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Review: The Vanishing Deep by Astrid Scholte

on March 9, 2020

The Vanishing Deep
Astrid Scholte
Allen & Unwin
2020, 432p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Seventeen-year-old Tempe was born into a world of water. When the Great Waves destroyed her planet, its people had to learn to survive living on the water, but the ruins of the cities below still called. Tempe dives daily, scavenging the ruins of a bygone era, searching for anything of value to trade for Notes. It isn’t food or clothing that she wants to buy, but her dead sister’s life. For a price, the research facility on the island of Palindromena will revive the dearly departed for twenty-four hours before returning them to death. It isn’t a heartfelt reunion that Tempe is after; she wants answers. Elysea died keeping a terrible secret, one that has ignited an unquenchable fury in Tempe: Her beloved sister was responsible for the death of their parents. Tempe wants to know why.

But once revived, Elysea has other plans. She doesn’t want to spend her last day in a cold room accounting for a crime she insists she didn’t commit. Elysea wants her freedom and one final glimpse at the life that was stolen from her. She persuades Tempe to break her out of the facility, and they embark on a dangerous journey to discover the truth about their parents’ death and mend their broken bond. But they’re pursued every step of the way by two Palindromena employees desperate to find them before Elysea’s time is up–and before the secret behind the revival process and the true cost of restored life is revealed.

I enjoyed Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte so I was quite excited for a new title from her. And this sounded really interesting – a futuristic world where most of the population live on man made communities on the water after a huge tidal wave/flooding covered most of the land on the planet. For Tempest, the water is all she has ever known. She makes her living by diving the ruins of old cities, searching for valuables that can be traded for Notes, the currency used. For two years, she has been hoarding Notes in order to revive her sister Elysea, who drowned. Tempest wants answers and the scientific research facility on the nearby island of Palindromena specialise in reviving loved ones at a price – and for just 24 hours only. For Tempest, that will be enough time for Elysea to give her the answers she needs about their parents’ death, which it seems Elysea knew much more about than she let on.

Loved the sound of this but unfortunately I felt like a lot of this didn’t live up to my expectations. Firstly, the character of Tempest was just really hard to read from. Look, I get the problems of reviving someone for 24hrs, forget about that moral debate. Tempest knows the rules going in but then she pretty much not only breaks every single one of them but then also seems to feel that other people should give their lives so her sister might live again permanently. She’s really aggressive about it and I know it’s an emotional response but there’s actually not a lot of sense in what she’s saying and she completely ignores the fact that someone else would experience what she has if it were to go the way she wanted. Her sister drowned, she’s dead. At that stage, why does she get the right to live over someone else? Then there becomes this huge conspiracy theory on the parents’ deaths and everything turns out that it’s not as it seems and there’s lots of other things going on.

The story with the parents just got more out there as the book went on but for me, the book really lacked genuine tension. There are scenes that feel like they’re supposed to build it and make you feel like these characters are in terrible danger but everything just peters out really quickly and you don’t even have time to feel like you should be worried. There’s a clock counting down Elysea’s 24 hours as “revived” but it feels like they pack so many things into that 24 hours that the time ceased to have any meaning whatsoever. They take the boat to some place that it’s supposed to be almost impossible to get to because it’s so dangerous in order to search for clues about their parents (and the ease of which what happens next occurred was unbelievable). Then when Elysea’s time is almost up they come up with some sort of magic solution to her impending demise only for that to be overtly complicated with about twelve other twists in the narrative, one big one that I think is supposed to be shocking but I don’t know, it just felt so convenient, like of course this is going to happen now in order for Tempest and Elysea to circumvent the rules. I was also curious about how Elysea could wake up from being basically ‘in cold storage’ as bodies are kept in some sort of suspended animation but be like the same physical person as she was the day she died. No muscle atrophy or something, which is always an issue with people who are immobile. She’s running and dancing and piloting boats.

Great idea but too many inconsistencies in the actual story for me. The world is never really adequately explained (I’m not sure if it’s a futuristic Earth or somewhere else), Palindromena has this amazing technology to revive dead people (how does that work, it all seems to focus on the heart but doesn’t drowning do irreparable damage to your brain?) but pretty much everyone else lives on fish and what they can scavenge from drowned cities. Maybe pump a bit of that technological development into more food and goods for your citizens and those nearby. Also if everyone is doing this, how come Tempest and Elysea have their own private place to dive that no one else seems to know about? How were the man made cities built? Who rules over them? I also found the story of the sisters’ parents hugely unsatisfying and lacking in any real coherence or logic and the way in which it ends also felt disappointing. The rules about the boats are weird. And then there’s how much I disliked Tempest and her irrational behaviour and her anger. Don’t hate the player Tempest, hate the game.

6/10

Book #36 of 2020

The Vanishing Deep is book #16 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020


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