“I don’t just raise monsters. I am one.”
Emily Skrutskie’s debut novel, The Abyss Surrounds Us, is a young adult science fiction novel set in a future world.
It follows protagonist Cassandra Leung as she navigates her family business of bossing around sea monsters. The book has received praise for its unique and thrilling plot, and Emily Skrutskie has gone on to write a sequel: The Edge of the Abyss.
The Abyss Surrounds Us follows the story of Cas, a young woman who has been training to fight monsters her entire life. When everything goes wrong on her first day on the job, she is captured by pirates and is offered an unexpected opportunity when she meets Santa Elena, a pirate leader who wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own.
Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup she can rear to be her very own monster killer (and Skrutskie does a great job with her portrayal of animals). With it comes danger and adventure, as Cas must learn how to control and train the creature while also navigating life among the pirates.
Along the way, she meets Swift and although the two women share romantic feelings, Swift is one of the pirates holding Cas hostage. Cue lots of tension and some forced proximity tropes to up the ante!
Content Warnings: violence and death as well as themes of slavery and oppression. Suicidal thoughts and attempted self-harm. Animal cruelty and death.
Cas is brave and determined, but also vulnerable in many ways, and she does end up being somewhat easily manipulated. Santa Elena, the pirate Queen is another important character in this book; she is a powerful pirate leader with mysterious motives that are slowly revealed throughout the story. She is also callous and manipulative and makes a very good villain.
Then there is Swift, Cas’s love interest, who has a complex history and a complex relationship with Cas. She is the guard while Cas is the prisoner. She is also a pirate with a difficult family life and is not above causing Cas pain, both physical and emotional.
Skrutskie writes morally grey characters, who can be strong and yet driven by their weaknesses, who can be cruel and selfish but who you still want to root for.
Skrutskie’s writing style is vivid and engaging. Her descriptions bring each scene to life while also conveying emotion through dialogue between characters. The pacing of this book keeps readers hooked until its thrilling conclusion.
The world-building in The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie is truly impressive. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, with genetically engineered sea monsters and sapphic pirates. Skrutskie has created a unique and captivating universe that is both complex and believable. Even more impressive is the level of detail given to the societies that inhabit this world. From their culture to their technology, Skrutskie has crafted an immersive experience that will keep readers engaged until the very end.
I won’t give anything away about the plot, but I found it engaging, full to twists which had me always wanting to read just one more chapter.
Themes & Ideas
The main theme explored in The Abyss Surrounds Us is power: who has it, how it can be used for good or evil, and what happens when it falls into the wrong hands? This is explored well in the relationship between Cas and Swift – one is a pirate, the other is a prisoner, and though the young women develop feelings for one another, there is a massive power imbalance, and this is rarely acknowledged in books with similar setups.
Other themes include loyalty, friendship, identity, family ties, morality, justice vs revenge, freedom vs captivity, trust vs betrayal, hope vs despair and more. These themes are explored through both action-packed scenes as well as quieter moments between characters that allow readers to connect emotionally with them on deeper levels than just surface-level excitement or fear for their safety.
Overall, I would highly recommend The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie for fans of science fiction YA novels looking for an exciting adventure full of twists and turns along with meaningful themes that will stay with you long after you finish reading it!