Sixteen-year-old Lyric Walker’s life is forever changed when she witnesses the arrival of 30,000 Alpha, a five-nation race of ocean-dwelling warriors, on her beach in Coney Island. The world’s initial wonder and awe over the Alpha quickly turns ugly and paranoid and violent, and Lyric’s small town transforms into a military zone with humans on one side and Alpha on the other. When Lyric is recruited to help the crown prince, a boy named Fathom, assimilate, she begins to fall for him. But their love is a dangerous one, and there are forces on both sides working to keep them apart. Only, what if the Alpha are not actually the enemy? What if they are in fact humanity’s only hope of survival? Because the real enemy is coming. And it’s more terrifying than anything the world has ever seen. (goodreads.com)
I went a while before requesting this book because I wasn’t sure it would be something I’d be interested in or not. What really sold me on it was that it was set at Coney Island. Love that place. So I gave it a go.
Even as I type this I’m still not sure how I really feel about the story. My first impression is that it was rather scattered. I’m not a big fan of waiting for a few chapters to reveal what’s already going on in the story and why. I find it a rather cheap tactic. Especially for this book it’s already interesting enough without having to cheaply hook me into it. Just tell me what’s going on. Denying me information for the sake of page-turning just annoys me. And because the how and the why wasn’t revealed for a few chapters the initial first chapters felt really chaotic and all over the place and I’m not talking about the action itself. I didn’t know what was going on, I was missing information, there were things being talked about in the story that hadn’t been explained yet and I was just all around discombobulated.
Once I was given the necessary information to root myself into the story things finally leveled out and I was able to just read what was going on. While it took long enough to get to that point it wasn’t off-puttingly long so that was a plus.
I love the way Coney Island was described. It was mentioned in the book that people have a rather romanticized vision of what Coney Island really is and it’s true. I love Coney in all its scraggy, rundown glory. I’m very much someone who can see beyond the blight to what it once was and what it could be again. But for the people who live it every day it’s something completely different and Lyric really hit that home. Even before all the Alpha came onto the beach Coney was a hole with a gang problem, crappy schools, and dangerous streets. Drug deals and murders and vagrants were all a part of normal life for her. Enter the Alpha, make Coney basically a quarantine zone and all of those issues get amplified. It was a rough place and Buckley made no qualms about describing it in all of its rancid glory. Still, I loved it. Nothing can make me not love Coney.
Despite her ridiculous name I really liked Lyric as a character. She’s a tough girl who lived up to that role before the Alpha came and once they did, and her family had to hide in plain sight, she became the invisible girl. The nondescript girl with too much to hide. From the little that’s seen of her pre-Alpha she was your basic teenager getting into all sorts of trouble. Maybe a bit more than average. The 180 she had to pull once the Alpha came subdued her greatly and you can tell it killed her to do that, living in constant fear of discovery. It wore on her and she showed it, a girl so desperate for normalcy.
I loved her friends, too: Bex and Shadow. I’d like to think Bex is going to play a larger role in subsequent books but I wish Shadow had more of a role to play in UNDERTOW. He tore my heart a little. I’ll just leave it at that.
I liked what Buckley did with the sea creature lore here. These aren’t just kindly mermaids and selkie and other fairy tale-like entities from mythology. These were brutal, war-driven beings that felt themselves above humans but cowed thanks to something even worse than them. Most of them were obviously not human and even those who did most resemble people, and who may have been outwardly afraid, were hardened warriors who could fend for themselves and wouldn’t hesitate to do so.
I felt the relationship that built between Fathom and Lyric was a bit forced. I didn’t see it from his side much at all and, since the story is in Lyric’s POV you knew what was going through her head. I just didn’t see him making that leap and I felt that whole relationship added unnecessary drama to a story that was already swimming in it (pun not intended?). I’m not a fan of pushing for a relationship with one person when the anchor in the triangle is already involved with someone, especially when it’s done right in the third person’s face. It’s just . . . unnecessary and cruel and Lyric wasn’t a cruel character. In her head she was very rational and logical and knew she shouldn’t do certain things but outwardly she didn’t follow through on that and I wasn’t a fan, even though they were minute. I’m glad it was such a minor part of the story and, for the most part, it was kept at arm’s length between the two. If there was more than that I think I would have liked the book less. But I am worried that it’ll be more prevalent in the sequel. I hope not.
Even after writing this review I still don’t know how I feel about the book. I mean obviously I liked it; I just don’t know how much I liked it. Do I want to own a copy? I definitely want to read the next in the series but owning is a commitment. I don’t know if I’m THERE yet. Maybe. Anyway, it’s a good story. Gritty, dirty, completely unapologetic in its brutality plus with an entirely different spin on water mythos there isn’t very much here to not like. I’m looking forward to the next in the series.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.