Title: The Vanishing Deep
Author: Astrid Scholte
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 3rd March 2020
Synopsis: Astrid Scholte, bestselling author of Four Dead Queens, brings fans a thrilling new standalone YA fantasy where the dead can be revived…for a price.
Two sisters. One dangerous secret. Twenty-four hours to uncover the truth.
Seventeen-year-old Tempest was born into a world of water. The most skilled diver on the Equinox Reef, she searches drowned cities with her older sister Elysea, seeking out old world treasures to trade for Notes. After Elysea mysteriously drowns, Tempest scavenges the ruins alone, driven to collect enough Notes to buy her sister’s life for 24 hours, and to finally learn the secret she had kept until her last breath.
However, once revived, Elysea convinces Tempest to break her out of the Palindromena research facility and they embark on a dangerous journey to discover the truth about their parents’ death. But they’re pursued by two Palindromena employees desperate to find them before Elysea’s time is up, and to prevent them from uncovering the secrets behind the revival process and the true cost of restored lives.
Dead or living, everyone must pay the price.
As Tempest awaits to revive her sister, she reflects on what led to this day – the death of her parents five years ago, and three years after that, the death of her sister, Elysea. While she waits, Lor, posing as a Warden named Raylan at the Palindromena facility where people can pay Notes to spend a final twenty-four hours with a loved one waits to begin the revival process for the sisters. Elysea and Lor both have secrets – yet it is only Elysea’s secret that Tempest is desperate to know about. Yet Elysea’s realisation of what is happening leads to a breakout, and search for the truth in a gripping and exciting twenty-four hour journey, told in alternate perspectives through Lor and Tempest’s eyes as they travel from Palindromena to Equinox and to party islands on a journey to seek answers they’ve been denied for many years.
Reading a fantasy book – whether a stand-alone, duology, trilogy or part of series, especially when it is by an Australian author with what felt to me like a very Australian flavour is always exciting. It’s great to see the Australian literary landscape across the board booming and growing, especially with fantasy. The Vanishing Deep is a fantasy set in a future where the landscape and world – presumably somewhere like Australia, has been adversely affected by rising sea levels. It is referred to as the Old World, which was destroyed by the Great Waves – all hint towards a world changed forever by a climate emergency and series of disasters that led to lives now being lived on Reefs and isles, and has a sense of discomfort about a possible future, and some readers may find the themes of death uneasy or distressing, though it is shown off the page initially, and the issues around death and revival build throughout the novel, and how the characters deal with it. It can be confronting, but not overly so, and I felt was dealt with in a sensitive and evocative way that shows the realities of life and death and shows the conflict of comfort and distress at spending another twenty-four hours with a loved one. The unsettling feeling of a world engulfed in water is filled with senses – the salty smell of the sea, a constant feeling of being wet, intermittent sounds of silence and swirling waves, and fishy and salty tastes, all work together with the words on the page and a sense of distress and foreboding for what is going to happen to make this a high stakes story that is fast paced and can be very hard to put down. This makes it thrilling and exciting as well, and I am sure will find readers amongst young adult, fantasy and many other audiences.
Whilst Tempest is a teenager – she’s seventeen – the loss of her parents and her sister within a few years of each other has meant she has had to grow up far more than others her age on the Equinox may have done. Yet she still exhibits the feelings, and doubts that someone her age would, and I felt this balance and the way she grapples with having to act like an adult whilst still a child herself was well executed, and done in a way that will hopefully appeal to all those who enjoy Young Adult books. As this is a stand-alone, the story is encapsulated within wholly, and manages to combine themes of friendship and family in a way that gives hope to the reader, even in a world where things have gone horribly wrong.