The Vicious Deep by Zoraida Córdova
The Vicious Deep introduces Tristan to a dangerous and watery world with nightmarish enemies and ancient grudges, a divide between the sea and the shore. A solid start to a great series, with a quest too grand for a single volume.
I already knew the author is good at describing creatures and inhuman characters, and The Vicious Deep does not disappoint. It has many opportunities to showcase this, while keeping the number of important named characters low enough to be distinctly memorable. I'm glad that the quest is suitably difficult, matching the stakes in case of failure. It would have felt too easy to wrap things up in this book, so I'm glad it's a "to be continued" situation.
While this book technically fits in the mold of "reluctant hero discovers they have a destiny", in this case he's not the only one it could fit and he has to compete for it. It works well, since the shift from "reluctant hero" to "hero with a sense of responsibility/duty" feels pretty natural. He's not a shoo-in, but he starts to want it and take it seriously.
I find myself in the strange position of very much disliking the pov character while also liking most of the people around him and enjoying the book as a whole. His narration is filled with physical descriptions of everyone around him in a way that frequently seem sexist. Usually not leering, but just that he's a teenage boy who (as of this book) appears to be straight and that's very much on his mind. Probably part of that is it mixes badly with my own stuff and I don't think it detracts from the book overall, but if it hits you the wrong way when it shows up, know that it isn't going to go away in this book if you continue to read. He doesn't seem to understand the effect that his actions have on other people, but it's very clear that the author does (several characters keep trying to call him out on it), so I'm hoping that he'll grow out of some of his casual sexism (and associated possessiveness) as the series continues. It's a good setup for character growth, so maybe later books will take advantage of that.
The book flew by, I enjoyed reading it and I'm excited to read the rest of the series. I want to spend more time here, part of that is because I love sea creatures, especially magical ones, and this book has many of those.