Title: Beneath Cruel Fathoms (Bitter Sea Trilogy #1)
Author: Anela Deen
Genre: Fantasy / Myth
Publication Date: May 2019
After a violent storm destroys her ship, Isaura Johansdottir knows better than to hope she’ll be rescued from Eisland’s vast Failock Sea. Adrift and alone, her plans to start over lost, it’s a tragic conclusion after the disastrous end of her marriage—until she’s saved by Leonel, one of the merfolk, a creature long believed extinct. In repayment for her life, Leonel enlists her help to investigate the Failock’s mysterious and deadly plague of squalls.
As storms spread, Leonel and Isaura uncover secrets as forbidden as the bond that grows between them. Betrayal lurks in the restless sea, and when ancient powers lay siege to Eisland’s coast, the truth may be drowned along with everything else.
BREW SOME TEA… THIS IS A LONG REVIEW. <<<LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD >>>
First off, how awesome is this cover?! The author of this book contacted me a while ago for a book review (read: almost a year… yes, my shame is real) and this has sat on my Kindle shelf for months. What’s worse than taking A YEAR to finally read this book? Only being aware NOW of its greatness. How can that be worse? Well, I could have read this book a year ago! I’d be well in to the remainder of the trilogy by now if I’d given it a try when I should have.
Okay, pitiful rant over.
While I adore mermaid characters in MG books, the same can’t often be said for my feelings on their inclusion in the adult/YA fantasy age groups. They usually all follow the same plot line and then things get BORING. That was not the case with this book. Well, there was some predictability and following of the general trend: character finds out mermaids are real + falls for a mermaid + some light myth involved + some light action + HEA (with some challenges to overcome still ) = THE END.
In the case of Beneath Cruel Fathoms all of these features were there BUT (and it’s a significant but) the story wasn’t really about all of that fantasy jazz. I mean sure, it was interesting and I enjoyed how the author incorporated mythology in to this story in a manner that made it feel relatable but the true selling point of this were the characters. If you’re a fantasy-nut though this book will give you everything you’d normally enjoy and then just a little bit more of the good stuff. Because it’s awesome like that.
Leonel and Isaura were the two MCs of this book, told in alternating POV, and they BLEW ME AWAY. Here were two emotionally scarred individuals STILL capable of being courteous to one another and considerate. Don’t even get me started on the trope: [insert character name] is an asshole because they [insert traumatic past] and all of their actions should forever be forgivable in a selfless display of courtesy by [insert victim] that is never returned nor appreciated by said asshole.
Isaura did not hold her past against those who threatened her comfortability but rather appealed to her healer nature: she sought to give them the calm she could not find for herself. It was inspiring to read about and came across as so damn genuine, mature and authentic. She was not without flaws however, these defined her. She did not apologise for them and was unapologetically real. Isaura struggled with her infertility and crumbled marriage. Deen did not sugar coat this and you could tell the emotions involved in building Isaura’s character were authentic, as explained by Deen in her acknowledgements. Deen’s own struggle with infertility gave Isaura’s emotions a depth that was heart-wrenching.
Leonel however, was my favourite character. Deen managed to create a character that had suffered emotional abuse, abandonment and ridicule his entire life for being different but was still capable of being genuinely caring toward others. As the last of the merfolk, a species looked down upon for their association with humans, Leonel’s childhood and adolescence had been rife with bullying and loneliness. Accustomed to the loneliness Leonel strived to protect the Fathoms (ocean) as a Guardian in a manner that was never offered to him. He was capable of emotional growth that was awe-inspiring.
Just like that, she defeated the gods. Not with indifference and irreverence, but with resolve founded on compassion. Why had he ever believed strength came from a hardened heart? Determination and emotion were bound to each other. Victory could never be reached by the hand that knew nothing of grace.
Leonel and Isaura’s character development during their budding relationship was engaging and so sweet to read BUT GET THIS: I would have been happy even if they didn’t stay together. Their individual growth and support of one another was simply beautiful and I would have been so, so emotionally satisfied if Anela did the bittersweet ending thing. Don’t worry though, there’s a HEA in this that was perfectly steeped in reality as opposed to overdone mush.
I won’t swear we’ll never argue. I will not say you’ll only know happiness each day. Life is too full and too wide for such claims. But I will swear to always stand by you. I will swear my heart is yours.
*Cue sobbing moment*
You just need to read this book. Okay? Okay.
Obviously = 5 STARS.