They say you can sail a thousand miles along the island chain of the Myriad, from the frosty shores of the north to the lush, sultry islands of the south.
–Frances Hardinge - Deeplight - c.2020
Hugo nominee 2020, although not really because technically the Lodestar isn’t a Hugo, only it is…
This is the story of sea monsters, of terrible gods of the ocean, of friendship and growing up, of loyalty and betrayal.
This is a great read.
I’ve read one other book by Frances Hardinge, and that was A Skinful of Shadows which I read in 2017. It too was nominated for the Lodestar Award, and I remember enjoying it but I never wrote a review of it at the time, which means I don’t recall details. That is one of the reasons I like to write about books I’ve read, it makes the details stick a little more. And if they don’t stick often reading my own review brings my impressions back.
A Skinful of Shadows was fantasy based on historical events, Deeplight is a totally created and imagined world, where Cthulu-like1 gods once terrorised2 and protected3 the islands of the Myriad. But thirty or so years ago something happened, and now the gods are gone. Gone but not forgotten, and their bodies are ripe for salvage as “godware” can have some pretty interesting uses.
Hark and Jelt grew up together on an island of the Myriad. They are best friends, although Jelt often disappears off and reappears when it suits him. Hark remains loyal to his friend and this is where the trouble begins.
Hark is our main POV character, and he is a great creation. He has grown up to teenage-hood in a hard cruel world, where it is everyone for themselves. He only has Jelt, apart from that he makes his living by low-key cons.
I loved the way Hardinge explored the relationship between Jelt and Hark, and the very idea of loyalty. It is a character trait that we often praise and consider a positive. But what happens when people grow apart but that idea of loyalty yokes them together. How does loyalty work when it is one-sided? And when is loyalty to be rejected?
As I say, I really liked the way all that was explored, but there is loads more to appreciate in Deeplight, the world-building, the atmosphere, the gods of the deep – all make for a wonderful read.
Plus it feels like a standalone work, and while I would have no problem returning to the world of the Myriad I really appreciate a standalone fantasy book. Series are great, but it is nice to have a complete story in one go.