I received this book to read and review as part of the 2021 BBNYA competition and the BBNYA tours organised by the TWR Tour team. All opinions are my own, unbiased and honest.
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Publisher: Fine Fable Press
Length: 365 Pages
Date Published: 17th May 2019
After a violent storm destroys her ship, Isaura Johansdottir knows better than to hope she’ll be rescued from Eisland’s vast Failock Sea. Adrift and alone, her plans to start over lost, it’s a tragic conclusion after the disastrous end of her marriage—until she’s saved by Leonel, one of the merfolk, a creature long believed extinct. In repayment for her life, Leonel enlists her help to investigate the Failock’s mysterious and deadly plague of squalls. But when Isaura discovers Eisland’s ruthless new Lord commands the storms, her life will be in more danger on land than it ever was at sea.
As guardian of the Fathoms, Leonel must find the cause of unnatural storms ravaging the tidal currents and destroying the sea life. There are rumors of dark magic stirring in the Orom Abyss, the resting place of old, vanquished gods who tried to submerge the land millennia ago. Yet without proof, no one in King Ægir’s court will listen to him. And if it’s discovered he broke the Blue Laws to save a shipwrecked landweller, he mightnot survive the consequences.
As storms spread, Leonel and Isaura uncover secrets as forbidden as the bond that grows between them. Betrayal lurks in the restless sea, and when ancient powers lay siege to Eisland’s coast, the truth may be drowned along with everything else.
Beneath Cruel Fathoms, the first book in the Bitter Sea Trilogy, begins as a mystery. Terrible storms have been bombarding ships around Eisland, their power could only be magical in origin, but where are they coming from? Before long the story develops into a romantic fantasy between a shipwrecked woman, Isaura, and her merman saviour, Leonel, as we get to know the two main characters better and they get to know each other. Neither can live for long in the other’s world and their love carries a sense of impending doom along with the joy it brings them.
Isaura is on her way back to her father’s house on Eisland after being left by her husband due to her infertility and she is feeling unloved, broken and worthless. A freakish storm hits the ship on which she is traveling and causes a shipwreck with no survivors – apart from Isaura, who is saved in the nick of time by Leonel, the last merman, illegitimate son of the goddess Ran and her merman lover. Leonel is the guardian of the ocean but is treated with disdain by his mother and stepfather and hatred by most of his half sisters, the billow maidens. He has had a loveless life so far with cruelty and neglect from his family:
He was the appointed guardian of the Fathoms, victor of the great tournament and wielder of the trident, and yet no one ever saw him as anything more than an outcast.
Leonel does not save Isaura through any sense of compassion, but simply because he wants to find a witness to one of the deadly storms that have been raging recently, convinced they are being caused by dark magic. He hopes that by joining forces he and Isaura will be able to solve the mystery and bring an end to the storms and the deaths they cause, of both humans and sea creatures.
Before long both these characters recognize each other’s loneliness and despite each of them feeling broken and unworthy of love they discover shared comfort, respect and eventually love for each other. A character driven fantasy, the characterisation in this novel was very well done and both Isaura and Leonel’s pain was palpable and believable:
Her brown eyes held such terrible loneliness his heart pulled with kindred sorrow. He recognized that emptiness. It lived alongside him like a sea creature that inhabited the currents he swam.
The cast of support characters were also fully fleshed out. Isaura’s brave brother Jurek and father were fantastic, as was Auntie Erla. The lady Katrin was a pitiable character and her husband Lord Aron was a despicable villain.
The mystery of the magical storms deepens and they discover that an ancient enemy, although still imprisoned, is being helped by both an unlikely ally in the ocean and a gullible ally on land:
The Eldingar. Leonel knew the great enemy of the Gods’ War had been powerful, but their legend spoke of sinister magic, spells fed by tragedy and nightmare. When their lust for conquest threatened to drown the world, the Aesir and the Vanir, two long disputing pantheons, joined forces to defeat them. The conflict cracked the foundations of the earth, leaving a rent in the seabed. The Orom Abyss. Into that chasm the Eldingar had been bound, a place without light or sound, so deep it was said to touch the boundaries of the underworld itself.
The world of the ocean is well developed with colourful creatures described and a despotic hierarchical ruling nobility.
Apart from the merman, there are more creatures of legend featured in this story in the form of sirens and the terrifying draugr, zombie-like creatures reanimating the corpses of drowned sailors in order to invade the land. Their chilling description is like something straight from a horror story:
It fixed him with an empty gaze, a film of white covering once blue irises. He recognized it, his heart thumping wildly. A draugr. Silver seas, the reanimated bodies of the drowned were supposed be a myth. No magic could give life to the dead.
Then she blinked the water from her eyes and the carnage before her took shape. The bodies of guards and servants. The outline of creatures hunched over them, slurping at the innards of men who still twitched. The rainwater ran pink around them.
Beneath Cruel Fathoms was a very enjoyable book and I loved the Norse mythology touches which were included, such as the goddess Ran and her daughters the billow maidens, the draugr, the Eldingar, mention of Odin and the Aesir and Vanir gods. You do not need any knowledge of Norse mythology to enjoy this story, however. The narrative ends on an intriguing cliffhanger, and I am looking forward to reading the next book in this series: Between Savage Tides, and can’t wait to see what direction it takes this compelling story in!
About the Author
A child of two cultures, this hapa haole Hawaiian girl is currently landlocked in the Midwest. After exploring the world for a chunk of years, she hunkered down in Minnesota and now fills her days with family, fiction, and the occasional snowstorm. With a house full of lovable toddlers, a three-legged cat, and one handsome Dutchman, she prowls the keyboard late at night while the minions sleep. Coffee? Nah, she prefers tea with a generous spoonful of sarcasm.
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