Thirty years ago, the gods tore each other apart. Now scavengers search the deep for pieces of their bodies to sell for technology. When fifteen-year-old Hark finds a still beating heart of a long-dead deity, he uses it to heal his best friend Jelt. But Jelt starts to change. Can Hark prevent him from becoming a monster?
Frances Hardinge is one my favorite YA authors. Her works are consistently original, often featuring scenarios that border on the weird or creepy, and always featuring a richly developed world. Deeplight once again showcases Hardinge’s signature talents as it introduces readers to a world where the gods once lived beneath the waves, rising up periodically to kill the islanders, always needing to be appeased–but now the gods are dead. Pieces of their bodies are scavenged and sold as relics, not to be worshipped, but to be used for their mysterious and powerful properties. Tensions are high on the islands are some celebrate the deaths of the gods, but others wish for their return. But what were the gods, really? These deep questions lie beneath the surface of a story that is, by turns, mysterious, action-packed, and just a little heartbreaking. Readers looking for a YA title unlike any other will love Deeplight.
Books that give me something to think about, rather than simply presenting a fast-paced plot to keep me entertained, are the books I love the most. They are the books that stay with me, that keep me pondering them, that make me reread them. Frances Hardinge’s Deeplight does just this, by raising questions about the nature of religion and the gods we worship. In her world, the gods were once visible, massive creatures that lived beneath the ocean. People saw them, spoke to them. But then they disappeared, and no one knows why. Their absence creates an opportunity for people to wonder: what were the gods really? Was the world better with them? Or is it freer without them and the fear they inspired? The world of Deeplight may be fantasy, but the questions the people ask of themselves are questions readers may ask, too.
Along with these thought-provoking questions comes a riveting story headed by, as is so often the case with Hardinge’s stories, a protagonist is more than a little flawed. Hark has grown up on the streets and has not as many moral scruples as one might wish, but he has done what he had to to survive. He has, however, a fascinating character arc that sees him struggling between two possibilities: a life among “respectable” folk where he no longer needs to lie and steal, or a life with the friends who grew up with him and supported him. Part of his journey will be coming to a realization of what true friendship is, and what it demands. Hark may be imperfect, but he is sympathetic–and, indeed, very interesting.
The plot, too, will keep readers engaged with its twists and turns. Readers may suspect that they know a little of what will happen when Hark finds a god relic in the depths of the ocean. It seems to be changing his friend Jelt–but not in a way that is good. But Hardinge keeps things fresh with surprising revelations, deep betrayals, and plenty of action. Deeplight is a book readers will want to carve out reading time for, so they can immerse themselves completely.
Deeplight is a riveting YA fantasy that introduces readers to an original, detailed world and gives them an action-packed story headed by an unusual, but intriguing protagonist. It is an impressive piece of writing, one sure to make Hardinge fans out of any readers who have not yet been exposed to her work.