#WritersReviews: Deeplight


written by Frances Hardinge

cover design by Aitch

published by Macmillan Children’s Books

on Halloween 2019

448 pages in hardback


dark, strangely beautiful and perilous

Synopsis from publisher

From Frances Hardinge, the Costa Award-winning author of The Lie Tree comes Deeplight – an underwater adventure as dangerous as the gods themselves . . .

The gods of the Myriad were as real as the coastlines and currents, and as merciless as the winds and whirlpools. Then one day they rose up and tore each other apart, killing many hundreds of islanders and changing the Myriad forever.

On the jumbled streets of the Island of Lady’s Crave live Hark and his best friend Jelt. They are scavengers: living off their wits, diving for relics of the gods, desperate for anything they can sell. But now there is something stirring beneath the waves, calling to someone brave enough to retrieve it. Something valuable. Something dangerous.

Nothing is quite as it seems, and when the waves try to claim Jelt, Hark will do anything to save him. Even if it means compromising not just who Jelt is, but what he is . . .

A Reader’s perspective:

The moment I heard just the title of Frances Hardinge’s new novel Deeplight, I knew I would have to read it. Then I saw glimpses of Aitch’s weird and decidedly wonderful cover. Friends and readers of this blog will know I am besotted by the sea, so a new marine fantasy from one of my favourite authors excited my grabby little hands to itching point. I admit I did some begging to get a proof copy – I’m not proud.

It was well worth a grovel.

I realise ‘immersive’ is a cliché when talking about a thick, complex book set in an alternative world, but it couldn’t be more appropriate for Deeplight. It takes the reader into the benthic depths of a strange ocean – and like the BBC’s Blue Planet series, you are amidst an extraordinary ecosystem. Frances Hardinge takes you on a long voyage with many a shock, a twist or a surprising revelation – but if you’re anything like me, you won’t want it to end.

There’s a wealth of remarkable characters with their own tales on the landward side, but it is the strained and shifting friendship of scavengers Hark and Jelt that features most. Everyone changes – even you, dear reader – among the strange currents of The Myriad. Distortion, danger and deceit are inevitable here – but there’s courage, resourcefulness and honesty as answers. Deeplight deals with larger-than-whale-sized ideas and makes no concessions on that front.

Recommended for experienced readers with stamina, imagination and curious minds. If you don’t like reefs of weirdness, if you don’t like huge themes passing by and shoals of strangely-coloured words, it’s probably not for you. Oh, I wish I’d had books like this to read in those curious straits between child and adult – so glad to read it now.

Front and back of proofs – image via author

Comments from a Writer and Editor:

Deeplight triumphantly breaks the so-called rules. It happily contains

  • a prologue full of ‘telling’ – which works ( so hard to do)
  • huge ideas in a long story – with enough pull of drama to make you read on
  • uncompromising intelligence – it is not an easy read
  • older characters who are essential players in a tale for teens – and it works
  • a profoundly unfamiliar setting – not one reference to popular culture or anything like
  • not entirely ‘likeable’ central characters – though they become utterly credible
  • debates about politics and religion; fear, science and technology
  • deep emotions and thoughtful reasoning
  • an epilogue

and gives intense hope to any writer whose work does not resemble the usual expectations for YA.

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