Some books are just so heartfelt and earnest, that they can be forgiven even if the plot is somewhat simple and a bit thin. That’s exactly how I would describe Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young, who eschewed all the fancy bells and whistles in her debut, avoiding bogging down her story with overly complicated and unnecessary details. What you end up getting is a straightforward Viking-inspired tale that never becomes extraneous, leaving way more room for meaningful character development and setting an energetic pace that never flags.
The book follows seventeen-year-old Eelyn, a young woman warrior from the Aska clan. For time immemorial, her people have been engaged in a bitter rivalry against a neighboring clan, the Riki. Every so often, their two clans will clash violently on the battlefield, each side losing people after each skirmish. That is how Eelyn lost her brother Iri five years ago, when she watched him get struck down by an enemy blade.
But then one day, the impossible happens. During their latest battle against the Riki, Eelyn’s life is saved by a familiar figure who appears out of nowhere amidst the chaos. To her shock, her rescuer is none other than her brother Iri, but he is alive and well, and not only that, he is with the enemy warriors—not as a prisoner, but as an equal and peer. Confused and angry, Eelyn goes after Iri for answers, but winds up being captured by the Riki, and during the time with their clan, she finally gets to witness the full depth of her brother’s betrayal. Not only is he fighting with the Riki, he has been taken in by one of their families, becoming the adopted brother of one of their warriors, a young man named Fiske. As the winter wears on, however, Eelyn gradually realizes that her captors are not that much different than herself—they all struggle against the bitter elements, are dedicated to their gods, and live to protect their loved ones. The Aska and Riki even have a common enemy, a ruthless clan long thought to be legend, but which is now rising again to become a threat. In order for both their clans to survive, Eelyn must team up with Fiske to convince their elders to put aside their animosities, for only united can they hope to have a chance.
Sky in the Deep begins in a rather typical fashion—with a battle scene. Here we are also introduced to Eelyn, who is a somewhat archetypal character as well, since, let’s face it: YA is chock full of “badass female protagonists™” like her, whose warrior training involves being taught how to act with more honor than sense, resulting in a worldview limited to winning glory on the battlefield by racking up a steep body count. In truth, I actually found myself wholly unimpressed by the book’s intro, turned off by the usual tropes and also by Eelyn, whose personality was predictable and shallow. And if I’m to be completely honest, the entire story is really just one big cliché, basically boiling down to our protagonist being taken out of her environment and thrust into her captors’, only to eventually become part of their world. There’s even the good old enemies-to-lovers romance which I saw coming a mile away.
Where this book really shines, however, is how these tropes are handled. I really don’t think the author set out to upend the genre here; I suspect she just wanted to tell a good story and focus on the growth of her characters over time. Credit where credit’s due: while I was less than enamored with Eelyn in the first half of the book, I gradually came around to her in the second half. My change of heart had a lot to do with the way her interactions with other characters were written, with her relationship with Iri being a central aspect of the plot. Within Eelyn rages a never-ending tug o’ war where her love for her brother battles the deep betrayal she feels for thinking he has abandoned her. It’s painful for our protagonist too, because the Aska essentially believe that those who kill their own people are denied entry to the afterlife. Eelyn fears that Iri has damned his soul to be alone forever, and thus we also often see her torn between hating him and wanting to save him.
Then there’s Eelyn’s relationship with the other members of the Riki household in which she finds herself enslaved. Inge, the family matriarch, is a stabilizing force with her calm and no-nonsense attitude. She makes Eelyn really open her eyes and look around her to see that maybe there’s more to every situation. Halvard is Inge’s younger son, a little boy whose innocent and child-like view of the world shows Eelyn how prejudices are learned—and how they can be unlearned. And finally, there’s Fiske, who only treated our protagonist well at the beginning for Iri’s sake, but later, he too comes around to see that he and Eelyn are actually very much alike. They both treasure family and care for Iri, and from that common ground is where a romance is sparked and begins to grow. Their love story didn’t exactly blow me away, nor did I find it to be anything special. However, it was sweet and relatively drama-free, which goes a long way with me these days.
