The Deep by Alma Katsu

Posted On 9 March 2020

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TheDeepWell, The Deep is a mixed bag of a book for me. On the one hand I had the lure of a story about the Titanic (which never fails to hook me), the promise of a Twilight zone style story and the gorgeous and evocative writing of Alma Katsu.  On the other hand, this isn’t quite the ghostly or quietly creepy tale of horror that I was expecting.  The thing is, I think I gave myself such high expectations with this book, in my own mind I already knew what I wanted this to be and so it’s no fault of the author if she can’t reproduce on the page what I’ve got swimming around in my head.  The short version, is this is a very well written and interesting reimagining of the short voyage of the Titanic.  It’s a little more on the side of historical fiction although there are some supernatural elements, but they’re not overpowering and the sort of thing that could be explained away as hysteria or wild imagination.

What I really liked about this was the writing and the way those few days aboard the Titanic are so evocatively brought to life here.  We spend time with a number of passengers and most of them have something going on, little secrets, secret fears or just basic insecurities that do draw you in quite well.  This is also set in an era where superstition was a thing of intrigue.  Seances and tarot cards, curses and palm reading were quite the rage with even the well heeled enjoying a good scare or a brush with the occult.

The Deep is a richly detailed, character led story.  The main character is Annie Hebbley, a stewardess on board the Titanic responsible for a number of the more well to do passengers.  Annie develops something of a fixation on an attractive young man named Mark Fletcher.  Mark is recently married and with a young baby, he’s not quite from the high echelons of society, unlike his wife, and frequently feels a little out of his depth and this vulnerability does lead him to befriend Annie and use her as a sounding board for some of his grumbles.  Mark’s wife Caroline also has secrets and fearing her husband is unhappy with his choices finds herself more often than not arguing with him over trivial matters.

These marital struggles are mirrored in some of the other passengers relationships and with the rising tensions nerves are becoming frayed.  Things on board are going missing and one of the young helping hands dies mysteriously causing much distress and scare mongering.

This main thread is counterbalanced by a story set four years ahead that plays out on the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic.  The Britannic was used as a hospital during WW1 although ultimately it suffered a similar fate to it’s sister.  As the ship sets sail we once again meet Annie who is serving as a nurse and she encounters another Titanic survivor who she didn’t expect to see again.

I never miss an opportunity to wax lyrical about character driven books.  They are my catnip.  That being said I think that in this particular instance the character led nature of The Deep might be the reason this book suffered a little bit for me.  I’ve struggled to put my finger on why that is and I think it boils down to the nature of this particular disaster.  The characters are all really well fleshed out and there’s no shortage of intrigue but at the end of the day I found it difficult to become invested in any of them because at the back of my mind I was very aware that the ship’s sinking was imminent.  I’m not sure whether it was a combination of impatience on my part and rushing headlong through the story to get to the actual crux of what happened or simply that I didn’t want to really become too attached to anyone because they might soon be resting in a watery grave.  Whatever it was, the imminent disaster itself took a long time to find page time and I couldn’t help feeling that I would have liked a much bigger mystery or sense of something spooky behind the sinking.  I guess that in a nutshell the supernatural elements felt a little too flimsy or not quite what I was anticipating.

Overall, I enjoyed this read and so I don’t want to come across as too negative.  The writing is very good and Alma Katsu continues to be as impressive as ever.  I think my own expectations have a lot to answer for on this occasion.  I had something totally different in mind and so couldn’t help feeling a little deflated.  If you’re looking for  an intriguing, fictional retelling of the last few days of some of the passengers aboard the Titanic then this could be for you.  There is a little of the supernatural involved here but I think it’s not overpowering in fact it’s more of the nature that you could explain away or put down to other causes.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

