Over the course of the week I had to spend at home, I ended up reading two novellas that had very little in common apart from having the word “deep” in the title. Oh, and being really good, I guess.
I didn’t do it on purpose.
I’m in awe of just how much there was in this novella.
The Deep is a story about intergenerational trauma and healing, following Yetu, the historian of the wajinru – merpeople who descended from enslaved pregnant African women who were thrown overboard.
Every day, Yetu is overwhelmed by all the painful history she has to carry on her own, while the rest of her people aren’t able to form detailed long-term memories. As this book says, there are forms of remembering that go further than actual memory, some of which are written in the body itself, and not having memories isn’t the same as healing. But neither is being forced to dwell and be consumed by memories, as Yetu is.
I really liked the focus on the importance of community in the healing process. Our (Western) frameworks usually put the onus of healing on the individual, and while that kind of work is important – Yetu needed time for herself, and finds it – it isn’t complete in these circumstances; healing needs to be a communal effort as well.
The Deep also talks about the role that memory has in identity, and how being separated from one’s heritage and history is another kind of trauma.
The worldbuilding is deliberately sparse, which is a choice I have mixed feelings about: while I love that this managed to do so much in so little space, I found myself wishing for more description and information, also because of the surprising lack of atmosphere (…the deep sea is fascinating and I want more details! can’t turn marine ecology brain off completely). Still, I think it accomplished all it set to do, it didn’t need to do more than that.
It’s also really queer! The wajinru are non-gonochoric – so, no bimodal distribution of sex differences like in humans, which makes a lot of sense, real marine life forms often don’t conform to that binary either – and while they have a concept of gender not too dissimilar from humans’, they don’t assign gender at birth. There’s an f/f romance between Yetu and an African woman, which was really sweet.
(I also think both Yetu and her love interest are coded as neurodivergent, but I’m not sure.)
One more thing: I absolutely loved the afterword. I think more book should have something about how the story was put together and some history behind it; it’s so interesting and it deepens the readers’ understanding.
My rating: ★★★★½
Desdemona and the Deep is one of the most unique fae stories I’ve ever read. Its setting is inspired by the second industrial revolution, but I can only describe its writing style as hallucinatory rococo. It’s excessive and excessively detailed, taking the concepts of “whimsical” and “descriptive” to a completely new level, and of course I loved every moment of it. It would probably be too heavy for a novel, but for a novella, it works wonderfully.
This is a story of parallel universes and the boundaries between them, and the ways they maintain balance or don’t, as this book is set in three worlds – the human world, the world of the gentry, and goblin underworld. It has the kind of eldritch, morally blue-orange supernatural creatures I love to read about.
Desdemona is the rich daughter of a divorced couple – a woman who became an activist and a greedy mine owner. She is vain and loud and attention-seeking, and unafraid to become a nuisance, which I really appreciated about her. She’s such a chaotic character and I loved her character development, mostly revolving around learning to care and fight for other people. Also, she’s queer! There’s a lot of queerness in this story, because the other most relevant human character is a trans woman and there’s a plot-relevant polyamorous marriage.
A central theme here is the fight for worker’s right. This book starts with a fundraising for girls affected by phossy jaw, and continues with discussions about occupational hazards; this is, in a way, a story about how rich people don’t care about worker’s safety, only about how much money they’re going to make.
More than anything, this book reminded me of how happy endings can be revolutionary. This book, this gorgeous whimsical book, managed to give a happy ending to characters I thought couldn’t fully get one, in a way I didn’t expect but that didn’t feel contrived either. It’s a necessary reminded of the importance of spaces made for those who are not accepted by society.
Also, every portrayal of fae that adheres to heterosexual, cisgender, monogamous norms looks even more dissonant to me now. As far as I’m concerned, fae are inherently queer.
My rating: ★★★★¾
Have you read any interesting (…deep?) novellas lately?