Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publish Date: 10 June 2021
Page Count: 303 pages (hardcover)
In Deeper Waters by F. T. Lukens was one of my most anticipated books of 2021, so I was keen to dive into it (pun intended) before the end of the year.
Based purely on the stunning cover illustration, I had expected a cute maritime romance with a splash of magic. But I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth of the plot, which involves assassination attempts, conspiracies, arranged marriages and looming war, all in a modest 300 pages. In their acknowledgements, Lukens explains that the book is a product of wanting to write a ‘high fantasy fairytale’, which is a far better description for this standalone YA fantasy.
The story follows Prince Tal on his coming of age tour, having recently turned sixteen. His voyage aboard the War Bird takes a dramatic turn when the crew discover a burned-out ship, empty except for a chest of foreign coins and a strange boy in an iron fetter. Commander Garrett, Tal’s older brother, takes the mysterious boy aboard for questioning, trusting Tal to watch over him. But when Tal takes pity and removes his manacle, the boy throws himself overboard.
Shocked and upset by these events, Tal is miserable when the War Bird reaches port. That is, until he spots a familiar boy in the marketplace. He barely has time to satisfy his curiosity about the secretive stranger when assassins attempt to take Tal’s life. His coming of age tour quickly becomes a dangerous journey, fraught with perils that could culminate in all-out war. But Tal might just be able to stop it with help from an unlikely source.
“…and Tal would’ve thought it a fairy tale if not for the sand in his collar, and the water in his boots, and the ache of his body.”
In Deeper Waters is a breath of fresh ocean air. It’s such a joy to find a quality standalone fantasy novel like this that engages you throughout with interesting characters and finishes with an epic and satisfying ending. I loved the unexpected depth of political intrigue and epic fantasy-style plotting it covers without losing the romantic, fairytale lightness of the story. I also found Lukens’ sensitive exploration of themes of loss, trauma, and pain moving and inspiring.
In Deeper Waters is a thrilling fantasy romance that would make an excellent gateway into epic fantasy for young readers, with the bonus of having a queernorm setting. I’m so excited to check out Lukens upcoming book, So This is Ever After, and find out what the Chosen One gets up to after ‘ever after’.
Trigger warnings: Death of family, cutting/self-harm, implied suicide, family illness, mental/emotional trauma, torture/imprisonment.
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