Book Review: Young Adult: The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

The Abyss Surrounds Us cover

Cas has fought pirates her entire life. But can she survive living among them?

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.

Title: The Abyss Surrounds Us
Author: Emily Skrutskie, Twitter
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Post-apocalyptic SF
Publisher: Flux, Twitter
Publication Date: February 8, 2016
Format: Paperback
Length: 273 pages
ISBN-10: 0738746916
ISBN-13: 9780738746913

Series or Standalone: The Abyss Surrounds Us #1

Literary Awards: N/A

Themes: QUILTBAG, Romance, Pirates, climate science fiction
POV: 1st Person Singular
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Marisa Greene

Where I Got It: Recced by a friend

Cover Notes:  Holy crap, guys.  Loved this cover!  Normally I’m not much for textured titles, but this just fit so well.  The light effects are a bit flashy for me, but they’re story related, so I’m dealing with it.


There are good and bad things about this book.  I don’t love the first person present here.  It doesn’t feel like it serves the purpose I expect that set-up to serve.  The pacing doesn’t match it, mainly.  But I did like Cas’s voice, so that’s something, I guess.  I appreciated her snark in the face of adversity.  I wish the main characters were fleshed out a bit more, too.  Like, I get Swift is the mysterious stranger.  But I could have done with a bit more personality.

Now, the premise of the book is fantastic.  War leviathans?  Sign me up.  Also, the romance angle.  Although the execution was a bit lacking in this book, there’s a sequel.  It gets better, I think.  I should take now to mention I’ve already read the sequel.  A lot of stuff makes more sense, and more plot lines get tied up or at least explored, if you read the sequel.  It’s basically one story rather than two sequential stories.  I could still wish some things developed faster, but that’s how this structure works.

Although I liked Cas’s voice, I wish her character had been a bit less bland.  Besides her Reckoner training training, there’s not a ton to the character.  Perhaps it’s because the action/adventure part started so early.  But I would have liked more understanding of her relationship to her family.  More about who she was besides being a trainer in training.  I think this lack of development hurts her character in this book and the sequel.  It’s a lot more interesting for me when someone has to make tough decisions if I feel I know enough about them to justify both the internal conflict and their choice.

One of the main things I liked about this book was that Cas was both not white and not straight.  The sexual orientation aspect was really well handled, to me.  Not preaching, judging, ham-handedness.  But she seems so bland it’s hard to see any influence from her Asian heritage.  Maybe that’s how it should be.  Either way, it’s nice to see some diversity.

The setting for this story is pretty important.  It’s something of a climate science fiction story, with rising water levels and the break-up of big countries into smaller political units.  Thus the need for the Reckoners.  Although it’s only vaguely sketched out in the book, I think it works well as a backdrop, and there’s nothing that makes you feel like it’s a cheap gimmick.  It informs the attitudes of both the privileged “shore” people with national citizenship, and the nation-less “pirates”.

The supporting characters here, especially as you read the sequel, are very neatly-drawn.  Although the main villain in the first book is a bit one-note, banging the cruel manipulation drum non-stop, the rest of the “bad” characters have some nice nuance to them, which is something you don’t always see in these sorts of stories.

Because it’s the first of a duology, the conclusion leaves a bit to be desired, but it pays off by the end of the second book.  The only plot-hole was the whole trope of animals tasing human blood.  It was played up a lot by Cas, but in the end, as the SBTB review says, it didn’t seem to have much effect?

Finally, the romance angle was cool.  There’s a really fantastic scene where the concept of consent comes up.  You’ll know it when you see it.

Conclusion: 78/100 (Has its flaws, but totally worth it for the awesome sea monsters)
Premise: 10/10 (For awesome, even if the science is bullshit)
Plot: 7/10 (Pretty standard kidnapping story)
Setting: 8/10 (Could have been deeper but worked well)
Main Character: 7/10 (Pretty standard YA protag)
Orientation: 8/10 (No yuck, but little relevance?)
Romance: 8/10 (An extra point for dealing with consent issues)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Loved ’em)
Writing: 8/10 (Very smooth aside from the tense and perspective issues)
Themes: 7/10 (Standard but well-executed)
Resolution: 7/10 (First-book-itis)

Buy Or Borrow:  Buy or borrow, either one is a good choice here.

