Title: Fear the Drowning Deep
Author: Sarah Glenn Marsh
Genre: Fantasy / Romance
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Publication Date: October 11th, 2016
Hardback: 304 Pages
Source: Personal Purchase
Witch’s apprentice Bridey Corkill has hated the ocean ever since she watched her granddad dive in and drown with a smile on his face. So when a dead girl rolls in with the tide in the summer of 1913, sixteen-year-old Bridey suspects that whatever compelled her granddad to leap into the sea has made its return to the Isle of Man.
Soon, villagers are vanishing in the night, but no one shares Bridey’s suspicions about the sea. No one but the island’s witch, who isn’t as frightening as she first appears, and the handsome dark-haired lad Bridey rescues from a grim and watery fate. The cause of the deep gashes in Fynn’s stomach and his lost memories are, like the recent disappearances, a mystery well-guarded by the sea. In exchange for saving his life, Fynn teaches Bridey to master her fear of the water — stealing her heart in the process.
Now, Bridey must work with the Isle’s eccentric witch and the boy she isn’t sure she can trust — because if she can’t uncover the truth about the ancient evil in the water, everyone she loves will walk into the sea, never to return.
“Nothing from the ocean is meant to survive on land forever.”
While not the horror novel it was billed to be, Fear the Drowning Deep nevertheless hit so many high notes with me that I wasn’t bothered by the lack of fear factor. The synopsis suggests strong notes of witchery and mysterious, murderous sea creatures, and quite honestly, the book doesn’t really deliver on those suggestions. What we get in Fear the Drowning Deep is a subtly eerie take on myths of the sea, one that is more evocative of historical fantasy than horror, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I want to make it clear upfront that the “witch’s apprentice Bridley” line from the blurbs is very much misleading. The witch, Morag, is more akin to a village herbalist, and Bridley isn’t her apprentice- she’s her housekeeper. If you’re looking for a book with a high magic/horror level, this likely isn’t the book for you. I wasn’t bothered by the lack of witchiness, personally. We do see several uses of low-magic in herbs, charms, and superstition-driven action, and for me those nods were enough. What I enjoyed most was how Marsh creates a palpable presence of dread within Drowning’s pages. The overall feel of the fishing village and its struggles is very real, and the fear that rises within the townsfolk as more and more of their number disappear believable. Bridley, as the only person who seems to notice the fantastical happenings surrounding their town, reads as a mostly sympathetic character who experiences more than a little growth from start to finish.
The book does have some problems, the most notable of which is the severe case of insta-love between Bridley and the amnesic foreigner Finn, who washed up on their stretch of beach. Insta-love is one of my bigger pet peeves, and while we are given a magical reason for it a bit late in the story, it was still a plot point that could easily have been left out of the final draft. It felt a bit as if the author thought there should be a romance, and so she included one, even though it wasn’t the best thing for the narrative. Finn is not a bad character, mind; he has a compelling personality, brings a rather unique perspective to the story, and his inclusion is necessary to the plot advancement. I just don’t feel that he fit as a love interest.
Fear the Drowning Deep is one of those books I enjoyed really for no other reason than it hit upon several areas that are happy buttons for me. Marsh deals with the superstitions surrounding the village “witch” in a well-researched manner, even providing accurate properties for the herbs and trinkets that Bridley gathers for Morag. The primary myths addressed in Drowning, that of the Glashtin, the shapeshifting waterhorse, and of the Fossegrim, the ghostly fiddler on the waves whose music calls a new bride to be drowned every night, are very well portrayed. The descriptions of the fossegrim in particular were very well done, and some of the more frightening in the book. The entire time I was reading this story, I had SJ Tucker’s “Glashtyn Shanty” running through my head- the mood of which, by the way, fits Drowning perfectly. Books that bring their own soundtracks unbidden to mind, are, usually, a success for me.
I would highly recommend Fear the Drowning Deep if you’re a fan of Gaelic myths and subtle horror, or are looking for a light read with an engaging setting. Despite its flaws, and the rather scattered marketing, I found it a fun and enjoyable read. This one will be going on my reread shelf, for sure.