A truly enchanting story in a richly imagined world that’s almost impossible to leave once you’ve dived in. The lure of The Wild Deep is shown to be irresistible to ‘travellers’ from our world and I fully expect it to be equally irresistible to middle-grade readers.
Minnow knows she’s different from the other girl’s in Brighton. They’re pale-skinned and graceful while Minnow is dark-skinned, awkward and clumsy. Normal girls live in houses but Minnow’s home is a pirate ship with her mum, Mercy, who even dresses the part – right down to the glittering hook she has in place of one hand. Then there’s the strange scars on Minnow’s neck and the fact that she’s more at home in the sea than on land. Minnow, however, has learned to cope with being different: she’s had a happy childhood, sailing the world and listening to her mum’s stories of the magical, enchanted ocean known as The Wild Deep. But everything changes when she witnesses three men abduct her mum and hears them demanding she take them to The Wild Deep. It almost sounds like they believe it’s a real place! Suddenly, Minnow’s world is turned upside down. She sets out on a dangerous journey to find her mum and, on the way, finds a lot more – including new friends, a magical hidden underground world and the answer to who she really is.
This book is many things. It’s a journey of self-discovery for a mixed race girl. It’s story of friendship and family. And it’s a book bursting with fairy-tale magic with sea-monsters and mermaids. More than this, it’s a truly enchanting story in a richly imagined world that’s almost impossible to leave once you’ve dived in.
Minnow is a strong central character with a well-developed and believable backstory that’s skilfully drip-fed into the story. (Watch out for the references to her skeleton and teeth that are introduced in the opening chapters as a hint of what is to come.) I particularly liked the way, in the opening chapters, Minnow is shown gliding effortlessly through the ocean but stumbling and struggling on land. The book is predominately told from Minnow’s perspective so it’s easy to sympathise with her and understand her confusion and concern when her mum is kidnapped. Within pages we are rooting for Minnow to succeed and we remain firmly on her side throughout the book.
Minnow is not, however, my favourite character. That award has to go to Raife, the boy she meets in Iceland and who goes on to become her companion in her adventure to The Wild Deep and, ultimately, her closet friend. The meeting of the two is simply inspired (Minnow spots Raife’s classic hi-top trainers disappearing into the sea and falsely assumes he’s drowning) and sets the tone for the rest of the story.
There are a whole host of other wonderful characters but the thing that makes this book really stand out has to the impressive world-building and vividly realised settings: we start with Minnow’s home on a pirate ship, make a brief stop in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, before diving into a magical and mystical underwater world. The lure of The Wild Deep is shown to be irresistible to ‘travellers’ from our world and I fully expect it to be equally irresistible to middle-grade readers.
If you enjoyed this, I’d highly recommend you check out two other fantasy stories from Oxford University Press. Mold and the Poison Plot by Lorraine Gregory was one of my favourite reads of 2017. Alternatively, I’ve read a few extracts and I’m really looking forward to reading The Last Spell Breather by Julie Pike which is out in July 2019.
Date: January 2019
Publisher: Oxford University Press