Literary fantasy is one of those genres that many aspire to write but very few can pull off. So when I have the opportunity to read a piece of literary fantasy that lands so well–describing a unique setting with a masterful hand and exploring a difficult part of human history or experience–I’m always grateful.
The Deep revolves around Yetu and her people, the wajinru–mermaid-like beings descended from African women who were thrown off of slave ships. It’s so harsh a history, I initially expected the story to be solely about Yetu discovering her heritage and coming to grips with it. Yet there’s a intricate character arc woven into the story as well. Yetu not only knows a good part of her history at the beginning, but she is the one tasked with holding all these painful memories so the rest of her people don’t have to be burdened with them. Only occasionally do they get a glimpse of them so they do not forget completely where they came from. It’s a responsibility that’s weighing Yetu down so much she eventually runs away from it all, leaving everyone else trapped holding the memories and only vaguely aware of their present reality. Yetu’s journey then shifts to filling in the gaps of how her people came to be, exploring what it means to be part of her community, and what the responsibility is of community members to each other. At one point, she becomes injured and leans on this as a way to stall making a decision about whether or not to return. It’s relatable, it’s real, and although I could never imagine holding the burden that Yetu holds, it made me feel connected to her.
“Connection brings responsibility,” the book states, and there’s a lot for Yetu to unpack and she explores her connections with others. The story shifts from her desperation, to her newfound happiness in her freedom, to the frustration of missing her family yet not wanting to go back to the way things were. The time shifts are sometimes sudden but always ground the reader well. I’m glad this was allowed to be exactly the length it needed–it’s not a full-length novel, but expanding or over-trimming it would lose the beauty of the storytelling.
The afterword about this book and the music that inspired it was also a fascinating read. I confess much of this story’s history was new to me, and I appreciated the creators taking the time to educate readers like me on that front.
Overall, The Deep is a powerful, expertly-crafted, and highly recommended piece of literature.
Rating: 5 out of 5