All in all, nothing earthshattering to see here, but some books are just plain fun to read. Sky in the Deep is one such example, and I found the novel’s story and characters immensely enjoyable. Perfect if you’re looking for a quick and straightforward read, with almost equal amounts of action and emotion, brutality and sweetness.
Audiobook Comments: I just love, love, love Khristine Hvam. I’ve probably listened to dozens of audiobooks read by her, so as soon as I saw her name listed as the narrator for Sky in the Deep I knew that it would be a fantastic listen. Just as I anticipated, she delivered a wonderful performance, giving Eelyn the perfect voice....more
When I was a kid, I had this encyclopedia of Greek myths that I loved. However, like all reference materials, the stories in it were presented in a rather dull, textbook-like style—good enough if you’re simply looking up a name, or just want the straight up details…except I wanted more. As a child, going through that big book and reading about all these Greek gods and goddesses doing amazing, uncanny things, I always imagined in my mind what they would think or feel if they were real people with actual emotions and personalities.
In the end, I believe this is why I enjoyed Circe so much. I’ve been dreaming about a book like this ever since I was a kid, and while I’ve not had the pleasure of reading Song of Achilles yet, I’ve heard that this sort of Greek myth retelling is what Madeline Miller is known for. Not only does the author bring our favorite mythological figures to life, she also takes them to newer and higher limits by exploring their hearts, minds, and voices.
In Circe, Miller presents an almost memoir-like narrative about the titular character, a relatively minor goddess compared to some of the bigger, more famous names in the pantheon. Here, however, Circe gets her chance to shine, as readers are treated to a glimpse into her strange and wonderful life which was only lightly touched upon in Homer’s Odyssey. Born to the sun god Helios and the water nymph Perse, our protagonist unfortunately inherited none of her father’s godlike abilities nor any of her mother’s ravishing charms. As a result, growing up, she was often disregarded and ignored, until one day, she discovers that she does in fact possess a special power—a type of witchcraft that allows her to transform her enemies into wild beasts and monsters.
Threatened by the implications of this, Zeus sends Circe into exile, which is how she ends up on the island of Aiaia, where, as the story famously goes, she meets Odysseus and turns most of his crew into pigs. But this book is about so much more. Readers get the chance to journey with Circe as she crosses paths with some of the most well-known figures of Greek mythology. Through her eyes, we also get to experience important moments like the fall of Icarus and even the birth of the Minotaur. And yet, above all else, this is Circe’s tale. We watch as our protagonist continues to develop her abilities and hone her craft every day, because in a world full of danger and vengeful gods, her magic is the only way to protect those she loves.
It’s amazing how a bit of context and character development has managed to totally transform Circe’s story and add layers of nuance. In this book, she is more than just a “witch”, “goddess”, or any other kind of label; she is as human as she can be in her emotions and motivations—imperfect and genuine. Miller’s version of Circe is deeply sympathetic character, despite the cruel and awful things she has done. She has led a harsh life, which has led her to make harsh decisions, and whether you agree with her or not, what’s clear is that Circe is driven by much of the same things as all of us. She has hopes, dreams, regrets, and fears. She also cares fiercely for those she loves, and will do anything to keep them safe—even if it means facing down powerful foes or challenging fate itself.
I also loved how we got to see Circe grow as the book progressed through the various stages of her life, from her time as a child being overshadowed by her more zealous siblings, to her eventual motherhood and overprotectiveness for her son Telegonus. In between, there is so much more as Circe struggles to figure out her role in the family, and then of course there is her forced isolation and the abuses she suffered at the hands of both mortals and the gods. However, there are also moments of lightness and triumph that shine through, like when Circe discovers wonders like falling in love or the power of magic. Furthermore, her vices are counterbalanced by her virtues, such as her determination and strength.
There’s not much else I can say other than I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Kudos to Madeline Miller for deftly transforming Circe’s tale into this gorgeous work of art, giving the character heart and soul. Without a doubt, Circe is a mythology retelling done right.
Audiobook Comments: A book like Circe requires a talented narrator, since it follows the main character through such a wide range of emotions. I’m happy to say that Perdita Weeks was up to the task. I could find no fault at all with her performance, which was absolutely flawless and outstanding. A wonderful listening experience all around....more