Song of the Deep – Brian Hastings

About the Book

Twelve-year-old Merryn lives with her fisherman father in a little cottage by the sea. Each day, her father braves the tumultuous waves and returns home in time for dinner. One stormy evening, he doesn’t come back. Merryn has a vision that he’s been dragged underwater by a terrifying sea creature, and he needs her help. Determined to rescue him, Merryn builds a tiny submarine and embarks on a journey through the undersea worlds she’s only heard about in her father’s lullabies. As she faces the dangers and wonders of the world below the waves, she realizes that her father’s stories were all real.

Readers can also experience Merryn’s daring journey firsthand in the new Song of the Deep video game from acclaimed developer Insomniac Games.

176 pages (hardcover)
Published on July 12, 2016
Published by Sterling Children’s Books
Author’s webpage
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This book was by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve never read a novelization of a video game, so I really didn’t know what to expect. I did, however, tell the publisher I’d love to read and review this book because I thought my daughter would really enjoy the story. I decided to give it a shot. We went through this book really, really slowly, reading it together at night while she was falling asleep. There were some nights she’d only make it through two or three pages before she’d start snoring (It took us a few months to make it through the first Harry Potter book, to put our speed in context for you). But, it was a lot of fun, and it started some conversations between us about what really exists under the sea, and inventing cool magic systems that would work in our pretend underwater societies.

In essence, Song of the Deep is a story of a deep and abiding love, the kind of love that gives you warm fuzzies. Merryn is twelve, and living with her fisherman father. Their life is small and quaint and rather predictable. There is comfort and a well-established routine between them. Merryn is crafty, resourceful, and kind, three important traits that never diminish throughout the book. Her relationship with her father was heartwarming and refreshing. It seems like I read so many books for youth that involve anger, or resentment, or some sort of a struggle between parents and their children, so it was quite refreshing to share a story with my own kid where the parent and child felt such a strong, emotional, believable bond that truly transcended the pages of the novel.

Anyway, things happen, and one day Merryn’s father goes out fishing and never comes back. Instead of sitting up in their small house and feeling sorry for herself and her life, Merryn basically says, “to hell with this” (in a child-approved manner) and goes off to build a submarine, and finds a magic shell that switches water to air so she can breathe in her submarine underwater, and decides that she’s going to go get her father because she can. This is really where the adventure starts.

This is a short book, and it will be a quick read for just about everyone. I should note that the start of the novel is the slowest bit of it. Hastings is establishing a relationship and lifestyle between father and daughter, and I’m glad he spent some time there. The rest of the book was really wham-bam. Merryn was in and out of really interesting situations, and fantastic settings, and I kind of ended up lamenting the quick pace of things. There were a lot of situations where I was wishing Hastings would have slowed down a bit and really let me enjoy what he created – like an (almost) empty city with a haunted past, a lighthouse, a garden that seemed fantastic, a forbidden city, and so much more. These were fantastic places, but Merryn was in and out so fast I felt like I hardly had the time to soak them in the way I wanted to.

The book is complete with illustrations (which my kid loved), and a map. The adventure part of the novel was kind of paint-by-numbers. You know how this whole thing is going to end, and it’s pretty easy to figure out how Merryn will get through it all. But for my daughter, she just ate this whole thing up. The adventure was incredible to her, she loved how Merryn was so smart and could figure just about anything out. And as a parent, I loved that, too. Merryn was a strong protagonist and the kind of character I want my daughter to read about. She’s smart, resourceful, and kind. Never once are her looks mentioned in any real way. She doesn’t save the day because she’s pretty, she saves the day because she’s smart, and she figures out how to get things done. Bravo.

In the end, I do  think my kid was a little too young to fully appreciate all this novel had to offer (she’s almost five, so I figured that would be the case but whatever). However, she enjoyed this one a whole lot more than I expected her to. It kept her guessing, and the illustrations were fantastic, and really helped her visualize what was going on, and where everything was taking place. As a parent, I loved this novel because I could really get behind the protagonist. I thought the pacing was a bit off, but the magic of the book was wonderful, and the underwater world portrayed was really imaginative.

So where does this leave us? For kids, I think this book is superb. Adults will probably appreciate some of its themes, and how imaginative it is, but this is a book geared toward kids, and kids will adore it. My husband preordered the game (and refused to read any part of this novel so it wouldn’t ruin his surprises while playing the game), and now my daughter is just about chomping at the bit to play the game with my husband. I’m pretty excited to see how the novel translates into a game. And I’m really glad I got to enjoy this with my daughter.

 

4/5 stars