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The Abyss Surrounds Us

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Cas has fought pirates her entire life. But can she survive living among them?

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

273 pages, Paperback

First published February 8, 2016

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About the author

Emily Skrutskie

10 books973 followers
Emily Skrutskie is six feet tall. She was born in Massachusetts, raised in Virginia, and forged in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado. She holds a B.A. in Performing and Media Arts from Cornell University, where she studied an outrageous and demanding combination of film, computer science, and game design.

She is the author of THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US and its sequel, THE EDGE OF THE ABYSS, as well as the standalone HULLMETAL GIRLS. Her latest novel, BONDS OF BRASS, the first in a sweeping space opera trilogy, is now available. She lives and writes in Los Angeles.

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Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,084 reviews17.5k followers
January 1, 2021
But she underestimated me. I played my cards, I lay in wait, I let myself be beaten and manipulated. If she keeps that promise she made to me, I’ll show her the truth I’ve learned on her boat. I don’t just raise monsters. I am one.

So like, I know that I boost my review of this book every day and it’s annoying, but every single time there is someone who says they haven’t read it, or worse yet, have NOT HEARD OF IT. Which is a travesty, because The Abyss Surrounds Us is one of my personal favorite books ever. This book is about pirates, and sea monsters [and yes that makes sense in this world], and a really cool antiheroine, and also she falls in love with and kicks ass with a pirate girl who is On The Other Side of The Great Environmental Pirates vs. Sea Monsters Conflict. It’s the greatest.

Here are five reasons you should read this book.

→great characters←
Oh my god, y’all, Cas Leung is the gaysian icon we need in our lives. She has such a classic antiheroine arc, going from from morally upstanding, mostly, to completely morally ambiguous – but also realizing the dimensionality of the world, and that maybe she was the villain all along. All the characters feel developed and real, especially for such a short book. Swift's character is equally as complex and wonderful and also, is kind of the ultimate sapphic dream girl. Even the book's villain, Santa Elena, is wonderful to read about. I’m terrified of her but I also kind of love her? Oh, and then there’s Bao, Cas’ Reckoner pup, who is so adorable and annoying and great. Also, Cas literally talks to him like we all talk to our cats.

→fast-paced plot←
This book is unbelievably unputdownable. Even in moments where the book slows down, it's never a remotely boring read. The book manages to be super fast-paved and also have a coherent plot arc and coherent character arcs, in a super short page space, and it’s iconic.

→creative worldbuilding←
This is about pirates and sea monsters. Is that not the most badass book concept ever? Do you not desperately want to read this? The brilliance of the worldbuilding here lies in the fact that it is believable without too much exposition or focus of the plot. The entire concept of this world is really out there, but it's never unbelievable; this world doesn't feel alien. It feels instead like a natural result of a world that remains based in making profit even at the expense of others. There's also a map of the world half-flooded, which as usual makes everything better.

→morality conflicts←
I love narratives where a character realizes the world is more complex than they thought and then have to figure it out. Here, there are conflicts set up between Cas' world of careful environmental regulations and Swift's world, where feeding her family is the main goal. These conflicts build into both Cas' character arc and her budding relationship with Swift. I'm hoping these get expanded even more in the sequel, because they're really fascinating [update: yes, of course].

→tense, angsty romance←
THE BEST THING ABOUT THIS BOOK holy shit, I would completely give my life for Cas and Swift. They have so much tension between them, I swear it’s electric. Also, so many tropes, but they’re all good and they’re all used well. [BED SHARING. THEY GET HANDCUFFED TOGETHER. IT’S SO GOOD.] The narrative never ignores the power imbalances between Cas and Swift, but builds up their relationship all the same. They slowly transition from enemies, to reluctant friends, to something more. Their banter rocks my world. Truly the enemies-to-friends-to-something more sapphics we all deserved.

Oh, and also, I have forced all my fellow sapphic reviewer friends to read this, and literally almost all of them loved it. I buddy-reread this with part of my Gay Group, I.e. the nineteen year old and discrimination against sci-fi, and both of them loved it [YOU CAN READ THEIR REVIEWS.] Also, s/o to Melanie and Em and May and Sana and Jamie, none of whom I can link to because mobile, for loving this book that I never shut up about. I’d die for all of you.

Oh, also, I met Emily Skrutskie once, and she recognized me once, and it was the best moment of my life.

TL;DR: if you like really fast-paced books with genuinely healthy angsty romances but also a fast-paced plot and cool worldbuilding and two of the most developed antiheroines ever, you will like this, and you should read it because I need to scream at you about it. 👌👌

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Profile Image for Melanie.
1,169 reviews98.2k followers
June 24, 2018
“I don’t just raise monsters. I am one.”

One of the best book recommendations I’ve received to date is Elise recommending me The Abyss Surrounds Us. Friends, I fell totally in love with this story and it surpassed every high expectation I had for it. The writing is addicting, the story is so unique, and this book holds my now favorite enemies to lovers, angst-filled relationship of all time. Oh, and it’s between two girl pirates. Sold yet? You should be. This book was a gift.

First off, this book is set in a future version of United States where most of the country is underwater. And the few that can afford to live on land are very wealthy and very privileged. All over the world there are floating cities, and children being born that have never stepped foot on solid land. And with all of this being said, ships, boats, and other water vessels are the main mode of transportation.

Cassandra Leung is a seventeen-year-old, Chinese girl who has grown up outside of LA, where her family raises Reckoners! Reckoners are lab-created, monster-like, animals that can be a terrapoid (turtle-like), cephalopoid (octopus-like), serpentoid (snake-like), and probably even more! And they are very needed by the ships on the open seas, whether it be cruise ships, cargo ships, or any and all in-between, because they need protection from pirates that dangerously sail in the same waters. Cas and her family ensure that these different types of Reckoners bond with their buyer’s vessels to protect them at all costs. And on each vessel, a Reckoner trainer must also go to ensure everything goes smoothly.

