You should probably know, if you’ve been here a while, that I love little more than a good fantasy of manners, and this fun novella is a great start to a new series that looks like it’ll be exactly my cup of tea!Continue reading “Review: The Selkie Scandal”
This stunning Norse-inspired fantasy has everything going for it: great cover, exciting plot, and amazing character development!
Book: Beneath Cruel Fathoms by Anela Deen
Read before: No
Release date: 17th May 2020
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by author. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Violence and injury (including stitches); discussions of infertility; familial abuse, both emotional and physical; mentions of spousal abuse; scenes of near-drowning.
Beneath Cruel Fathoms is a gorgeous fantasy suffused with Norse mythology and full of phenomenal characters. When the story begins, healer Isaura is heading home to her father’s house, reeling from the break-up of her marriage, when the ship she’s traveling on is caught in a sudden storm and destroyed. There’s no hope of surviving the wreck – or there wouldn’t be if not for Leonel, the last of the merfolk, who saves her life. But Leonel doesn’t rescue her out of the goodness of his heart, and this is not the Little Mermaid retelling you’re imagining… Rather, he needs Isaura’s help to prove that there’s something sinister and unnatural behind these storms, and he’s willing to break all the rules of the sea to prove it and finally earn the respect of his divine parents and siblings. Their forbidden partnership could have dangerous consequences for both of them, but something else builds between them that may well prove to be just as valuable as the answers to Leonel’s investigations.
There’s a remarkable amount packed into these 350-odd pages, and it’s a real testament to the writing that I never felt like the different elements were fighting for attention; every part of the world bolsters something else. We have the mystery of the storms, and the dangerous magical war they herald, but even while I was thoroughly engrossed in the investigation, I was watching a sweet and rewarding love story develop. And every step of the romance was twined intimately with the character development of Leonel and Isaura – and every part of their personal journeys drew on the worlds they grew up in. I loved how fully realised this world feels, and how the mythological and magical aspects weave through everything – it’s a really vivid setting that will stick with me for a while. There’s also a good measure of humour, particularly when the book leans into the classic mermaid tropes and explores Leonel’s attempts to adjust to land habits like buttons and trousers!
The lover of court fantasy in me adored the scenes at the underwater palace of Leonel’s father, King Ægir. Ægir and Ran, in Norse mythology and here, are the parents of nine daughters who are the personifications of the waves, and I loved their vicious, formal family dynamic – it’s not a family I’d want to be in, for sure, but I loved reading about them. Leonel is not a figure from mythology, so it’s really interesting to see how he fits in (or doesn’t!) to the family and the world – he’s Ran’s son from another relationship, though he has been adopted by Ægir, and no one ever lets him forget his status as an outsider. This is of course compounded by the fact that he’s the last of the merfolk, and feels very disconnected from his heritage – I thought his struggles with wanting to be self-sufficient, but also battling intense loneliness, were very well depicted, and as much as I love a palace, I was immediately rooting for him to find something he could more accurately call home.
Where I think Deen really excels is in her characters, which is what tends to make or break a book for me. You can have all the clever world-building ideas you want, but a book won’t truly sing unless the characters feel like living, breathing people, and Beneath Cruel Fathoms is a fabulous example of this. Underneath all the adventure and romance is a really heartfelt message about finding a way to believe in yourself after years of thinking you’re worthless, and it’s beautifully done. Both Isaura and Leonel have a huge amount of self-loathing – him because of his mortal nature and his constant belittlement at the hands of his family, and her because of her broken marriage and struggles to have children – and their growth throughout the book feels realistically difficult, but also extremely satisfying. Isaura’s emotional journey in particular is beautifully nuanced, and will resonate with a lot of women who have felt their self-worth is tied in some way to their fertility – I’ll reiterate my content warning from above and say to watch out if this is a sensitive subject for you, as it can be intense. As I say, this is just such good character work – Isaura and Leonel both have to realise that they are so much more than single facets of their identity, which wouldn’t work at all if the reader didn’t also believe that! Though this is definitely more fantasy than romance, the attention to the subtleties of how two people can grow separately and together is worthy of the best romance novel.
Overall, I suppose this is quite a dark book, full of the grim realities of humanity (and divinity) and with plenty of dramatic violence, but something about it feels very hopeful. Isaura and Leonel can make a difference to the world, and not just in the heroic sense, but in small, domestic ways too, creating happiness in each other and the people around them. It seems silly to call a book that’s so full of icy sea-spray and battle “cosy”, but it has that comforting, uplifting, optimistic quality that really makes me adore a book. I actually think it perfectly captures the vibe of Norse mythology – wild and dangerous but with a real sense of place and community.
