book review: sky in the deep

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young
Wednesday Books, 352 pp.
Published April 24, 2018

DISCLAIMER: I received a free digital ARC of this book from St. Martin's Press via NetGalley for reviewing purposes. This did not inform or influence my opinion in any way.


Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield—her brother, fighting with the enemy—the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother's betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan thought to be a legend, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.

She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.

Reading the above synopsis, one might expect unceasing action and a cutthroat heroine at the center of Sky in the Deep. Unfortunately that isn't the case. As my experience slowly ebbed from mediocre to unappealing, I realized that this was not a simple case of "wrong time, wrong book". Even with managed expectations much of what the summary promises simply doesn't materialize in the final story. Disjointed from the start, Sky in the Deep describes violently explicit battle scenes in a simplistic, middle grade-level prose. The mature content and writing style don't match, each appropriate for one audience and unwelcome for the other. A choppy cadence could not quite spoil an opening skirmish, yet once characters began using words rather than swords to communicate that minimal luster tarnished.

With a hype line like "part Wonder Woman, part Vikings" I anticipated Eelyn emerging as a self-sufficient warrior. The first battle showed promise. Fighting alongside her childhood friend, men and women distinguished on the field by ability rather than gender, she dispatches her enemies with ruthless efficiency. She also sets the main plot—a long-dead brother reappearing in a foe's ranks—in motion under her own power. However once the despised Riki capture Eelyn and drag her back to their village she never fully sheds the mantle of a damsel in distress. While she grouses and snarls, she escapes most predicaments via rescue. A promising start devolves into a puzzling helplessness that never dissipates, stranding readers with a main character that talks a bigger game than she plays.

Alongside a spunky warrior heroine, numerous fighting scenes should be in order. A few set piece battles do dot the story, but they're relatively few and far between. Eelyn spends more of her time peeling garlic and performing other household duties than she does fighting; whenever she does enter into an altercation at the Riki village it ends quickly, with her overpowered and available for rescuing. Because of this the bulk of the story's middle languishes in inactivity. Eelyn's inner monologue only exacerbates the sense of stasis. Although she constantly thinks of escape, excuses and happenstance always keep her docile.

And finally, if the promise of "a ruthless clan thought to be a legend" had you hoping for an otherworldly bent, temper your expectations. This third clan was never a legend to the reader. Spoiler: We learn very early on that these raiders killed Eelyn's mother many years ago and the Aska don't doubt their existence. While they may not have harmed the Riki yet, the truth of their existence is never a mystery.

Sky in the Deep fails to meet the expectations set by its synopsis. In a year already ripe with excellent YA heroines, Eelyn disappoints thanks to a wealth of unfulfilled potential. The writing style and content feel mismatched, which may alienate some readers. A tepid plot aggravates both problems, unnecessarily challenging the reader to navigate scene after scene of domestic submission with little reward at the end. The battles themselves provide some momentary excitement, yet they happen too infrequently to salvage the book as a whole.


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