Cas has never went on a mission by herself before, but her parents are finally allowing her to prove herself alongside her terrapoid, Durga, who she has bonded with since she was a young girl. But Cas quickly finds out that maybe Durga isn’t healthy enough for the journey, but it’s a little too late once pirates are sighted.

“So not only have I been captured by pirates—I’ve had the misfortune of being taken in by theatrical ones.”

Pirate Queen, Santa Elena, and her crew quickly board and just as quickly take Cas prisoner once they see that she was in charge of the Reckoner for the ship. And that’s because they are currently hiding their own little secret that needs someone with the experience and training that only Cas has. (Also, I am so in love with Bao, my little vicious bun!)

“Bao is, without a doubt, the most dangerous thing in the NeoPacific. And he answers to me.”

This book actually got pretty dark in parts, so please use caution! Trigger and content warnings for violence against animals, animal death, animal cruelty (behind the scenes), kidnapping, captivity, thoughts of suicide, attempted suicide, talk of slavery, physical abuse, and violence.

And while Cas is forced to live on this new ship, she learns that maybe she isn’t so different than the people she’s been protected from her whole entire life. And, like I said above, this little book has one of the best w/w stories I’ve read in a long while. The angst, friends, the damn angst. It’s actual perfection! I was screaming, I was crying, I was living for it. And I totally get that this is a book about people doing stuff on ships, but like, I ship these two girls so much that it hurts. I need book two immediately. And obviously from what I said above, there is an uneven power dynamic, but that’s the beautiful thing about this relationship because it is always addressed, constantly.

“We’re two trapped girls with nothing but each other on a ship of people who’d be better off with us dead, and somehow on top of that we’ve managed to do the one thing we shouldn’t be able to do.”

And we get to see this beautiful journey, not only across the water, but inside of Cassandra’s heart and mind. She didn’t know the world before she finally got to see it. And now she’s seeing things that she is unsure that she can ignore. Cas becomes the very definition of a morally grey character, but seeing her walk the line, while also trying to do what is right, while also trying to balance her new feelings, it’s so good. So damn good! This is such a powerful little book that I loved reading from the very first to the very last page.

Emily Skrutskie has woven such an amazing story here. This was a complete joy to read. And I truly believe with my whole heart that this is one of the most underhyped books of all time. And I also believe that this is going to be the best book I’ll read all of 2018’s Pride! Friends, buy this, read this, love this, and come gush with me. Please, I’m begging you.

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Buddy read with May at Forever and Everly! ❤
Profile Image for Emily.
Author 10 books973 followers
September 5, 2015
This is my debut novel. It's a book about sea monsters, pirates, the future, girls with edges, hard choices, fast boats, and big turtles. It's big and wild, and I love it. I hope you guys do too.
Profile Image for Whitney Atkinson.
916 reviews13.9k followers
April 19, 2019
4.5 stars

This book, I swear to God, could've been (could be?) the next big thing in YA if there were a different (*cough* better) cover and if there could be ~100 more pages of description and character development. The bones for an amazing story are here, and as is, it's a great book. But the concept of this and the characters and the moral dilemma were all SO good that for this book to be less than 300 pages seems like such a wasted opportunity to really draw out the story.

I LOVED the main character Cas and the love interest. I mean, I'm a sucker for enemies to lovers anyway, but I think there was actually such a complex and realistic reason for them to be linked to one another, and the eventuality of them developing feelings was so plausible and angst-ridden. I wish the author could've slowed down to show that slow evolution of their relationship over the few months they interacted because it did end up feeling like they became friendly pretty quick. One thing that I did like, though, is that both characters' sexualities were stated up front and there was never a part of this book that slowed down and was like "omg I wonder if she's straight or if she would never like me back." It was always assumed that both girls were interested in other girls, so it cut any angsty discussion of questioning their sexualities and just jumped straight to the sexual tension, which I thought normalized their sapphic relationship really well.

The sci-fi and dystopian elements of this were so innovative and original. I'm really not a fan of sci-fi OR pirate books, but this world and story building completely sold me and I found myself never skim reading or getting bored with the scientific world building because it was genuinely fun and easy to read. I could totally see this being translated to a movie, and I think it would be so interesting.

I really can't locate anything else I wasn't a fan of in this book, just that I wish it had delved more into everything. It feels like there was an opportunity to stretch out the angst and explore more of the moral dilemma that Cas has to confront: stay loyal to her parents' operation that kills pirates, or switch allegiances to the pirates who try and kill innocents? Her fluctuations between these sides and her eventual choice felt underdeveloped and I wish we could've seen more of her thinking and maybe even had a scene of her debating the consequences of her actions on that front.

Still, this is one of the strongest books I've read this year and I cannot wait to read the sequel! Definitely look into this if you're looking for an original plot with a sapphic enemies to lovers romance.
Profile Image for prag ♻.
588 reviews587 followers
June 5, 2017
We need more books like this. We need more books with morally grey areas and lesbian pirates. Why, you ask?

Reason #1: The Romance

● they sleep on the same bed
somehow, they wake up tangled together
● they’re enemies at this point
● did I mention it’s enemies to lovers aka my second favourite trope
● “equal footing”
● y’all don’t know power dynamics till you’ve read this book

My heart is still pounding in my chest, and it takes me a few seconds to realize that I’m clutching her hand as if it’s a lifeline. I let go.
I reach out for her, not sure what else I can do. She startles when my hand comes to rest on her shoulder, and her eyes flick to mine.

● It’s worth it. If you’re like me and don’t like sci-fi, read it for the romance.
● Because oh dear god it deserves to be read.

It’s ridiculous. It’s outrageous. Bao could tap dance across the NeoPacific right now and it wouldn’t seem that out of place, because I’m in way over my head and I’m falling.

I’m falling for her, she’s fallen for me, and the whole thing is so desperate and stupid that we’re both reduced to fits of laughter that ring out across the Minnow’s deck. We’re two trapped girls with nothing but each other on a ship of people who’d be better off with us dead, and somehow on top of that we’ve managed to do the one thing we shouldn’t be able to do.

Home is what you kill for.
And I killed for Swift.


