Review: The Abyss Surrounds Us


  • Release Date: February 8th, 2016
  • Author: Emily Skrutskie
  • Website:
  • ISBN: 9780738746913


Everyone who knows me is sick of hearing the phrase, “lesbian sea monster trainers” — whispered, with great enthusiasm, across the sales floor as I lovingly stocked more copies on my staff favorites shelf — but I’m not done with it yet. This book is everything I’ve been waiting to see emerge from the murky waters of YA. It’s a lean, mean sci-fi adventure that brings out the best of the genre in its premise and world-building. If Pacific Rim and Mad Max: Fury Road had a baby, The Abyss Surrounds Us would be it.

Our heroine is Cassandra Leung, a California teen whos trains genetically-engineered creatures called Reckoners to defend ships from vicious pirates on the waters of the NeoPacific. Her first solo mission out on open water goes horribly awry when she is kidnapped by the pirate queen Santa Elena and forced to raise a stolen Reckoner pup for her captors. With far more than her own life at stake, Cassandra’s loyalties will be tested in ways she cannot imagine. Even her heart may not be safe.

Abyss is an adventurous sci-fi romp through a world that manages to be post-apocalyptic without feeling “dystopian.” Instead of a gritty, industrial wasteland that looks like an exaggerated Hollywood set to anyone who’s never driven through Detroit, we have ingeniously constructed flotillas and artificial islands, coastal cities getting back on their feet after being relocated a few hundred miles inland, and a global economy that does what humans do best: adapt. Things are bad — much of the plot is centered around what drove the characters to piracy in the first place — but life (and the story) goes on, which I found somehow refreshing. Maybe it’s because the book didn’t wait for an attractive white person to get hurt before things were “bad enough” to get a rise out of society.

In fact, most of our characters aren’t white. I’m relieved that someone remembered that the Pacific might be inhabited by, I don’t know, Pacific Islanders. Or that they might be the first people to get screwed over by newly sea-based capitalism. Or that California might have an Asian American population. Really, just having a vaguely-dystopian futuristic novel that hasn’t erased all of its POC with no explanation is a relief. I raised my eyebrows at Santa Elena’s character (a sadistic black crime boss with a small child who is, apparently, fatherless? hm) but I think Skrutskie managed to pull her off by the end, and I expect we’ll see more facets of her character in the sequel.

Which brings me to the romance. In short, I’m in love with it. It unfolds slowly and naturally, as if actual human beings were consulted. Two girls are in love, and we don’t have to spend 90% of the book on one of both of them struggling out of the closet. And the unhealthy captor-captive dynamic is a deal-breaker! Multiple times! People communicate! Straight romances needs to sit down and take notes.

Now, I have been burned in the past when it comes to neat SF/F premises with LGBT characters. Sometimes, the spirit is willing, but the writing is weak. That is thankfully not the case here. Skrutskie has a clean, simplistic style that doesn’t rely on overwrought metaphors or too-detailed descriptions to mask other flaws in the prose — because, really, there aren’t a lot of flaws. She has writing chops and she knows how to use them, so prepare to be sucker-punched.

Go forth and read.