(Goodreads summary here.)
If I am being perfectly honest, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t be, I 100% only bought this book because of the cover. Now, I’m not a big cover-buyer in general (mostly because I’m cheap/broke as heck). For the most part, unless I’m really excited about a book or am looking to finish a series that I own all the other books for, I’m pretty content with waiting until they become available through the library. However, there was not an atom in my body that could resist buying this edition of The Wicked Deep. I mean, look at it. How could you not want a copy of this beauty on your shelves?
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, onto the actual book: I liked it. Unfortunately, that’s about all I can say. Nothing really stuck out to me in either a good or bad way, apart from the fact that it seemed to start off a bit slow. About halfway through, I put it down for a couple of days because I was busy and in a bit of a reading block. And there on some books where I never could have done that, but that just wasn’t the case for this one. I didn’t feel any particular drive to read it when I had time. When I did pick it back up, however, something had changed. I don’t know if I just needed a break from it or reading in general, or if it just suddenly got more interesting at the halfway mark, but suddenly I was invested. Maybe that means it deserves a reread when I’m not in a reading slump, but I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. Still, I am thrilled that I got myself back into. I really hate DNFing books, so I don’t think I was in danger of that, but I was concerned I’d stick it out and end up severely disappointed, which was not the case.
I was really impressed with the plot. When it first released, there was a lot of talk that it was like a more modern Hocus Pocus, which is a movie I adore but not one I really felt like I needed to read a remake of. It is similar, yes, but there is so much more depth and emotion to this book than there ever could be in anything related to that movie (it is, after all, a comedy). The whole idea of the Swan sisters’ revenge on the town is really intriguing, and everything about it has this subtle macabre aura that is just the right amount of creepy without turning into horror. The little reveals throughout the book really kept me on my toes, which is pretty uncommon for me. I typically piece things out about where the plot is going, but the reveals in this book were either too small to make any real impact on my theories or were earthshattering and proved me completely wrong. It was really refreshing to have a story that tells you just enough to be interesting but still keeps its little secrets from you.
At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the flashbacks. In the beginning especially, they seemed a bit arbitrary, and I thought I was just going to get annoyed by them. Over the course of the book, however, I became just as invested in the Swan sisters as I was in Penny and modern-day Sparrow. Honestly, I could probably read a whole book on just their adventures. They begin precisely as you would expect them to, seeing them largely through the eyes of the town but slowly learn their side of the story and the tragedy that befell them, and I loved every word of it by the end. The Swan sisters are clearly integral to the story, but you don’t realize the extent to which their lives altered the shape of the narrative.
I really thought the writing style was hit-or-miss. There were paragraphs that I thought were really powerful and beautiful and others that fell very flat, especially in comparison to the good ones. It was a little frustrating to have that kind of inconsistency, but for the most part, I thought the good outweighed and outnumbered the bad. Ernshaw clearly has the potential to be a phenomenal author, but, for me, she needs to be more constant in her style and voice.
Overall, the book really reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s works. The style, the plot, and especially the ending gave me a really Gaiman vibe. I thought the ending was really touching, although you can’t quite call it a happy one. Sure, there are happy aspects to it, but it’s not your clear-cut “And they all lived happily ever after.” I find that to be very typical of Gaiman books, and it’s one of the reasons I love his work so much. He isn’t afraid to tell you it’s not all perfect, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. That was exactly the feeling I got at the end of The Wicked Deep, and a major reason I thought the ending was far better than the beginning.
For all the virtues of the plot, I wasn’t really loving the characters. Again, especially at the beginning, they’re all a little too flat and unrealistic for my taste. Yeah, they begin to expand and grow, but it takes too long and by that point you’re questioning if you should even bother finishing the book, which is not what you want to be thinking mid-book, especially since it gets so much better by the end! There wasn’t much I really liked about either Penny or Bo. The romance seemed a bit forced and unconvincing, and we never really know what either person is truly like, even by the end. And I want to fully jump into a character’s head when I read about them, particularly if it’s from their perspective. Like I said before, I thought the Swan sisters were a much more interesting trio of characters, and I wish we had seen more of them in action. Even though they weren’t the main characters, they seemed far more complex than any of the modern-day ones. There is a major caveat to this, but I won’t go into detail because of spoilers. Let’s just say that I was really happy with the way a certain character matured and learned from their mistakes by the end of the novel.
All-in-all, I just wish there had been more to this book. It was so full of potential and just didn’t quite get there to be an amazing book. Still, I’m happy I read it and will definitely read Ernshaw’s next books.
Have you read The Wicked Deep? What did you think? Are there any other books that just didn’t quite do it for you?