Reason #2: No tortured sexy soul trope

● so you know those books
● where there’s the hot protagonist who’s an asshole
● but oh!! turns out they have a poor/sick/dying family and they’re working their ass off for them
● rhys is a prime example
● so is okami (from flame in the mist)
● anyway,, this book smASHES that shit right out

"I'm not oblivious, Cas — I know that's not right. But it's all I have, and it's all I can do. So just…don't look at me like that, okay?”

"Like what?" I ask.

"Like you have more respect for me because you know where I come from.”

● #respect

Reason #3: PIRATES

● who doesn’t love pirates?
● everything about this book is so confusing tbh and i love it
● also Cas is such a badass
● also, sea monsters


● buddy read with elizzle the 19 year old drizzle and poodledoo


Queer Book #3 of Pride Month
Profile Image for may ➹.
481 reviews1,949 followers
June 16, 2018
wow. I adored this. the morally grey gay pirate girls were my favorite thing ever and I fell in love with a stupid killing machine monster creature. y’all are sleeping on this but you SHOULDN’T

// buddy read with the purest angel


huh. so no one thought to tell me that the protagonist of this was Asian??? literally all I heard was that she was lesbian. aaaaaand nothing else

this was already high on my TBR, and I was sure I would find my sapphic self in these sapphic pirates. but oh my god do you know how difficult it is to find queer Asian characters in YA?? I can only think of three off the top of my head, this one included. (and none of them rep my exact ethnicity or orientation.) queer Asian rep is SO important to me and the fact is that I only heard about the queer rep and absolutely NOTHING about the MC being Asian


🗣🗣 queer characters of color are QUEER CHARACTERS OF COLOR please don’t erase that part of them by only mentioning that they are queer and leaving it at that???? POC or QPOC like me could be looking for QPOC/POC rep and they would never know if you never mentioned it!!!!! 🗣🗣

p.s. I believe the MC is Chinese, but I’m not sure if it’s confirmed in the book or just inferred
Profile Image for emily .
241 reviews2,108 followers
March 28, 2020
Reasons why you need Cas and Swift in your life (+iconic moments):

• The Banter™
• cas being really angry about falling in love with swift and saying she has "stupid" or "idiotic" hair
• swift taking off her shirt and cas literally going "oh no"
• they were literally handcuffed to each other at some point
• did i mention that they have to sleep in the same bed
• "I'd go wherever you'd run to."
• they would literally die for each other

y'all need to read this book about giant sea turtles, pirates and a f/f couple to die for!!!

rating: ★★★½
Profile Image for ✨    jami   ✨.
661 reviews3,883 followers
September 16, 2017
But she underestimated me. I played my cards, I laid in wait, I let myself be beaten and manipulated. If she keeps that promise she made to me, I’ll show her the truth I’ve learned on her boat. I don’t just raise monsters. I am one.

I can't even remember the last time I read a book this fast THAT is how much I absolutely adored this book. It literally has everything. Sea monsters, pirates, morally ambiguous characters, fantasy and lesbians in love. my gay ass is thriving

The Abyss Surrounds Us is about a future word where scientifically manufactured sea monsters called Reckoners are bred to protect ships in pirate infested waters. Cassandra Leung, the protagonist, has grown up training these monsters. On her first voyage across the sea, her monster Durga is killed and she is captured by pirates - who force her to hatch and train their own Reckoner they have acquired illegally.

I was impressed with every aspect of this book This is Emily Skrutskie's first novel, and it has to be one of the strongest debuts I've ever read. The writing was awesome, worldbuilding was strong and character development was GREAT. I really do have no complains about this book, I really loved it.

(by hvctorberlioz on tumblr)

THE CHARACTERS were well written, complex and diverse. The main character Cas is Asian (I assume Chinese as at one point she mentions speaking Cantonese but it's never explicitly stated and she may not be Chinese) but ANYWAY, she's a sea monster trainer who starts off thinking she's very morally upstanding but soon starts to have her own beliefs unraveled. She's challenged continuously, questions her place and adapts accordingly and I absolutely adored her and her arc. Everyone loves Swift (same!) but for me, Cas was my favourite.

Swift is a pirate girl who's trying to work her way up to the position of captain. Lots of her backstory is spoilers, but I will say she's incredibly hard-working and such a badass. But also she's so soft and sweet omg ? And she treats Cas so well and aaaah bless. we love a legend.

Santa Elena is the pirate queen I've always needed. She's such a badass, Would Kill You Dead and doesn't give a fuck but I admire her SO MUCH. I also, she was such a strong strong woman who didn't reject her femininity. I LOVED she was a mother and that played into her strength, and even though she's the villain I ... love her so much. Like she ruthless as fuck but she's also super soft with her kid and the other kids on her ship I'm #SHOOK. Also she's black! Yes powerful women of colour!!

THE PLOT is super fast paced, you got sea battles and attempted murder and actual murder and pirate fights and questionable floating islands and SO MUCH MORE and I literally flew through this because I HAD TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT Also, the romance makes me Cry in the best way, they are so good together, and it's enemies to lovers but it's done SO WELL and their relationship recognises it's flaws and working through them I'm choking again I love them so much.

"We’re two trapped girls with nothing but each other on a ship of people who’d be better off with us dead, and somehow on top of that we’ve managed to do the one thing we shouldn’t be able to do.”

I COULD NOT recommend this book high enough. You got lesbian pirates, sea monsters, epic sea battles, enemies to lovers, great characters and it's soo fast paced you won't be able to stop I actually think I could inject crack cocaine into my eyeballs and wouldn't get as good a rush as I got from this book.

