by Nichola Reilly
Published by Harlequin
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Drowned is set in a surreal postapocalyptic world, in the end days before the floods completely cover the planet. At first I thought this was a fantasy book – and it’s categorised as Fantasy on Goodreads – but slowly I came to realise that it is actually probably maybe cli-fi science fiction, set on Earth, with some magicalish biological elements, but not necessarily fantasy as such. Or something. It’s a fun thing to puzzle out, so I’m looking forward to the next book!
Several hundred humans remain in the known world, dubbed “Tides”. A wooden platform is the only refuge for (most of) the people at high tide. The society is heavily socially stratified, with every individual having their own set place in the spiral formation on the platform. Those considered the most expendable in the society are on the outside; children are in the centre, the safest spot. The outer echelons of the spiral are frequently washed off by waves or eaten by scribblers, which are terrifying carnivorous eel/sandworm critters. The scribblers shriek, not hiss, but I’m still getting a Priness Bride vibe!
At low tide, the people come down to the island to scavenge and fish. The world remains dangerous at low tide, however – the danger being not just from scribblers, but from other humans. This is a society in a death spiral (hrm, sorry) of despair, as the waters ever so slowly rise higher, and the platform becomes more rickety, with not enough salvage to fix it properly. There is a desultory programme of sending people off in boats on an “Explore” to find other survivors, but no-one really expects them to return.
Our main character, Coe Kettlefish, is a teenage girl who lost a hand to scribbler attack when she was a small child. Coe is alone, her father being one chosen for an Explore in the past. Other people call her “Scribbler Bait”, because they consider that her disability makes her useless to their society, destined for the outer spiral and certain doom. For now, however, being below the age limit, she stands near the middle of the high-tide formation. Coe admires Tiam, the gorgeous, kind boy who stands next to her in the spiral, but she never really expects him to admire her back, especially since she always smells like poo. You can probably figure out the rest there.
There is one other dry area at high tide, apart from the decaying wooden platform. It is the very top of the castle tower, when the royal family live. Royal family, you say? Huh? Me too! But there they are, the dying king and Princess Star, lording it over everyone in their cushy castle. What is the secret of the royal family? How are they living so well? What lies past the horizons? What lies within the castle? And why isn’t “Scribbler Bait” dead yet?
I weirdly loved Drowned, though I didn’t expect to at first. The initial vagueness of the description of Tides ended up being a positive, not a negative: the gradual unfolding of the world held my attention, with new mysteries introduced along the way. Coe’s courage and curiosity buoys up a narrative that could be a bit bleak otherwise, and the way she deals with and feels about her impairment feels realistic. Best of all, this book doesn’t feel like every other YA dystopian/postapocalyptic book out there. The reveals near the end sank their hooks into me, leaving me looking forward to more. And since I can’t say any more about those reveals… Go read!
I received this book from Netgalley for review consideration.