REVIEWED BY ARIELL CACCIOLA
A young unknown girl’s body washes ashore on the Isle of Man in 1913. Her sea-soaked body is seen by Bridey Corkill, a sixteen-year-old girl, who wishes to be rid of the sea, the briny air, and everything marine. Unfortunately for her, the sea inhabits her whole life and even haunts her past when, as a young girl, she witnessed her grandfather lured to a watery death. Now, villagers—girls and women—are disappearing in the night. Many assume they have left town, but others fear something far more sinister.
“They found her body at dusk, washed up in a tide pool with a handful of sea urchins and a slender green starfish. As they lifted the girl, her dark hair wrapped around her neck like seaweed.”
With the death of the unknown young girl also comes the arrival of a stranger who can’t seem to remember his name or where he came from. He’s injured and when Bridey finds him washed up on the shore, she comes to his aid along with aptly naming him Fynn.
Bridey is intrigued by the stranger: his accent is unlike hers, he's unable to speak the Manx language of the island, and right before washing up, Bridey swears she saw something swimming in the treacherous sea.
Besides the mysterious Fynn, Bridey is also surrounded by her loving family, including a mother suffering from nightmares and migraines. With each passing day, Bridey’s mother paints canvases depicting grotesque creatures and seascapes. Bridey fears the worst. She is soon sent to apprentice with Morag, an elderly woman who long ago had been branded a witch and now is known as an isolated crank. Bridey finds a sort of kinship with the wily Morag, who she will come to rely on when the sinister happenings become even more dire.
Debut novelist Sarah Glenn Marsh is strongest when she is with Bridey. Scenes and emotions are described vividly and viscerally. Even though the town is being terrorized from the unknown sea, the reader can’t help but crave to be there with Bridey, running barefoot through a place of magic and the unknown.
Bridey is strong and determined, and doesn’t care what the foolish villagers think. The girl knows what she saw and doesn’t have the stomach to sit around wasting time. She might be afraid of the sea, but tackling sea monsters is her prerogative.
The narrative falters with the character of Fynn and his purpose. He is almost immediately introduced as Bridey’s love interest. Their attraction is instantaneous and built on little more than amorous stilts. Sadly, his character is flat and adds very little to the tale. In fact, when Bridey is around him her high-spirited and three-dimensionally written character falls, as well. If Fynn’s character would have been excised from the entire book, nothing would have been lost and only gained.
Fear the Drowning Deep is brimming with folklore monsters that turn the sea into a dark, watery nightmare. Marsh easily weaves local Manx lore into the story and the penultimate scene between Bridey and one of these monsters was truly thrilling. The story would have improved, however, if the narrative could have focused more on one—maybe, two—of the monsters. Instead, the sea was haunted by several creatures, none getting fully realized; they were left more as floating theoretical monsters luring people to their doom. However, I was completely captivated when, toward the end, a dastardly sea serpent is described in all his scaly glory, and frightening both Bridey and the reader.
Although, there were a few waves worn into the tale, Fear the Drowning Deep’s strength is with Bridey, the relationship between her family, and most enjoyably, Morag. She is a heroine who doesn’t shy away from danger and hurls herself feet-first into the deep end.