YOU ALL NEED TO READ THIS WTF right now ! I'm not joking right this very second. I am blessed, shook and WANTING MORE RIGHT NOW.
Profile Image for Silvia .
635 reviews1,402 followers
July 11, 2017
Buddy read with this beautiful soul who deserves all the cakes in the world

4,5 stars

My real review:

My proper review because I feel like such a Fake on goodreads lately:
I legit lost the ability for words and my friends have all reviewed this book much better than I ever could, but basically this caught my attention right away and believe me when I say I was surprised because except for me being a well-known lover of pirates in any shape or form, I actually don't really like sea-stories (I'm a walking contradiction) and the idea that this would all take place on a ship and that it involved sea monsters didn't sound like something I'd enjoy the hell out of. I was still promised that the romance would be worth it and honestly I really wanted to finally find a F/F ship (puns, puns everywhere) that I would fall in love with because so far the few I've read about were somewhat forgettable.

Flash forward to me starting this book, I was hooked you guys. Utterly and completely. I don't even know exactly what it was? The writing style is good, nothing out of the ordinary, but somehow I was immediately drawn to the MC's voice (this is narrated in 1st person). I was even interested and involved in the sea monster(s)' well-being even though I still can't visualize them in my head if my life depends on it (but that's just my brain because the descriptions are there and they're well done). And I also want to point out that me being hooked is a big deal because I'm not managing to focus on a single thing for a long time lately, but somehow this book always managed to hold my attention for long despite everything (and it did take me a while to finish it, but I was also pretty busy IRL).

The reason it's not a full 4,5 stars is because the plot was a little predictable (but like, I don't even care about that honestly). What I do care about are the characters, and let me tell you, they're amazing.

Mind you, this is YA, so the heroine goes through typical YA stuff: firmly believing in the morals she's been taught all her life, seeing these morals getting challenged and eventually being able to see why these morals (or any moral) are 100% subjective to the situation and understanding that not everything is either black or white. Despite me being well over that phase myself and being somewhat tired of reading about it contemporary YA (something this book is not since it's more dystopian/scifi), this type of arc in this book managed to be interesting to read about and it was done gradually. And the MC was never annoying about this or anything at all. In fact, she's a pretty reasonable young lady and even some of the plot devices used made sense.

I was talking about characters, so here's two more:
Santa Elena is the villain that is not exactly an antihero but also you can't help but have a lot of respect for her (while still hating her) and honestly that's my shit.
Swift is an incredible love interest and I honestly love her so much. The romance is so healthy and so mature (I don't mean it as in there's mature content because there is none). Both she and Cas show incredible awareness of their situation (key word: equal footing) and it's *clenches fist* so healthy I legit started crying. I haven't seen such an healthy relationship since DamenLaurent and AndrewNeil so y'know this shit gets to me.

I need to take a little break from this world to read something else but I'll be reading the sequel very soon because I need to know what happens next.

If one had asked me what is better than pirates before I knew this book existed, I would have said that nothing can be better than pirates, and I would have been a fool because helloooo lesbian pirates!!! I hope this is as good as everyone says it was
Profile Image for Kogiopsis.
763 reviews1,476 followers
October 23, 2015
Update: oops. It's been a while since I've done a NetGalley review. Anyway -
A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No external considerations went into this review.

This book is everything, everything that I wanted it to be - and more.

I've been excited about it since the cover was first released, and I actually overhauled my entire NetGalley profile specifically to request it. Being that invested in the potential of a book is risky, and as I started reading I was anxious that it might disappoint, that all of that buildup would have been for nothing.

I had nothing to fear.

What weaknesses this book has are clearly first-novel weaknesses, the kind that are worked out by more practice. There's an awkward infodump at the beginning of the book, and some fairly blatant foreshadowing which could have been more subtle. Once the plot really gets going, though, all of that fades to the background.

One of the most delightful elements of this book, for me, is the worldbuilding. I'm a biologist by training, a marine biologist by aspiration, so a sci-fi setting featuring genetically engineered chimeras of marine animals is right up my alley. Skrutskie's science is solid and, moreover, interesting to read about - I was particularly delighted that she addressed the impact of enormous predators on the NeoPacific's food web. The descriptions of the Reckoners, too, were excellent and engaging. The book has a kind of Pacific Rim vibe to it, but not in a way that makes it feel derivative, just similarly awe-inspiring. (This contrasts beautifully with the way Cas, the protagonist, talks about the beasts like they're ordinary household pets - one is a "big dumb turtle"; another is "little shit" and it's all so casually affectionate that it's incredibly charming.)

My one worldbuilding quibble is that there's no clear explanation for why the ocean has been renamed the NeoPacific. At first I assumed that catastrophic sea level rise had reshaped the coastline, but some of the locations mentioned belie that explanation. My next guess is that the institution of 'Reckoner justice' led to the renaming, but there's no firm answer.

The biggest crucial element of any book is, of course, plot... and with this book, that's not something I can talk about much in and of itself. I won't even put spoiler tags in this review, because it's too long until the book comes out and I don't want anyone to succumb to temptation. So instead of talking about plot in-depth, I'll say this: in other books, this premise would have meant the author writing themselves into a hole. Emily Skrutskie blew her way out of that hole with high-grade explosives and took the resolution a direction I had never expected, and which I can't wait to (hopefully?) see play out in a sequel or three.

That leaves one more component: characters. Saving the best for last, here, because the cast of this book is exactly the kind of thing I've wanted to see in SF/F for years. It's full of women, for one thing - think less 'Bechdel Test pass' and more 'Bechdel Test touchdown'. It's racially diverse, for another: Cas is of Chinese ancestry; there are several Hindu supporting characters; Santa Elena is clearly nonwhite; and perhaps most importantly in a book set on the Pacific Ocean, there are native Pacific Islander characters. I want to emphasize, especially with that last point, that this is important not just in creating a presence for different kinds of people in fiction, but also because it is in no way realistic for the cast not to be diverse. Skrutskie is representing the real world, and how that would manifest itself in a pan-Pacific pirate crew, and she does a magnificent job.

And of course: Cas and Swift. There's already one review out there complaining that they were 'tricked' into reading about lesbians, so let me be clear: this book is about lesbians . (or at least two girls who are attracted to each other - one or both might be bi/pansexual; we don't know.)