Rating 3* out of 5





14 Responses to “The Deep by Alma Katsu”

  1. Tammy

    This is a very fair review, I had similar opinions. I keep thinking about this and how my reading experience would have been different if I’d never read Alma Katsu before or I hadn’t listened to all the hype about “haunted Titanic” etc etc, because I thought the hype hurt it. I also think this would have made an excellent Gothic mystery if it had been in a different setting, like on land, lol. It’s a story that could have taken place anywhere, especially with the asylum setting.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes,absolutely. I wonder myself what I would have made of this if I was unfamiliar with the author – but you can’t help it, you’ve read the author before and it gives you certain expectations. I think the writing was very good and if I’d been looking for a historical drama this would have satisfied that urge but I wanted a bit of spooky and a dose of horror.
      Lynn 😀

  2. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Yours is not the first slightly dissatisfied voice I’ve heard about this book, one I was looking forward to on the strength of my experience with The Hunger, so I will try to keep my expectations lower once I get to this book.
    Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      It’s difficult because on the face of it this is a good book – but, because I’ve read the author before together with the nature of the story, I was expecting more gothic,supernatural horror than historical drama. On the whole this is a good book and anyone coming into the read without my expectations would probably enjoy it a whole lot more – I kind of shot myself in the foot with this one by pre-empting what it would be about.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    My review of this goes up today and I had much the same thoughts. I just didn’t really connect to the story or the characters here, the story because of the two timelines and the fact they weren’t well balanced, the characters because it felt like all of them on the Titanic were a way for the author to go, “look at me! I’m throwing in all these famous people to show how historical my novel is and how much I know!” None of them really had any impact on the story, and like you said, you knew they were all gonna sink/die anyway 😛

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, such a shame about this one. I do love this author and it won’t stop me picking up more of her books but I had such high hopes that this would be a bit more horror filled and less marital drama.
      Lynn 😀

  4. boxermommyreads

    I like character driven books a lot as well. I really wanted to love this book and give the author another go after The Hunger didn’t work for me. However, all the reviews I’ve seen so far are middle of the line and honestly, they have me wondering if I should just give it a hard pass. Maybe I should read some of her earlier work instead. I really did enjoy your thoughts and I suspect I would want more supernatural elements out of it as well. That is a striking cover though.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I was so excited for this book and that could be part the problem. Although, I really thought it might be a bit more scary or supernatural than it was. If you picked this up thinking it was a historical drama with little expectation of anything supernatural then you’d probably enjoy it because those elements are a very light touch. That being said, I know you didn’t like the Hunger so I would hesitate to push you on this one.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky

    Yours is like the fourth review I’ve read saying the same thing, and it’s interesting how consistent everyone’s opinions have been lol. It does feel like a bit of a shame to have well-written characters only to kill them all off at the end. But the alternative is…not having any well-written characters…? And that’s not ideal either. Kind of a lose-lose situation.

    • @lynnsbooks

      The thing is,it’s a conundrum. You know the fate of both these ships – which is probably why when you pick this up you’re hoping for something really dramatically different. The writing is great and there is plenty of drama, a bit low on the supernatural elements. I think if you go into this with slightly different expectations,thinking along the lines of historical drama with a hint of something unusual you will probably enjoy it a lot more but my expectations were in a totally different place.
      Lynn 😀

  6. waytoofantasy

    So tough! I’m sorry this one was so mixed for you, Lynn, but frankly you’re not the first person I’m seeing this from. I do want to try her work some time though (I met her at a con once and she’s a lovely person). I think I’ll try The Hunger at some point.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I actually think you might enjoy the Taker trilogy that she wrote. The first book is amazing and I also really enjoyed the second. Having said that I never concluded the trilogy – maybe I should go back and reread the first two and then finish things off. All that aside, I think it might be a series you would enjoy, even more than the Hunger. I’m just basing that on the books we have in common and I’m not saying that you wouldn’t love the Hunger – but it’s more horror, whereas the Taker trilogy does have a strange romantic thread.
      Lynn 😀

      • waytoofantasy

        Hmmm, well I’m all about strange romance so I might! I’ll have to check that out then, thanks Lynn!

  7. Jen | Book Den

    I’m sad to hear this one is less horror and more historical fiction. I feel like the horror aspect was the draw for it.

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