Song of the Deep: An engaging character placed into an intriguing world

Song of the Deep by Brian Hastings fantasy book reviews Middle GradeSong of the Deep by Brian Hastings

“Multi-platform” is one of those buzzwords you hear a lot, and Insomniac Games is taking the concept and running with it, with their most recent game, Song of the Deep, sharing a release with a same-titled Middle Grade book, written by Brian Hastings. I don’t know anything about the game itself, but one can see the pedigree of game elements in the story to, I’d say, both good and ill effect. But generally Song of the Deep is an engaging, quick-moving story with a determinedly likable character at its center.

Twelve-year-old Merryn lives with her fisherman father (her mother died a few years earlier) in a cliff house overlooking the sea. Every day she hopes to go out with her father on his one-man boat, but every day he tells her it’s too dangerous. So instead she’s relegated to standing atop the cliff at night with a candle to guide him home. When he doesn’t come home one night, though, Merryn uses her resourcefulness to build herself a submersible and seek him out. As her quest unfolds she has a series of underwater adventures, meets some friends (and enemies), and learns the truth behind her mother’s odd old lullabies she used to sing Merryn to sleep by. While the story is resolved, there is a clear set-up for a potential sequel.

Merryn's Journey (Song of the Deep) Hardcover – October 4, 2016 by Brian Hastings  (Author), Tony Mora (Illustrator), Alexis Seabrook (Illustrator)

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As a main character, Merryn strikes a nice balance between plucky/determined/resourceful and realistically scared/occasionally despairing. She’s likable, intelligent, good intentioned, and moral. If things come a bit implausibly easy or quickly, well, it is aimed at 8-12-year-olds (I’d say more for the lower range), so it’s hard to fault the story for that. The image of her standing atop the cliff with the candle is nicely done, and you can’t help but admire how quickly she does the right thing. There are other people/creatures, but it’s hard to all them apart as characters (beyond her father). They play their roles and have a somewhat stock set of traits, but since the focus is clearly meant to be on Merryn, again, it’s hard to think of this as much of a flaw.

The pacing of Song of the Deep is smooth and the story moves along quickly, albeit maybe too much so for older readers, as noted. And the gameplay elements make themselves perhaps a little too overt in the latter part of the book, as it’s pretty easy to imagine the problems she’s asked to solve becoming obstacles for the game player (guiding a craft around and through bursts of lava, for instance.)

I liked the idea of the lullabies her mother once sang to her coming back in useful fashion, though again, for me it was sometimes a bit too convenient or on the nose. And the undersea world is a nicely original mix of classic underwater tales (lost cities, leviathans), Irish myths, and an especially unexpected science fiction element.

As mentioned, I don’t know anything about the game, but even without a tie-in, Song of the Deep can stand by itself as a nice little MG book (again, I’d aim it more for the 8-10 range rather than the older MG readers) with a strong central character and a nicely original and interesting world.

Publication date: July 12, 2016. Middle Grade. 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.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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