On a personal note: One of my favorite tiny details about this book was that neither girl's sexuality was made an issue or an obstacle. Cas mentions, offhandedly, girls she'd dated in high school - and that's it; there's no anxiety from either her or Swift about the other not being attracted to girls. The process of them falling in love is treated as exactly as natural and normal as a heterosexual romance, and that was beautiful to read.

The thing is, though, that this is a romance and a relationship which stacks up favorably next to most that I've read. Cas and Swift's interactions are complicated and nuanced, and they grow as individuals even as they grow together. There's a blurry line between alliance and friendship, and then friendship and romance, and the way they make these slow, unsure transitions is wholly realistic and charming. The relationship also offers a lens into the complexities of their different moral viewpoints - almost like literary foils, they push each other out of their comfort zones and into a grey area of self-examination. It's fascinating to read.

The morality of the book as a whole is, as other reviewers have commented, grey. Obviously this verges into plot spoiler territory, but I will say that by the end I wasn't sure who was right or wrong, only that survival for these characters necessitated many of their actions and that, in and of itself, was as close as they'd get to rightness. I'm still not sure how I feel about some decisions made/revealed at the end - except that I want desperately to see what comes next.

The biggest problem with this book is that it's so short - not that it feels incomplete, but that there is so much more that I want to see unfold in this world that doesn't fall within the scope of this narrative. I can only hope Skrutskie has a sequel in the works. In the meantime, I'm going to pre-order this one in hard copy for myself, and maybe for a few friends. (They've already been getting the sales pitch for the last six days anyway.) Here's hoping for great success in February, and in the future!
Profile Image for clara.
69 reviews161 followers
October 5, 2018
well. this was underwhelming.

excuse me while i cry tears of salty disappointment.


listen, i already love pirates, but gay asian (!!!) pirates... i might as well go ahead and 5-star this already.

i will actually cry if this ends up being disappointing.
Profile Image for tappkalina.
650 reviews400 followers
March 22, 2022
I just want to say I have a huge crush on Swift.
And I understand why Cass is mad, but can you be mad at someone for something you yourself did, too? That's not how it works, sweetheart.
Profile Image for Lex Kent.
1,682 reviews8,711 followers
March 9, 2017
2 1/2 Stars. I really wanted to love this book. With all the good reviews, I was so sure I would, that I grabbed book 2, without even reading this one. Now I wish I hadn't. If book 2 wasn't a Netgalley, I would honestly skip it. Maybe I will get lucky and it will be great, but sometimes you just don't click with a book, and that was my problem with this one. The writing was good and the subject was so creative and different.... unfortunately, nothing else really came together for me.

I read lesbian fiction and mainstream books with strong female characters. My biggest problem with this book was the main character Cas, was anything but. She had control of one of the deadliest weapons known to man, and she did nothing with it. She was weak willed and seemed to develop Stockholm syndrome on top of it. She let herself be used and did nothing to fight back. At the ending of this book, she had a chance to change all this. I thought it was going to be a great ending, that would start the first step of her journey to right the wrongs and take down the corrupt system. Instead she put her tail between her legs. So yeah, I'm very disappointed in the ending.

Besides Cas, there are a bunch of pirate characters. I love pirates, so again I was disappointed. In a ship full of pirates, I think we know maybe 6 of them. But they are so interchangeable, I could not even tell you who was who, besides the captain and Swift, a potential love interest for Cas. And what I thought might be the saving grace of this book for me, a sweet romance, didn't happen either. Swift was awful to Cas for most of the book, I could see them maybe being friends, lovers no.

This book is so creative and different, that I give Emily Skrutskie props for that. I think she has a chance to be around, as an author, for a very long time. I just really wish she made different choices in her book. I'll keep my fingers crossed book 2 is better, and that Cas finally grows a pair.
Profile Image for Sarah Elizabeth.
4,726 reviews1,278 followers
January 2, 2016
(Source: I received a digital copy of this book for free on a read-to-review basis. Thanks to Flux and NetGalley.)

“It’s just a rite of passage,”

This was an interesting fantasy/pirate story, with genetically engineered beasts!

Cas had to make some tough decisions in this book, and I didn’t blame her for the choices she made. Being kidnapped by pirates does not sound like fun!

The storyline in this was about Cas’ kidnapping, and the expectation that she would train an illegal Reckoner pup for the pirates. We also got a little bit of girl-on-girl romance, and a couple of twists thrown in also. The pace was a little up and down for me though, with lots of action one moment, and then a dull patch that followed it.

The ending to this was okay, but it was obvious that there would be more adventures for Cas in the future.

6.5 out of 10
155 reviews260 followers
June 4, 2018
I am very furious and very very annoyed right now. This book had everything I would ever want in a book: Asian, lesbian mc, pirates, sea monsters, floating cities, cruel captain... It could be everything, EVERYTHING, but in the end it was so boring and underwhelming as fuck.

A part of my fury is directed toward myself too because in many ways I didn't understand this book. I didn't understand some of the scenes, I didn't understand the characters and their choices and I didn't understand where was the fucking world building. So our mc, Cassandra Leung, is a Reckoner trainer, who train genetically engineered sea monsters. These sea monsters are requires to protect ships from the pirates in the NeoPacific. Her monster, Durga, is killed by a pirate ship and Cassandra is taken as a captive by the pirate queen, Santa Elena. The pirates have a Reckoner pup with them, which they're not suppose to have, and Cassandra is forced to train the sea monster for the benefits of the pirates. Now here Cassandra (or Cas) knows very clearly that she cannot raise an undocumented sea monter because this can distrupt fragile balance of ecosystem but she agreed to do it almost at once. She didn't put up any resistance at all claiming she had a plan to escape and she can go along the game Santa Elena is playing but in the end she end up doing exactly what the pirates wanted her to do.

Over the course of the book, Cas kept on making questionable choices, without little or no explainations and just keep on doing what Santa Elena wanted her to do. I also had trouble making sense of her relation with Bao, the Reckoner she's raising for Santa Elena. At one moment, she was calling him little shit and saying she hate him and after few pages, she started caring for him but it's not explained or shown how their relationship developed. Cas was taken as captive on ship but for most of the part she was allowed to roam free but never once she thought of trying to escape. Arem't there any rescue she could've stolen? Couldn't she somehow send a message back home? The thing is, Cas kept on jumping from one conclusion to another but we weren't properly shown or explained what her thought process or her emotional devdlopment were to make one decision.

