediately: parental relationships. Sim writes a seamless strained relationship between Danny and his mother, as well as his absent father. Parents suck sometimes—whatever the reason—and Danny’s mother is no different.

Obviously, Timekeeper features a m/m romance. Sound all the bells and alarms for a realistically-written gay romance, because by gods, they’re rare enough and rarer still written well, without essentially resembling the shounen-ai/yaoi fanfics written by teenage girls after binging Junjou Romantica for three weeks. This isn’t a gay romance written for girls (as so many are: fight me, go on, do it), it’s just a boy-meets-boy kind of story that gets it right, not agonising over any ridiculous notions such as how do I write a gay romance?! (spoiler: the same way you write any goddamn romance).

Additionally, this isn’t a story about Danny being gay—it’s a story where Danny just so happens to be into boy-shaped people. This fact alone would likely made me give the book five million stars and recommend it, even if I hadn’t personally liked it. When we have queer SFF on the regular that just so happens to feature queer characters without being a story that centres entirely on their queerness, then I’ll shut up about it. Until then, I’ll say: I do not want queer fiction; I want fiction that happens to be queer.

And that’s precisely what Timekeeper is.

Timekeeper is also a brilliant story that makes Sim look like she’s been published for years, not, in fact, her debut novel. The world is richly-plotted and expertly conveyed, mixing her unique magic and myth effortlessly with the more modern setting of a Victorian England only slightly different from our own. Her prose is deep and magical, adding a touch of wonder to the manner of setting that would usually present as either high-society propriety or the nitty-gritty of the streets. Timekeeper is enthralling and delightful and in one book, Sim managed to both write a story that finds a natural end, at the same time as setting the stage for subsequent books to follow.

Needless to say I am highly anticipating more from Sim—both in the Timekeeper world and in whichever additional worlds Sim decides to explore. This book was bloody brilliant. Buy it.