Pirates, bio-engineered sea monsters, a lawless future on the ocean... Oh yeah. The Abyss Surrounds Us is such a cool book, and I'm really happy that I checked it out. :)
Cassandra Leung is a young Reckoner trainer, raising genetically engineered sea monsters (a.k.a. Reckoners) to protect sea vessels from pirates. When disaster strikes during Cas's first solo mission and she's captured by the infamous Santa Elena, she's given an ultimatum: Train a Reckoner pup for Santa Elena's crew, or be killed. As a result, Cas dives head-first into the rough-and-tumble pirate world, and Skrutskie doesn't blunt its edges. The violence is bloody at times, and some readers might be turned off by the vulgar language - but hey, we be talkin' about pirates, matey! Their gritty lifestyle makes Skrutskie's world more authentic and Cas's dilemma more harrowing.
What else did I love about The Abyss Surrounds Us? The Reckoners, of course. Bred from animal DNA including snapping turtles, snakes, and lizards, they're massive, destructive, and oddly lovable. especially Bao. Ethnic and sexual diversity are also well-represented. Cas is Chinese American, and her relationship with female pirate Swift is believable and complex. There's a hint of Stockholm Syndrome, since Swift is basically Cas's captor, but we get to see Swift's human side via secrets and vulnerabilities as well. She also prompts Cas to look at Reckoners from a new perspective and question the morality behind her training, which was really interesting.
At 268 pages, The Abyss Surrounds Us is fast-paced and action-packed, but doesn't elaborate enough on certain aspects that would have strengthened the story. I wanted to get to know more members of Santa Elena's crew better, and some of my questions about the world's history went unanswered. That said, Skrutskie took several risks with Abyss, and they really paid off. This is a fun, gutsy, and imaginative swashbuckler of a tale - and it made me realize that I need more epic sea monster battles in my life. :D