Battle scenes are something that usually make the book interesting for me no matter how much bored I am by the characters but unfortunately, the fighting scenes were also very boring. I found myself skimmong over them to the end.

The only thing I liked about this book was Swift. She one of those hard and strong on outside and all soft and beautiful inside kinda girl that made her so interesting. She was the only reason I didn't dnfed this book and she's the only reason I am interested in reading sequel for.
Profile Image for Meagan.
333 reviews174 followers
May 13, 2018
It was unique and predictable at the same time. But I thoroughly enjoyed this book! The writing felt simplistic and straightforward, but still solid. Full RTC
Profile Image for ambsreads.
656 reviews1,395 followers
August 19, 2017


I went into The Abyss Surrounds Us with low expectations. It’s not a very popular book, but it had suddenly been making the rounds on my Goodreads account and I just had to know why no one had rated this book under four stars.

I now know.

The Abyss Surrounds Us is a tale unlike any other I have read. That may be because I’m not a fan of sea monsters or pirates usually, but this book does it so fantastically I simply enjoyed my precious opinions. The f/f romance in this was beautiful as well. I am now completely on board with the Cas and Swift OTP. Someone get me a ship and I’ll name it after them.

I just have a lot of feelings about this book and all are good. My only point of “eh, could have done without” was during the action scenes. I would get a tad confused in some parts.


Going in, I knew nothing about the plot apart from there would be some lesbian pirates. When I read the first chapter a few months ago and put the book down, I thought Cas was the pirate and there was going to be some Kraken like creatures throughout.

I was very wrong it seems. That is not at all what the plot of this book was. And I was so happy. I was pleasantly surprised and definitely happy as we follow Cassandra who has trained Reckoners her whole life. I’m a bit unsure of what they look like still, at no fault of the author. I believe the ones in this book look like turtles? Could be completely wrong though.

The plot was packed with adventure and action, in a way that would leave you desperately wanting more. The romance does not take over the story in anyway but you are still left with giggly feelings when sparks fly between the main characters. The enemies to lovers trope is done so well, with flirting and banter that make you feel so warm inside.

I’m getting gushy, I know, but I just adore Swift and Cas. I can’t wait to see where their story goes!


#C A S S A N D R A

You know how a while ago there were those things that were like “looks like a cinnamon roll but will kill you”? Well, Cassandra is a cinnamon role who will kill you. She comes across as kind-hearted and soft, but oh my God. That girl is kick ass.

The character development that the author uses for Cas is incredible. Following her particular growth is amazing. Honestly, I am speechless by how flawlessly the author achieves this. It is completely captivating in a way that you simply need to know what she does next.

Her decision at the end of the novel shocked me and the revelations that came out? Someone hand me the next book now. I seriously can’t wait to finish the four other books I need to so I can jump straight back into this world.

#S W I F T

So, if Cassandra is “looks like a cinnamon roll but will you kill you”, Swift is the exact opposite. Which I believe is “looks like they will kill you but is a cinnamon roll”? I clearly missed that trend. Swift was a character I was momentarily scared of. For some reason, she also reminded me of Theon Greyjoy’s sister on Game of Thrones. That could be because I’ve been binging Game of Thrones for two months now in order to catch up (two episodes left!).

Finding out Swift’s story broke my heart. It isn’t unusual for that to happen to me. My friends all say I’m really soft (I just have a lot of feelings, I’m sorry) but really, I loved Swift. She was overall a morally grey character that I was rooting for. Something that I don’t usually do.


Overall, this enemy to lovers story is great. I was so unable to put it down to even think of anything else. I am so glad this hidden gem was floating around Goodreads.

I highly recommend.

On a note that isn’t this particular book related, I am having the best reading month.
Profile Image for Allison.
489 reviews186 followers
September 13, 2015
My only complaints?? This wasn't longer, only took me around 4 hours to finish, and left me an empty husk at 1 in the morning.

When, just 25 pages in, you cry a little, you know it's going to be a great book, right?

A lovable/monstrous narrator, lovable/monstrous lady pirates, lovable/monstrous.....sea monsters. Everyone and everything here is written with moral complexity and ambiguity. The world-building is pretty great, doesn't drag you down, and makes you want to ask a few more questions about some things (just how creepy ARE simioid Reckoners?)

Cas (can I call her that, are we on those terms) is a SQUEE-worthy and nuanced protagonist. She makes a lot of tough calls, gets knocked down, gets back up ---- basically, handles her shit pretty well for someone who splits her time between a ship of violent pirates and training a giant deadly sea monster. All while falling for a girl she shouldn't be falling for.

Something I was particularly impressed with was the acknowledgment and treatment of unbalanced power dynamics within relationships. I'm trying to flail without spoilers but *Reckoner-esque shriek* some of my favorite relationship tropes were also here.

ANYWAYS, FANTASTIC DEBUT. Action, squealy bits, giant beasties, a nuanced cast of characters. Get on board.

***OH! And thanks to Netgalley/Flux for the review copy!
Profile Image for Heidi Heilig.
Author 9 books1,313 followers
December 29, 2015
This book took a bite out of my heart.

Oh, Cas. OH SWIFT. OH BAO!!!

I don't know how best to sum up this thrilling sci-fi adventure-at-sea. There are sea monster battles, pirate ships, floating cities in the Neo-Pacific, a hate-to-love romance, an awesome pet, deep philosophy, high stakes--but really, this book is about discovering who you are and accepting that "who you are" is not all sunshine and lollipops. I love--absolutely love--stories like that, and this one is no exception. There's a real grit to it that keeps me thinking about the story and the characters long after I close the covers. This book sinks its teeth into you and dives deep.
Profile Image for Iris.
550 reviews253 followers
July 5, 2018
This book was honestly such a surprise! I picked it up because I saw a good review, and thought it sounded vaguely interesting. Like, ALL I knew coming in was sapphic pirates, and something about sea monster trainers.

