The Wicked Deep, by Shea Ernshaw
Like many other reviewers out there, this book left me conflicted. Some things were done very very well. Others less so. I went into the book enjoying it immensely, but found myself souring on it around midway through the book.
Firstly, for me anyway, I found the twist to be very obvious. Like, maybe a few chapters in I was absolutely certain I'd figured everything out. And I had. And it's interesting, but I get no enjoyment out of figuring out twists beforehand. I enjoy being a gullible reader. I WANT the book to take my breath away, to make me drop it in surprise (I do this an awful lot), so I'm disappointed when I've figured it out. That being said, I have also read that many people WERE that surprised with the twist, so I think for some this will still be a plus. This is a book with a twist, just one that is pretty guess-able.
The absolute best part of the book is the cool setting and atmospheric writing. This checks all my boxes of what I want in a creepy book. Spooky town, where all the townsfolk seem to be in on a secret - check! Seaside village - check! I don't know what it is about seaside villages, but anytime I read a book set in one, I feel pretty confident I'm going to love it. And I've never lived in a seaside village - although maybe that's the appeal, it seems so exotic. The Pacific ocean is basically another character in the book, powerful and changeable and everlasting, drawing everyone in by the end.
It just makes you want to breathe in the chill salty air and spend some time there. Five stars for setting and atmosphere, almost worth the read just for that.
The concept itself is awesome: a curse, a haunted town, the girls who return each year to exact their revenge. Yes, yes and yes. I am all in at this point. In some ways it reminded me of Stephen King's Bag of Bones, where the descendants of the evildoers are cursed by their ancestor's actions, and seem to have no way or even desire to change their terrible fate. When they start singing their siren song at sunset, I had chills. Chills! At this point all is very cool.
I also loved the cursed sisters and enjoyed the flashbacks to their lives hundreds of years ago, whether or not it was very realistic. My favourite passage was when they were first arriving to the town, ploughing through the waves of the ocean as they dare life to try to stop them - beautiful.
"Hazel stuck out her tongue to taste the sea, imagining a perfume that smelled just like the open ocean - crisp and clean ... The sisters leaned into the railing, urging the ship forward as it pushed on into the night, through gales and strong currents and unfavorable winds, the moon chasing them. They saw something out in that vast sea, in the dark as the ship speared across the Pacific: the promise of something better."
There are some holes, though, that starts to break up the magic of the writing. For example, why on earth are the townspeople staying in the cursed town? Now, if I were the mother of a son living in a town were many many boys are stolen and drowned ... I would not be there. I would grab my son and hightail it out of there, immediately if possible. It is simply irresponsible to stay. In fact, I would call it negligence. Because it's not as if they villagers are trying to convince themselves this doesn't happy. They all agree that, yes, boys will be drowned every year on purpose in this town. Nods all around, I guess there's nothing we can do.
Then there's the romance. This has the problem of Insta love, without a charming or attractive male lead to lend this any credence. All I could think was um, no. Bo is a surly drifter. No, you cannot come live with me on my island. I don't want him to be my boyfriend, and I'm pretty sure that Penny doesn't either.
Which kinda leads to the biggest problem out there. There are spoilers here on out, so if you haven't read The Wicked Deep, and would like to keep that surprise intact, then look away! And maybe go read it, or maybe read something else, that is up to you!
The big twist is that one of the sisters (Hazel) is actually in Penny's body, and the whole time the main character isn't who we think it is (except if you are me, you do think it is). She wants to take over Penny's body and life like a bad guy, but then in the end she decides to sacrifice herself in atonement for all the people she's killed through her unlife. I think this is the right ending. But there are some MAJOR problems, and some definite trigger warnings for rape and lack of consent. Hazel-as-Penny has a sexual relationship with Bo. Meaning Penny's body is doing all kinds of things she didn't consent to. It's icky. While you get the sense that Penny herself is a virgin, that this would have been her first time with someone, but I think it's icky no matter what.
And then ... Bo stays with Penny, even though he was in love with Hazel. Why? Why? Why doesn't he leave that poor girl alone. I wished that Penny took her mother by the hand and gotten the hell out of that creepy town, with or without the ghosts. Instead, she ends up with a man who loved somebody else in her own body, and she never knew. It was all just ugh to me.