Title: The Abyss Surrounds Us
Author: Emily Skrutskie
Release Date: February 8, 2016
For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She's been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas's first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas's dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water. There's no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea. But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she's not about to stop.
The Abyss Surrounds Us is a futuristic adventure on the high seas, a tale of harsh pirates and frightening sea monsters. Of danger, fear, and strength.
Cassandra is a smart girl caught up in a dangerous situation. Kidnapped by pirates, forced to raise their stolen Reckoner pup, watched by a rough pirate girl, her back is against the wall in more ways than one. But she has her ideas. She has a plan or two. She knows Reckoners, how they grow up, how to train them. Cas could use this situation to her advantage. But pirates are treacherous, none more so than Santa Elena, and sometimes appealing, like the street smart but possibly helpful Swift.
This is a different sort of science fiction, the kind that's grounded on Earth but pushing the limits of current technology. Like the Reckoners, genetically engineered marine creatures bred to grow, to protect and defend ships out on the high seas. Some things, like pirates, will never disappear over time. There will always be scavengers and dishonest hunters out there, searching for unsuspecting victims and a bounty they can use until the next battle. The pirate fill the book with their standard shades of grey when it comes to morals. Yes, their actions are criminal, and yes, they know what what they're doing is wrong, but everyone has a family to feed. Everyone protects their home, their way of living. The longer Cas spends on the ship, the longer she treads water in those murky grey waters.
I wish books like this were more common, genre fiction with heroines of colour who are attracted to other girls. There are so few main characters in sci-fi and fantasy who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, and all the other terms that are part of the LGBTQ spectrum. More of their stories are being told, being published, in a contemporary setting, but what about in genre fiction? I would love to read more YA like this, to find more fantasy settings and futuristic settings with main characters where are anything but white and straight.
I found this book to be dangerous and exciting, full with rocks and hard places and seemingly impossible decisions that Cassandra was forced to make. I loved the futuristic setting, the ships and the Reckoner on the wide open ocean. I loved how Cassandra's attraction to Swift was just there, how it didn't feel the need to explain or justify itself. How it said 'this book is going to be about sea monsters and pirates and a girl who want to make out with another girl.' It shouldn't feel so refreshing to find a book like this, it shouldn't be so rare. If you're looking for something different, a book about sea monsters and pirates, a book full of complicated female characters, for a massively diverse genre fiction YA, then read this book.
(I received an e-galley of this title to review from Flux through NetGalley.)