Which sounds amazing, of course! It was enough to make me pick this book up after seeing only one review, which I rarely do. But still, I went in with exactly zero expectations.

And then the beginning was a bit slow...

But this book blew me out of the water! (I'm sorry, bad ocean puns... I can't help it...)

I LOVED this book! It was SO good! And I haven't stopped flailing about it and yelling at everyone to read it ever since!

Okay so the CHARACTERS!!!

Cas was an awesome protagonist! I really liked her, and something about her voice was just... really refreshing to read. She was just... I don't even know. She wasn't perfect. She wanted to stay alive, and she sometimes went against everything she'd been taught in order to do so. But she wasn't selfish or anything either. She was just... I don't really know how to explain it (by which I mean I read this too long ago and only half remember...). But I loved her. A lot.

Swift was also amazing! Swift was honestly my absolute favourite! She was so hard and prickly and rude, but she had a heart of gold inside, and I just adored her! Also her snark and sass was great!

The other side characters were great too! I just... don't remember any names, so I can't really offer much more in the way of details. But they were great.

And the ROMANCE!
It was adorable. And look, just don't question my definition of 'adorable', okay? They were adorable as they spat insults at each other and threatened to murder each other, and they were even more adorable when they had their soft, sweet, touching moments. And AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

The world-building was good too. It wasn't as developed as it could have been, but the book was really short, so it was pretty good for it's length, and I'm hoping we'll learn more in book two as well. And the development truly was good, just not spectacular.

Plus the plot was fast paced and I couldn't put it down.

All in all, this was an amazing book, and I would like the sequel RIGHT THIS SECOND PLEASE?!?!

***Initial Reaction, June 1, 2018***

SO. GOOD. Can I have the sequel RIGHT NOW please?!?! RTC.
Profile Image for Chelsies Reading Escape.
631 reviews363 followers
November 13, 2017
I really wanted to love this book, especially since I bought my own copy after receiving an ARC of the sequel, but sadly it let me down. The elements were all there but I found myself so frustrated with the characters and rolling my eyes that I even picked up and finished another book when I was a third of the way through. I love pirates and books with LGBT elements. I even liked the plot and the idea of trained sea monsters that protect ships but the characters and their developpement didnt work for me. I also feel like the history of this fascinating world could have been explained a bit better.

I dont understand why the captain, also known as the Pirate Queen, didnt think of what would happen to Bao if they took off to attack another ship. If shes so smart you think she would have made sure her most prized possession wasnt left behind. I didnt like her manipulation of her trainees and her callous nature but she makes a decent antagonist. Shes so manipulative that I could never tell what her true motivation or intentions were. The only pirates we really get to know are the trainees and half the time I couldnt even remember who was who, except for Swift and Code for obvious reasons.

I went from thinking I might actually start liking Swift but then she would do something that got on my nerves. She complains about the main character Cas being on the ship and that she doesnt belong there but its her fault she was brought on the ship in the first place. Not to mention Swift totally bailed when both their lives were on the line. I also didnt like how she pulled Cas around so hard when they were cuffed together that she was hurting Cas's wrist. I enjoyed getting to know Swifts family and understanding her motivation but it still wasnt enough for me to completely excuse the way she treated Cas. I was glad when they realized a relationship wasnt a good idea with the power difference while one of them is a prisoner.

I didnt like the unadressed Stockholm syndrom vibe I got from Cas and how she kept second guessing herself. Im not opposed to morally grey character. My issue with Cas was that shes kind of weak and didnt stand up for beliefs. When she had a chance to prove herself at the end and take her vengance she made a really stupid decision. She could have redeemed the story but instead she wasted it. Im hoping she has a plan to take them down and thats why she made that decision. I believe the sequel could really turn this story around but I wont know for sure until I pick it up. I wasnt even going to post this review but I think my review of the sequel will make more sense if people read this review first.

My Rating Scale:
5 stars = Absolutely Amazing
4 stars = Loved it but its missing something
3 stars = Enjoyed it but had a few issues
2 stars = Had something I liked or indifferent
1 star = Not for me (probably DNF)
Profile Image for anya.
123 reviews51 followers
October 16, 2022
I would just like to say that there is a book out there, in this very universe, in which sometime in The Future people train giant turtles and engage in epic pirate battles. With the turtles.
This is not a drill.

Sooo.... my library thinks that it’s ok to just *not* have this book and I consider that to be treason (ps I still love my library thanks for all the books you do have lol)
Profile Image for Katherine Locke.
Author 14 books506 followers
February 17, 2016
Five fucking stars for 288 pages of non-stop action packed adventure. LESBIAN PIRATES AND SEA MONSTERS IN A MORALLY CORRUPT WORLD. I mean, if that doesn't sell you on the book, why are we even friends?
Profile Image for Shan( Shans_Shelves) 💜.
918 reviews79 followers
January 30, 2018
Full review also on my Blog

Sea Monsters, Queer pirates and a villain to die for: You Want This Book!

The Abyss That Surrounds Us is a Young Adult, sci-fi novel told from the POV of 17 year old Cassandra “Cas” Leung. Cas has trained reckoners( Scientifically engineered sea monsters) all her life. The reckoners were engineered to protect sea vessels, such as cargo ships or cruise ships from pirates at sea. On her very first trip Cas is unfortunately kidnapped by pirates and that is where our story begins.

In terms of world building/plot, there isn’t much. Most of the novel takes place on the minnow, the pirate ship and has Cas training Bao. However the way in which the novel was written and the descriptive passages were very well done. It’s very hard to keep a book set in one place entertaining but the author did a fabulous job here.

Like most novels for me the characters stole the show. Especially our villain, Santa Elena. Her character was so well thought out and to be honest I am here for more badass WOC in power. She’s strong, cruel and vicious. You may hate her but I can guarantee you’ll admire her. Cas’s character development was interesting. We see her grow so much and start to question everything she believes in. She’s a good heroine with strong morals and I’m curious to see how her character develops in the sequel.

