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Review: The Vanishing Deep by Astrid Scholte

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

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

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.


Book #36 of 2020

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

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Review: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

Four Dead Queens
Astrid Scholte
Allen & Unwin
2019, 418p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Four Queens. A divided nation. A ruthless pickpocket. A noble messenger. And the murders that unite them.

Keralie Corrington is a talented pickpocket. She steals for the black market in her quadrant. Her nation is divided into four regions, each strictly separated from the other. Four queens, one from each quadrant, rule as one.

When Keralie steals a particularly valuable item from a messenger, she discovers she’s intercepted instructions to murder the queens. Hoping to find the culprit, Keralie teams up with Varin Bollt. But with Keralie and Varin each keeping secrets – and the lives of the queens hanging in the balance – everything is at stake. And no one can be trusted in a world full of ruthless thieves, black markets, a golden palace, daring heists, royal intrigue, noble messengers, forbidden love, four queens – each with a secret, and, of course, murder.

An enthralling fast-paced murder mystery where competing agendas collide with deadly consequences, Four Dead Queens heralds the arrival of an exciting new YA talent.

I had been hearing a lot about this book for what seemed like months in the build up to its release. It had a lot of buzz generated about it and it was enough to have me putting it on a list of books I was anticipating greatly in the first half of 2019. A stand alone fantasy title, Four Dead Queens has everything going for it – an eye catching cover, an intriguing premise and a release into multiple markets.

Keralie is a pickpocket, working for a notorious figure in her quadrant. She thieves items to be sold and when her boss challenges her to steal from a messenger, Keralie realises that there’s much more going on here than just a simple theft. When she realises what she’s stolen, Keralie teams up with the messenger she stole the item from, Varin Bollt, who is from another of the quadrants. She’s determined to prevent what she saw from happening….but sometimes, when things have been set in motion, it’s hard to stop a runaway train. And Keralie is going to realise just how much she’s being used in this scenario.

So I found the world building in this really interesting. The realm is divided into four quadrants and each quadrant focuses on a particular thing – and only that particular thing. So one grows food and shuns technology and provides all the food for the entire population. Another sector focuses on technology etc. Each sector is ruled by a Queen and all the Queens remain in the capital. The throne for each sector is passed down through the female line and as long as this system has been in place, there have always been daughters to inherit upon the death of a Queen. However when Keralie foresees the deaths of the four Queens it’s widely believed that all four are without heirs, which would thrown the entire realm into complete chaos.

Keralie is from Toria, the quadrant that values commerce and Varin is from Eonia, the quadrant that values medicine, technology and harmony. They are two very different quadrants and Keralie and Varin are two very different people. Keralie grew up in a fishing family but had zero interest in taking over from her father. Instead she learned to become a thief, working for a man who runs like a black market auction house. Childhood is very different in Eonia than in the other quadrants and Varin has had everything in his life mapped out for him. The two of them learn a lot about each other and life in other quadrants and perhaps how keeping everything so separate has had its negatives.

I really enjoyed Keralie, who is a complex character filled with mixed emotions about her upbringing and her time as thief and her ties to her childhood friend. I also appreciated her conflicted thoughts on her realisation of just how much she’d been manipulated and what exactly she had witnessed. I felt as though this was really quite well done and it was definitely a direction in the story that I had not been expecting. I liked her interactions with Varin and what they learn from each other and the pros and cons from the other’s way of life. It opens up a lot of dialogue about the dissection into quadrants and what that has resulted in.

We also get the perspective of each of the Queens and how each of them have their own secrets and thoughts on the way in which they must rule. I actually would’ve liked to know a bit more about the more day to day lives of the people living in the quadrants – we visit two of them in Toria and Eonia but the other two, Archia and Ludia are only described and we don’t actually get to experience them as such. We get a good example of life in Toria from Keralie and Varin gives a bit of an insight into life in Eonia and the Queens themselves kind of provide information on the other two, but it might’ve been nice to see properly I think.

Although this was enjoyable, there were times it felt a bit like it was attempting to do a bit too much and therefore, some of the aspects suffered a bit. There was sort of a semi-romance blossoming but its not given the time and attention it needs to allow the reader to really connect with it and the ending is a bit ambiguous and left a bit up in the air. Also there’s not really enough detail in the creation of the plot to kill the Queens, I don’t think. The culprit is easy enough to guess but the methods were a nice surprise, although once again it’s neatly tied up in ‘vague technology no one knows anything about’ which means that they can do things that really don’t require proper explanation which felt a tiny bit lazy.

On the whole, this was a very interesting read that I liked a lot with maybe a few tiny nitpicks here and there that detracted from the overall story (but nothing major). I would be very interested to see what Astrid Scholte comes out with next.


Book #37 of 2019

Four Dead Queens is the 17th book read and reviews for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019