Title: The Wicked Deep
Author: Shea Ernshaw
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal
Publisher: Simon Pulse
“We wait for death. We hold our breath. We know it’s coming, and still we flinch when it claws at our throats and pulls us under.” ―
Despite having water as a motif, I found “The Wicked Deep” to be incredibly dry. Like, on a scale of dryness there is Sahara, middle-Australia, then The Wicked Deep.
I picked up this book because a.) I’ve heard great things about it—a dark tale, focusing on three sisters as they extract their revenge on a town wrongfully murdering them 200 years ago, and b.) because the cover is pretty. (I’m a simple person, I know).
The writing is rich with beautiful imagery and descriptions. However, I found the writing a little too exposition heavy for me at times. Although I can see how the writing can come across as lyrical and beautiful—however for me, I felt like I was an unlucky nail getting constantly hammered about the townspeople and the lore of the Swan sisters. The first few swings were great and powerful but after a while… Like the unlucky nail being used by a novice carpenter, I was getting bent in all the wrong places. Towards the end of the book I was tired and happy it was over (in a way).
Don’t get me wrong, there were aspects of the book where the atmosphere was so rich and chilling. At times, the atmosphere was so dark, I felt suffocated in that small town. That was great. I liked how the author wove details about the townspeople, the town history, and the morbid tale of the Swan sisters. As a result, I can see why people would enjoy this book.
Although, I did find the town odd for the way it conducted itself regarding the Swan sister tragedy—but then again, that’s how morbid tourism works.
The one thing that ultimately affected my reading experience was the characters.
Whilst there are multiple drownings and death, I felt the biggest victim of this tale was Penny Talbot.
Bo—the mysterious guy™, here for the SPOILER vengeance. Upon discovering that he’s in Sparrow searching for answers regarding his brother’s death is understandable. I get why he was closed off at first. However! SPOILER: When he discovers that perhaps killing the host (PERSON!) may destroy the Swan sisters, he doesn’t blink. He’s up to killing the girls. Upon reading his nonchalance of killing an innocent host (PERSON)… I just. At least, if he had some sort of questioning or hesitation… I just… Wow.
Swan sisters: I didn’t mind them too much. It was interesting reading about them. However, I found Hazel to be incredibly insufferable. Hazel was the most detestable sister of the three. SPOILER: There’s the whole ‘change of heart’—but like Hazel’s sister said, “You are what you are” and it’s true. After two centuries, Hazel is still self-centred and intolerable. The fact that Hazel chose Penny’s body for three years and did what she did with Penny’s body says a lot about Hazel’s character. No regards to the real Penny—just ‘oh, but I like Penny (as MY vessel) and her life’.
Let me elaborate as to why the real Penny is the victim here. SPOILER: Hazel chose Penny as a host for three years. Penny has no idea. Things we know (or more accurately, things I remember) Hazel used Penny’s body for:
- Hazel used Penny’s body to kill Penny’s father. Wait. Let that sink in.
- Penny has no idea what happened to her father and continuously wonders about him and his whereabouts
- Penny’s mother knows what happened and the truth gnaws at her. OBVIOUSLY, her mother can’t inform Penny without Penny realising something was up. (I’d be pissed, confused, distraught, guilty, etc. if I found out I was possessed and killed my own father!) Therefore, Penny’s mother never informs Penny (I’m assuming), and consequently, Penny gets no closure!!
- Hazel uses Penny’s body to have sex with Bo. And Bo doesn’t know Penny is possessed. Penny doesn’t really know (?). That irked me.
- Hazel uses Penny’s body to lure Bo’s brother and kill him.
For me, consent is a major thing (especially with today’s culture, the #metoo movement, and the fact this book is marketed as ‘YA’). I felt like this book glossed over the technicalities of consent. Hazel, the youngest Swan sister, SPOILER: possessed Penny’s body and I felt there were no adequate discussion nor consequence! (That could’ve been an interesting and opportune moment!)
The whole aspect of Hazel’s actions and the weight of it all was glossed over. SPOILER: Oh, but Penny was starting to like Bo. Fair enough, but that doesn’t excuse Hazel’s actions. Oh, but Penny and Bo are falling in love at the end. Wait, but they’re not. Bo realises he is in love with Hazel (DESPITE HER CONFESSING SHE MURDERED HIS BROTHER). Oh, but Hazel is (finally) realising that killing innocent people is bad! AFTER 200 YEARS?!
gargles a groan
If that wasn’t insufferable enough, Hazel has the audacity to try and pull an “Oh, but it’s so hard being me! I can’t help murdering innocent boys!”
Like, I’m not saying this book needs to have a life lesson and whatnot, I just feel like it could at least note the repercussions or the implications of one’s action. I understand people read for fun and escape reality (I certainly do), but… yeah, I’m really seeing this book wasn’t for me.
I found this book dry due to the characters. I can’t fault the writing, nor the concept—the writing is beautiful. The concept is full of promise and intrigue. I just didn’t feel attached to any of the characters. With Bo, the love interest, it was difficult to connect at first due to his secrecy. However, as the book progressed, I started to warm up to him. With Penny, the protagonist and narrator, I just have a weird thing were I always like the narrator. And then the twist was revealed and I felt cheated and immediately disconnected with all the characters. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to empathise with Hazel, because I certainly don’t. SPOILER: And with Hazel being the narrator for 80% the book, that affected my reading experience.
I wouldn’t say there’s everything wrong with this book per se, rather, it wasn’t a book for me. If you’re a person who is interested in small-town lore of witches and whatnot with dark chilling undertones in the writing, this book may interest you. For me, it wasn’t the writing nor the concept of the book that irked me, it was the execution and a certain character. And whilst that aspect may not bother some people, it certainly bothered me.
In the end, a certain character did try to make things right and that is something I can’t ignore… but yeah. By the time I reached that point, I was tired—the dryness got to me. I’m dehydrated. I need water and an Advil after this.
“This town was built on revenge,” I say. “And it’s never made anything better or right.” ―
Rubric: How I rate:
Writing: (1 to 10) x 2 6×2 = 12
Plot: (1 to 10) x 2 4×2=8
Characters: (1 to 10) x 2 2×2=4
Execution: (1 to 10) x 2 4×2=8
Enjoyment: (1 to 10) x 2 1×2=2
Total / 20 = number of stars = 74/20 = 1.7 ≈1.5 stars