Review: Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Alexis:

Hi, everyone. I’m finally done with my first year of grad school, and you know what that means– I get to read for fun again!

Deeplight starts out as a slow burn. At first, it turned me off a little bit, but I know Frances Hardinge; she’s one of my favorite authors! She is a masterful worldbuilder, and she spends the first 100 pages exploring the world of Deeplight and letting you dig into the mind of her characters in order to set up a powerful punch later.

Synopsis: Deeplight follows Hark, a fifteen-year-old boy who’s a little lost in the world. He just feels like a sidekick to his longtime friend, Jelt, until he’s put on trial for a crime and sold as an indentured servant. If you couldn’t tell from the front cover, the story is set on an island, called Lady’s Crave, where thirty years ago, the sea gods “turned on one another and tore each other apart.” If the islanders are lucky, they can find relics of the dead gods called “godware,” which are powerful and valuable. Hark just so happens to find a heart, which saves the life of Jelt. But when it starts to change Jelt, and not in a good way, Hark searches for answers with the help of a girl named Selphin and an old priest named Quest. 

I think this is the first book I’ve read by Hardinge that has a boy narrator instead of a girl. I will admit: I kind of wish the story was told from the perspective of Selphin, a girl he meets on his journey. I connected with her character a little more than Hark. 

The plot picks up a ton during the second half of the book, and I found myself really appreciating how she set up the world in the first half. Hardinge’s plot always goes in a direction I’m not expecting, and her books (including this one!) are always the epitome of fantasy, always delving deep into her dark, imaginative world and filling them with masterful descriptions. And this is why she’s one of my favorite authors!

I love the morally grey characters, and how Hardinge focuses on a toxic friendship, a topic not often explored in fantasy. I think the character arcs were great. Hardinge also created a world where deaf culture is normal and accepted, and the characters often use sign language to talk to each other. Overall, this book is a well-drawn, imaginative sea story that travels in unexpected, vivid directions. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 

 

Review: The Afterlives by Thomas Pierce

Alexis: Read 3/7/19

This book had an interesting premise, so why not check it out? After a cardiac arrest episode that leaves him legally dead, Jim Byrd lives with a device called the HeartNet. The HeartNet will continue to pump his heart if another cardiac arrest occurs. But now Jim is faced with his own mortality, and can’t help thinking about the afterlife. He and his new wife, Annie, try to figure out the afterlife by attending a new church called the Church of Search, by ghost hunting, and by tracking down a woman who claims she has a machine that will allow you to talk to the dead.

The story is in first person, told by Jim himself. But snippets of the past intersect his story. These snippets are in third person, following a cast of characters who lived in an old house, which is now a haunted restaurant. Jim and Annie aren’t sure why the house is haunted, though one of the house’s former owners, Clara, had a dog who died in a fire. I really liked these snippets into the past and thought it was an interesting choice to include them in the story.

I also really enjoyed Pierce’s writing style. His writing is conversational, and his sentences all have a pleasing cadence. Every character is a round character, with their own idiosyncrasies and passions and opinions on the afterlife.

The book has a small frame that mimics stage directions of a play. I found this fitting, as Annie is a playwright:

“Exit heartbeat. / Exit breath. / Exit every mood, every memory. / Exit you. / To where” (3)?

I enjoyed the sections about the ghost hunt, the machine, and Jim’s musings on life and death, which includes heart worries and panic attacks. There wasn’t much of a plot, and a lot of the middle section was spent on interactions with minor characters and minor plot points. Most of the book almost felt like a memoir or character study of Jim’s life. I enjoyed the beginning and the end, but I felt like 100 pages could’ve been cut out of this book and it would’ve made it more impactful.

The book also takes on a sci-fi edge, with the machine and the inclusion of holograms becoming a part of normal life. The book stretches over decades of Jim’s life, including decades into the future, but I found the holograms an odd choice for the book. Maybe they’re supposed to be symbols, like ghosts, in between life and death?

VERDICT: 3 out of 5 books