“Vegr yfir fjor. Honor above life.”
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.
CW: violence, gore, graphic injury, loss of a loved one, animal death, slavery, suicide, torture, sexual assault
It looks like this book is going to go down in my 2019 records as possibly the worst one I picked up. I don’t really enjoy writing negative reviews (even the ones that are 3 stars are less still find something positive usually), but man…I have to rant about Sky in the Deep because it made me 80 different levels of angry and uncomfortable, and I’m mad that I’m terrible about DNFing things, because I really, really should have this time.
For one, the characters really have all the depth of super flimsy cardboard. Y’know, like the stuff that keeps a six-pack of pudding cups together on the store shelf? Yeah, that stuff. I’m the scrawniest wimp on the planet and it’s easy to tear that in half just by looking at it funny. You probably can see where this is going in this review. You can probably see it’s not good.
Really, we have only one protagonist, and then a bunch of extras who flit in and out and don’t do much. Eelyn is an Aska warrior captured by the Riki in battle, then made a dýr to the family of the boy who adopted her thought-dead brother and also falls in love with her. Which, frankly, has about eighty problems baked right into one sentence.
For one, Eelyn gets minimal agency until the last third of the book. I spent some 200ish pages watching her get pushed around and, yeah, you probably had a sinking feeling about what a dýr is. She’s made a slave. She’s literally BOUGHT by the boy who becomes her love interest.
You can pause for a moment to let that sink in. Or, frankly, I wouldn’t blame you for dropping this like a hot potato, because honestly, WHAT THE HELL. And no, “if I didn’t capture you, shoot you, then buy you as a slave, you would have been killed by someone else” isn’t romantic. It’s just the creepiest excuse for a romance, especially between a character who has no power, and a character who has all the power (and zero personality whatsoever to boot).
So yeah, not only is that a storyline I had no interest in, when the LI finally frees Eelyn from being a dýr, they both act like they’ve got life debts to one another, and then suddenly after NO PRIOR GOOD WILL TOWARDS ONE ANOTHER, they’ve gotta kiss out in the cold and then totally upend their ways of life.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: life debts do not a romance make, because WOW, the power imbalance there is all kinds of messed up. Also, Eelyn, he purchased you as property. And your brother didn’t even bother to intervene (yeah, the brother you were pretty much willing to die for, that one). That’s too many red flags, so quit kissing him, I’m begging you.
I suppose I will say that the one thing the novel got right was the idea of breaking the cycle of violence. There is a child character who isn’t yet steeped in the vicious cycle of hate between the Riki and Aska, and Eelyn in some ways makes it her mission to make sure kids like him never have to live that cycle out. I appreciate that this made it into the book, instead of perpetuating the divide between the two groups without any attempts to make amends.
But it’s mostly spoiled by the fact that it ultimately just happens to work out after the most anti-climactic battle I’ve ever read, and the fact that no one mentions that the Riki have been, you know, keeping war captives as slaves. And selling them between villages.
There’s no much I can say to redeem this book, and I’m not sure why so many of the reviews I’ve seen are so positive, raving about the nuanced characters and whatnot. I think we read very different books if this is what people think is nuanced, and I doubt I’ll pick up Young’s work in the future without checking out reviews from people I trust, or just getting it from the library so I don’t have to spend my own money on it. It was just…so bad. Poor pacing, flat characters, and super super questionable framing have absolutely repelled me from this book. I’d probably donate this book if the thought of inflicting it on someone else without being able to give them fair warning didn’t make me uneasy.
Going on any further about this book is going to wear me out, so it’s best to call it quits here before I boil over. If you’ve read Sky in the Deep, though, I’d love to talk with you about it. And even if you haven’t, if you want to chat, I guarantee that I do too. Sometimes, a bad book is best forgotten through some commiserating. It’s proven science, I promise.