Our side characters were also fantastic and I loved the crew. They grew on me especially: Swift. Her character is just as fascinating as Cas. Due to the f at that they’re complete opposites it was fun to watch their romance develop.Let’s talk about my favorite part: The slow burn f/f romance! Yes queer pirates. I was delighted when Cas reveals she’s queer. Honestly it’s been so long since I’ve read and cared about a romance so much. I ship them and they better end up happy or so help me God!

Overall a delightful read that I can’t wait to continue. It had the perfect mix of badass characters and interesting story to keep me happily entertained. The romance is to die for and I cannot to get my hands on The Edge Of The Abyss. Completely recommend The Abyss That Surrounds Us it deserves way more hype than it gets.

Update: 30/1/18
Holy Shit! It took me way to long to read this.
I loved it.
Lesbian pirates are all I need in my life.
Also finally a f/f slow burn romance!

Review to come.
Profile Image for Ellen Gail.
839 reviews376 followers
August 28, 2017

This was pretty darn fun! You know, I don't think I've read many pirate novels (Lost Boy and Blackhearts are the only ones coming to mind, and those are barely piratey and take place mainly on land), let alone a futuristic pirate story featuring genetically engineered sea monsters, young lesbian romance, and a pleasing amount of moral ambiguity.

Cas Leung is a Reckoner trainer - basically she trains and tames giant genetically engineered sea monsters who bond with ships and protect them, usually by smashing any threat (aka pirates) into oblivion.

But things go VERY wrong when her ship is attacked. Suddenly she's captive on a pirate ship, expected (on pain of death) to raise a Reckoner for them, and left in the care of a very charming, bit of a ass, but undeniably hot pirate.

She’s a pirate. But there’s a hunger in Swift, and maybe it’s just my trainer impulse that makes me want to feed it for a moment.

I have to survive...And, after what happened today, I think it’d be kind of nice if Swift survived this mess too.

This was the most adorable slow burn romance. It even gave my stone cold heart some fluttery feelings. Instalove it was not - I mean, they're both dragged into liking each other kicking and screaming, usually at each other. But the romance never overwhelmed the rest of the story, and I'm grateful for that. Still. Cas and Swift are way cuter together than I would have thought.

We prowl the night, every bit the ancient horror we were meant to be.

The character development was nice all around. Some of the pirates are dicks, but some of the mainlanders are too. Cas isn't on that ship by choice, but it's undeniable that some of these people aren't the heartless monsters she was always taught to see them as. Even the Captain Santa Elena (or Elana? Someone correct my spelling here because I can't find it in my notes.), who is undoubtedly villainous, isn't solely blackhearted. She loves her son, her crew and her ship. And if her method of defending them is cruelty, so be it.

Even though the ending was like a motherfucking knife in my heart, I was thrilled by the all around badass development. You know, it's not the single best YA novel I've ever read, but it doesn't need to be. When the characters and the plot are both good, and it's this exciting and fun, that's enough for me.

The Abyss Surrounds Us hits all of my right buttons and apparently those buttons include lesbian pirates and sea monsters.
Profile Image for Mary Books and Cookies.
551 reviews406 followers
February 4, 2016
Thank you to NetGalley and Flux for providing this ARC.

Lord have mercy, I loved this. So. Freaking. Much. I literally have no words. I had no idea at all that I’d love it this much. I mean, I got so attached that 25 pages in, I was crying on the train, while avoiding the weird looks that people were giving me. Eh, the hazards of being a bookworm. Absolutely amazing book, full of action, intense, with no dull moments or filler chapters, easy to get into, easy to read. I honestly have nothing but praise for it.

It tells the story of Cassandra, a girl who is a trainer for Reckoners, huge genetically-engineered sea creatures, created and bred with the purpose of defending ships that cross the waters of the Neo-Pacific, which are swarming with pirates. She departs on her first solo mission - a cruise ship - with the Reckoner she spent the most time training, but something happens to it, rendering it unable to defend the ship when it’s attacked by pirates. They capture Cassandra and she is forced to train a new Reckoner, and make it imprint on the pirate ship (something that is unheard of) - her life is tied to the beast. If it fails, she fails.

I absolutely adored the idea of this book and found it extremely original. I went into it like I always do, knowing absolutely nothing, and when I met the first Reckoner, I just started dumbfounded at the pages, and I kept repeating “this is so cool this is so cool this is SO cool”. Skrutskie crafts a wonderful world, in a limitless ocean, filled with pirates, monsters, floating cities, and populated with compelling and diverse characters. I was kept at the edge of my seat throughout the whole book. It might seem short, at only 288 pages, but this works in its favor - there’s nothing redundant and the reader has no time to grow bored, because something is happening in each moment. It’s a roller-coaster from start to end and I need the next book this second.

I loooooved the characters. Cassandra is incredibly smart, dedicated, has an amazing sense of self preservation and she’s an absolutely kick-ass leading lady. And something that sealed the deal for me was the fact that her sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, in the sense that there’s no explanation as to why she’s gay, no usage of her sexuality to further or motivate the plot. It was fantastic. Her character development was beautiful to read and I absolutely loved her relationship with Swift, the pirate girl whose charge she becomes. The plot is driven mainly by female characters - Cass, Swift and Santa Elena (the captain of the pirate ship - she’s cunning and ruthless and you’re not used to seeing a woman lead a band of pirates and I want to praise Skrutskie for writing such an amazing character) are forces to be reckoned with and it’s so refreshing to see books like these.
And can I add that the huge freaking sea monsters had personalities of their own and were pretty much as important as the main characters? Because that totally happened and it was awesome.

For me, this was a book that kind of departed from the cookie cutter model for YA books. It was a mix of sci-fi and dystopia, with an overwhelming female cast, diversity and plain ol’ good writing. It was just so so soooo good. I urge you guys to pick this up, you’ll fly through it.


To everyone who got this far, thank you for reading and have a wonderful day! Also, feel free to share your thoughts, comment or tell me anything :)
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