...a book that is more deep than it is light and which needs concentration and commitment to enjoy to the full... I know as many teenage naysayers as I do firm devotees of Hardinge’s previous books and this one is unlikely to change that. But I swallowed Deeplight hook, line and sinker; those who submit and submerge will reap the literary rewards of this extraordinary world — the likes of which could only have come from Hardinge’s fantastical, philosophical pen.
The deftly drawn central relationship between Hark and the manipulative Jelt, impossible to refuse or leave behind, is as compelling as the widening, frightening ripple of revealed secrets about the nature of the gods and the reason they died. Like the subject of Ariel’s Song in The Tempest, Deeplight is headily “rich and strange” throughout, preoccupied with transmuted forms, the fearsome fascination of the sea, loyalty warring with self-interest, and the human yen to placate and venerate the monstrous.
Frances Hardinge is on dazzling form in Deeplight (Macmillan), a fantasy adventure of gods, monsters and mythology. On the islands of the Myriad archipelago, street urchins Hark and Jelt scavenge the deep waters of the undersea for relics of long-dead gods. A dangerous discovery challenges the boys and their friendship to the very core. Hardinge is best known for Costa book of the year The Lie Tree, which was grounded in Victorian society, but here the freedom of an entirely imagined landscape showcases her staggering originality. A masterclass in world-building.
Recounted with a dark imagination, the adventures that befall Hark involve undersea escapades, and add up to an allegory about religious fanaticism that embraces the wisdom of the elderly and a warning about manipulative friendships. As Hark and his allies battle monsters, he learns that “we are what we do, and what we allow to be done”.