Similar Books:

Can’t think of any obvious similar books off the top of my head.  Paolo Bacigalupi’s Shipbreaker series, maybe?

Other Reviews:
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
Books, Bones, and Buffy
Rich in Color
The Lesbrary (major first-half spoilers!)

Buy Links:
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Kindle UK
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Book Review: Fantasy/Romance: The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory


The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.

Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.

Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.

Title: The House of the Four Winds
Author(s): Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory
Category: Adult Fiction/New Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Romance
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: August 5, 2014
Format: Digital Review Copy from NetGalley
Length: 231 pages
ISBN-10: 0765335654
ISBN-13: 9780765335654

Series or Standalone: One Dozen Daughters #1

Literary Awards:

Themes: Pirates
POV: Third Person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Marisa

How I Found It: I’ve always been a big Lackey fan, so when Nick told me he could get an ARC of her new series, of course I jumped at the chance.

Cover Notes: I thought the cover was lovely, but to start on a theme you can expect to see a lot of in my review, it felt very Pirates of the Caribbean to me.

Soundtrack: It might be a bit mean of me, but you won’t be surprised to know I read this one to the tune of my PotC soundtracks. Unsurprisingly, they fit it pretty well.


Maybe I over-hyped this book to myself, since I love Lackey so much. Perhaps I went into it with slightly inaccurate genre expectations. Either way, I found myself quite disappointed with this book. That’s not to say it’s awful. It’s a passable mix between a pirate romance and a fairy-tale. The plot mostly holds together, and most of the characters are interesting. But there’s nothing special about the book that grabs, and despite portraying itself as a fantasy romance, the fantasy elements are few and far-between, for the most part, and the romance has no meat to it. There’s insta-love on the part of Clarice, but 99% of the story pushes her relationship with Dominick towards friendship rather than romance. In fact, there’s something of a warm bro-mance between Dominick and Clarice’s alternate persona Clarence. I think the book might have been better if Clarice had been a boy, perhaps a disposable 12th prince instead of the 1st of twelve princesses.

The main plot of the story started out quite interesting, and up until half-way through the portion of the novel set in the eponymous House of the Four Winds, I thought the story was quite interesting. Despite a few small quibbles. But the direction the story took after that had horrible pacing, little suspense, and was chock-full of sailor lore cliches that added little to the story. There were three major conflicts in the story. The first, involving the mutiny, was fairly interesting and what at first appeared to be bad characterization in fact turned out to be an intriguing plot twist. I have to congratulate the authors on that one.

The second conflict/sub-plot, involving the aftermath of the mutiny and the character’s arrival at the House was also interesting. But it was rushed through, and the swash-buckling, pirate-wrangling adventure I was anticipating was almost immediately done away with.

The third conflict was cliche, rushed, and boring, with only one or two sparks of interest to carry me through it.

In the end, while this isn’t an awful book, and I don’t think I completely wasted my time reading it–short as it was, I’m not particularly excited to see the next few books in the series either. This was not of the quality I had come to expect from Mercedes Lackey. I haven’t read any of her other collaborations with James Mallory, so perhaps his influence has something to do with the lack. I’m not very motivated to find out, at this point.

Conclusion: 61/100 (A very cliche and rather boring Pirates of the Caribbean clone)
Premise: 6/10 (Fun and an old standard, but no interesting twist)
Plot: 5/10 (Cliche and a bit dull, but coherent)
Setting: 8/10 (Our world, but nicely re-imagined)
Main Character(s): 7/10 (Loved Clarice/Clarence, found Dominick rather flat)
World-building: 5/10 (paper-thin facade of an alternate earth, but coherent enough)
Romance Sub-plot: 5/10 (Sweet, but way under-developed)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Fun and diverse)
Writing: 7/10 (Decently-written, but not fantastic)
Themes: 4/10 (No real theme to add depth to the story)
Resolution: 6/10 (Rushed and hollow)

Buy Or Borrow: I’d say borrow unless you’re a huge Lackey fan or love nautical romance.

Similar Books:
I don’t read a lot of romance, but I’m sure there are similar books. As for fantasy, I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

Other Reviews:
Dear Author
Bibliophilia, Please
There Were Books Involved
Between the Pages
Imaginary Reads
Gun In Act One

Buy Links:
Barnes and Noble

Kindle UK Not available
Kindle US
Google Play