Saturday 9 November 2019

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Deeplight by Frances Hardinge     {Reviewed by STELLA} 
Dive into the world of scavenger pirates, deep-sea mythologies, powerful gods and a people who trade for profit and intrigue in found godware. The latest book from the brilliant children's writer Frances Hardinge starts, in the best story-telling tradition, with a tale of wide-eyed wonder and unbelievable strangeness — poetic and mesmerising. Welcome to the world and fierce ocean mysteries of the Myriad. Hardinge poises us perfectly in the prologue to make the perfect dive headfirst, with curiosity and no regrets. The opening chapters, like a tumbling wave, tip over into the everyday world of Lady Crave Island, a rowdy and crowded port town where traders pass through, dealing in godware and seeking treasures, where those who are ‘marked’ carry their heads high — their daring of deep diving a source of pride, and where street urchins may eke out an existence. Here we encounter our hero Hark and his best friend (protector and profiteer) Jelt, playing tricks and turning a coin. It’s swagger and play-acting for two 14-year-olds needing an income and skating trouble. Not that Jelt shies away from trouble or making deals, and he’s not too concerned if Hark is dragged in as well — anything for a bit of godware, money or advantage. When Jelt agrees to a risky job for Captain Rigg — she rules the fiercest of the pirate gangs in Lady Crave — not everything goes to plan. And guess who is taking the rap! Hark is caught and ends up on the wrong side of the law and facing The Appraisal — he’s about to be auctioned. Only his silver tongue might save him from a surefire early death in the bowels of a hulking ship or submarine. He’ll never survive as a galley minion rowing endlessly in pursuit of godware. And a story he does spin, landing him a three-year indenture to the mysterious Dr Vyne, scientist — not as an assistant, but as her spy. He’s sent to the Sanctuary — a home for aged priests — to tease out their stories and their knowledge of the watery depths of the Myriad. The priests hold secrets that could unlock the power of the gods. As the stories of the old world unfold — tales of monstrous beasts in the Undersea, of the Cataclysm, of the mysteries of the Undersea godware — secrets creep to the surface. Driven by fascination, fear and the desire to harness the power of the Undersea gods, the League and the Governors are dabbling in ‘science’ and magic, yet they are not the only ones that are on a reckless journey. Jelt tracks Hark to his new home on the far-flung island of Nest to convince him that their fortunes can be made with a quick dip in a stolen Bathysphere. But the sea is unpredictable and unforgiving, and Jelt finds himself a treasure which is both pleasure and hindrance. What starts as a wild adventure, and what Jelt sees as the best of his deals so far, may just sink him further in the mysteries of the Undersea than he bargained for — and Hark along with him. Crossing Rigg wasn’t the greatest idea, but crossing her stubborn and ferocious daughter, Selphin, will take them all on a dangerous journey to the Undersea, a journey that will test their friendship, bravery and ethics. Will they make the right decision? Will they have any choice? Hardinge is an excellent story-teller. Her worlds are vivid and beautiful, her characters complex and engaging, and the plot is fascinatingly satisfying. Author of the Costa prize-winning The Lie Tree and the equally absorbing A Skinful of Shadows, Like Pullman and Ness she leaves you with plenty to think about and the desire to dive right back in.  

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