From the Deep – Michael Bray (Review)

From the Deep

Whales are beaching in unprecedented numbers, fleeing from something unknown. Carcasses with bite marks from a massive predator are washing up on shores. Fishermen and tourists are going missing, swallowed up without a trace.

At first, there are only rumours, unconfirmed sightings that suggest a creature no one has encountered before. Driven by different motivations, several different groups set out to find the monster while its appetite for destruction grows.It took me a while to write the above paragraphs, and I’m still not entirely happy with them. From the Deep is a difficult book to sum up in a few words, because there’s a lot of going on. Overall, it’s a standard “we’re going to need a bigger boat” plot, but it’s also quite a sprawling one – there are a lot of different characters approaching things from different angles, and it’s hard, at times, to identify the main thread.

Really, there’s too much plot. It means that the book feels long, with scenes that don’t, strictly speaking, need to be there. Thrillers need to ramp up the tension and keep it rising – there shouldn’t be too long between the monster’s attacks, otherwise it starts to drag. From the Deep could have cut a subplot or two without losing anything important, and it would have made the whole thing tighter.

The book also suffers from misplaced focus. Scenes that should be developed in depth are skated over, scenes that are irrelevant or mundane are given too much room. Characters find it easy to do things that could be the focus of an entire book on their own, but struggle with simpler things. It lessens immersion to handwave away difficult tasks; it lessens sympathy for the characters if they are useless.

There is a positive side. My issues with From the Deep are primarily structural – plot holes and so on – but there are things that the book does well. The monster is original – not just a giant shark or crocodile, but a genuinely new creature. The downside of that is, of course, that it’s harder to visualise the animal (I’m still not sure what it actually looks like), but it’s more creative than the norm.

The author’s also done some research, which is rare and appreciated. Characters with a range of different backgrounds and careers are described in a way that makes it clear that some thought has gone into them. The military characters are the weakest point, but the other careers are believable and detailed.

Detail is, in fact, the primary strength of the book. The scenes, the situations, the plans – everything is detailed. Unlike a lot of books in the genre, this one seems not to have been bashed out over a long weekend. The author is trying to create a coherent, complex world, and that attempt should be praised.

From the Deep does have problems, and that’s a shame. It’s a book that needs editing to remove the rough edges hiding the surprisingly solid core. There are some good ideas, an author who has put the effort in, but the structural weaknesses drag the whole thing down.

Buy it here.

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