ARC Review: THE DESCENT OF THE DROWNED by Ana Lal Din

I received an eARC from the author in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.

Title in white on a gold cobra on dark turquoise
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: YA
Star rating: 2 stars
Series: yes - first book of duology
CW: rape, violence against women

Synopsis:

Book cover for THE DESCENT OF THE DROWNED: title in silver below a cobra around a heart on teal

She is bound to serve. He is meant to kill. Survival is their prison. Choice is their weapon.

As the sacred slave of a goddess, Roma is of a lower caste that serves patrons to sustain the balance between gods and men. What she wants is her freedom, but deserters are hunted and hanged, and Roma only knows how to survive in her village where women are vessels without a voice. When her younger brother is condemned to the same wretched fate as hers, Roma must choose between silence and rebellion.

Leviathan is the bastard son of an immortal tyrant. Raised in a military city where everyone knows of his blood relation to the persecuted clans, Leviathan is considered casteless. Lowest of the low. Graduating as one of the deadliest soldiers, he executes in his father’s name, displaying his worth. When he faces judgement from his mother’s people—the clans—Leviathan must confront his demons and forge his own path, if he ever hopes to reclaim his soul.

But in the struggle to protect the people they love and rebuild their identities, Roma’s and Leviathan’s destinies interlock as the tyrant hunts an ancient treasure that will doom humankind should it come into his possession—a living treasure to which Roma and Leviathan are the ultimate key.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

I can see why this book is highly rated on Goodreads (and other such sites). The world is interesting and it is a deeply feminist story about survival. However, the execution and some of the tropes just didn’t quite work for me.

Personally, I’m not really in the mood for deeply patriarchal worlds where women are oppressed, abused and exploited. We need those stories about surviving, healing, and fighting back, but right now, it’s not what I want to read. I am reaching, instead, for books with gender equal societies, or books where sexual assault is not the focus – as those books are just a bit too intense for me right now.

Levithan’s story is much more active and less observational than Roma’s. Most of the actual plot happens in his half. You expect a story about survival to be quieter – and so it makes sense in Roma’s half that she just drifts along observing the world and how awful it is. However, the imbalance between the two is very noticeable and the comparison makes her half much less engaging. The tone and pacing isn’t matched across the two, doesn’t unify the story.

It didn’t help that Roma and Levithan’s stories are so separate. Their halves interact mostly by seeing each other when they just so happen to be in the same place at the same time. Then he drags her into a scheme, without her consent, and then utterly abandons her until he gets a vision at the end to save her from a different scenario. It didn’t feel like they were intrinsically part of the same story, just people who happen to bump into each other a few times. As someone who prefers characters to be deeply linked, it was a bit of a hinderance to me.

A trope/character I’m seeing a lot in YA is the broken dark prince. This is a prince (or insert for the high nobility of the world) who was sweet and sensitive as a child who was then taken (usually ripped from the mother by the father who is disgusted by the son’s “weakness”) and sent away. There they are trained into a “dark, soulless monster” – usually an assassin or the such, a weapon used by the ruler against the people.

Part of why I’m not fond of the trope is that I’m seeing it so much that I’m bored of it, but a lot of it is because the prince spends a lot of time brooding about being a monster and unloveable. Thankfully, Levithan didn’t spend too much time brooding (I cannot stand broody characters as it usually precludes action, and means long monologues of the same “I am unloveable” idea repeated many times), however, he did feel like a bit of a cookie-cutter character stamped out by this mould. Particularly once the book hit the final act and he got involved in the rebellion.

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