The gods are dead. Decades ago, they turned on one another and tore each other apart. Nobody knows why. But are they really gone forever? When 15-year-old Hark finds the still-beating heart of a terrifying deity, he risks everything to keep it out of the hands of everyone so that he can use it to save the life of his best friend, Jelt. But with the heart, Jelt gradually and eerily transforms. How long should Hark stay loyal to his friend when he’s becoming a monster? And what is Hark willing to sacrifice to save him?
Published by Amulet Books, Deeplight by Frances Hardinge is a fantasy adventure that combines Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Frankenstein.
As compelling as the plot of Deeplight is, the character dynamics are offputting. The biggest turn off right from the beginning was Jelt.
Jelt being a terrible person was Hardinge’s intent, however, this worked against the reader. The manipulative, cruel, egotistical, self-centered attitude Jelt has repells the reader.
He is a horrible friend, putting himself first and putting Hark down when things don’t go according to plan. While offputting, it is an excellent representation of what a toxic relationship looks like.
There is nothing redeemable about Jelt making reading this friendship uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, Hardinge creates a wonderful scene to break up their friendship. Hark finally finds the strength to stand up to him, showing the reader how much he has grown. He learns to appreciate himself, learning about friendship during his time as an indentured servant; because they treat him with more respect and kindness than Jelt ever offered him.
It was also gratifying to see Jelt’s demise. Probably the best part of the novel, it brought out the monster the reader could already see inside of Jelt. The corruption, the malice, the sheer arrogance, and self-centeredness came to life in incredible detail. It is a beautiful scene to witness and probably one reader’s would repeatedly read.
Now, while the character dynamics were bothersome, Deeplight is a fascinating story.
The fantasy is there and written wonderfully. The detail, the mythology and connection to the gods, their beginnings, it was unique and wonderfully defined.
Hardinge writes with a vivid passion, allowing her to create such a brilliant fantasy with long-dead gods. The plane of existence under the sea was also unique. It is interesting to think of gods living below instead of above, creating a sinister edge to the story.
The development of the lore in Deeplight is fantastical, and I wish the book had more of it.
Overall, Deeplight is a good book, and there is something to be said about Hardinge’s representation. The fact that one of her best characters is a deaf girl is incredible.
There are not enough books featuring disabled people in strong roles, and here is one. She is a fierce, intelligent character, becoming the snarky friend Hark needs. Her dynamics with Hark are a saving grace for the novel.
There are parts that slow it down a bit to highlight Hark’s ability to grow and escape a toxic relationship. Not always easy, it is important for readers to see that nothing should trap them in an unhealthy relationship. Jelt being the only hindrance to the novel does not stop the story from being compelling.
Looking for more books? Check out our review of The Girl of Hawthorn and Glass by Adan Jerreat-Poole.