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Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea, by Rita Chang-Eppig

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Did someone declare this the year of the Pirates of the Not-Caribbean? This is not a complaint, I’m just wondering, because there’s Shannon Chakraborty’s The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi in the Indian Ocean several centuries ago and now there’s this, which is 19th century piracy in the waters near China and Southeast Asia, and compared to what there has been recently, those two together feel like a boom. Also both of them center women pirates, which, sure, yes, that’s historically accurate, more of that if you like, any time.

The speculative element of Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea is the protagonist’s conversations with the goddess of the sea. They have an ongoing and very specific relationship, and while the eARC format was less ideal for this than I expect the final product will be, the novel threads through stories of different incarnations and experiences of that sea goddess that illuminate the protagonist’s experiences.

I think this book would probably still work well if you didn’t know much about 19th century European colonialism in Asia, but if you do there is a particularly well-handled element of being the audience at the horror movie shouting, “DON’T GO IN THE BASEMENT! HONEY STAY OUT OF THAT CELLAR!” while the protagonists go on having their lives, not having hindsight on their side. It’s extremely effective and fits interestingly with the realistic depictions of women’s lives, medicine, and piratical politics. There’s plenty of swashbuckling, but it’s not treated as weightless, never allowed to be “just” a fun action story. Despite taking place substantially at sea, this is a book with very solid grounding.

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