This is the first book in a trilogy, but it looks like focus will switch to Isaura’s brother, Jurek, and Leonel’s sister, Ava, in the next book. Isaura and Leonel’s story wraps up in a very satisfying way, while still leaving the wider world open for the sequel – and wow, did that ending leave me excited for Between Savage Tides, which is coming out in August! Five out of five cats!
It’s already April, unbelievably, so it’s time to check in on not only the last month, but also the quarterly goals I set myself at the beginning of the year! This will be quite a chatty check in, so I’ve bolded my new goals for easier reading.
This month has been a phenomenal reading month for me – my best since I started keeping track on the blog! I read 56 books in March, bringing me up to a total of 122 so far this year.
This was definitely helped by the introduction of #SweepUpYourSmols, which is my new readathon – you may be aware I’ve run #ConquerAChonker for a good while now, which is where you spend a weekend making time to read a long book, but I’ve just added this sister readathon, where you spend the weekend after reading the shortest books on your TBR. When I take the time to read a longer book over several days, I always feel like I need to swing back the other way to avoid getting slumpy, and it definitely did what I wanted it to! I read 11 books under 300 pages over the #SweepUpYourSmols weekend alone.
It also helped that I started to get very frustrated with my TBR, as I’ll discuss in the next section, so I really made a huge push to weed out some older things I knew I wouldn’t want to keep or review! I DNFed a bunch of things too, but I don’t tend to count those anywhere.
As a reminder, I’m aiming for 300 books read in 2021, so I’m pretty sure I’m doing okay… I really need to work on actually logging these in Goodreads, though!
My Owned TBR
My goal for April 1st was to go from 505 books to 480 books on my TBR. I ended up at 473, which I’m really pleased with! During March, I realised I had totally failed on getting the TBR below 500 – it went up during January, and I started March at 509 books. So really, all the reading down happened in the last month!
However, I’m even more frustrated with my TBR as a whole than I was on January 1st. It’s got to the point where even books I was incredibly excited to read when I got them have started to feel more like obligations, and I genuinely hate having to choose my next read because I have to prioritise one book over all the other hundreds waiting.
I feel like having such a large TBR keeps me on the back foot when it comes to reading. I’ve not been able to do any rereads for a long time, which means some of my very favourite books I haven’t touched in a couple of years. I also feel like it means I don’t get the chance to show you the books that really represent my reading taste, but are less current – I never talk about my love of Robin Hobb, for example! At my current reading rate, I have just about a year and a half’s worth of books planned out for me in advance, and that’s really not as much fun as being able to read more freely – plus, I have a baby, a job, and a ton of other hobbies, so I can’t spend all my time as focused as I was in March! Great books are only going to keep getting released, so something has to give. Clearing out my TBR to be somewhere under 100 would give me so much breathing space – I don’t know when I’ll get there, but I’m determined to make it at some point.
This time, I’m going to be setting a monthly goal (to avoid that last minute crunch again), so by May 1st, I’d like to have no more than 460 books on the TBR. It’s only a reduction of 13 books overall, but my birthday is at the end of April so I’m leaving lots of room for any book-shaped presents!
Physical Review Copies
I’m back down from 62 to 57 physical review copies, with 11 read and awaiting review, 7 of which are for two Kitten Corner posts. This is definitely not going well! I started the year with 47, and although there has been a lot of turnover, I have been hugely lucky with ARCs being sent to me both requested and unsolicited, and I spent a lot of time in March focusing on clearing out books other than review copies, as I mentioned. I was supposed to be getting down to 30 by April 1st, so I’m clearly going to need to rethink this one. It’s not just about reading them, it’s about making time to review them too! I think a smaller monthly goal will help, so let’s say I’ll try to get this down to 50 by May 1st. I don’t have too many requests in with publishers for April/May, so hopefully I’ll surpass this.
I actually had a great month, despite having to re-evaluate some of my goals. Most of the 54 books I read I really enjoyed, even the ones I decided not to keep!
Least favourite: A Frozen Heart by Elizabeth Rudnick; The Book of Swords Part 2 ed. Gardner Dozois
Favourites: To Be Taught If Fortunate by Becky Chambers; Voidbreaker by David Dalglish; The Raven Heir by Stephanie Burgis
Shortest: Sometimes by Stephanie Stansbie and Elisa Paganelli
Longest: Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin
How was your reading month? If you have a wrap-up post, I’d love to see it!