Non-savage review: Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep by Phillip Reeve

With thanks to NetGalley who gave me a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I was delighted to get a review copy of this book. I’ve read and enjoyed some of Reeve’s other work so I was ready to get stuck in. This is a book for older children – somewhere in the 9-13 age range, depending on individual ability. It has adventurous elements but nothing really scary or overly mature.

The good: Reeve is an absolute master at setting and worldbuilding. He can pick you up and throw you straight into an unfamiliar world and you’ll start to pick it up straight away. Because the sea is so important to setting and plot here, it runs throughout the language. The paragraphs seem to have a gentle ebb and flow to them, which makes you feel the setting as much as the descriptions do. It’s actually quite soothing.

The characters are distinct with their own voices and personalities. They each have strengths and flaws, plenty of agency and development over the course of the plot. It’s always nice to see a young girl as protagonist. It’s even better that when a boy shows up, he plays a key role in the plot but doesn’t take over. This shouldn’t be especially remarkable, but well… it is, although I think the world’s getting better.

The bad: it’s slow getting going. Really slow. The aforementioned worldbuilding probably takes over a bit too much in the first half of the book. It isn’t that nothing at all happens – it does. There just isn’t enough risk and adventure. It’s just shy of 300 pages long, which is a substantial length for this age group. The exciting part of the story is squashed into the last fifty or so pages. I’m a 40 year old woman and I found this frustrating. I would have found it a lot more frustrating as a ten year old, so kudos to those kids who have the attention span for it.

Conclusion: this is a lovely book that will get a young imagination going. If you’re looking for more female protagonists, it’s a good choice. I’d recommend it for children who already have an established love of reading and are happy to take things a bit more slowly rather than wanting high adventure from the start.

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