Thousands of miles south of the island of Bliss, day and night last for 72 hours. Here is one of the natural wonders of this world: a whirlpool thirty miles wide and a hundred miles around. This is the Drain. Anything sucked into its frothing, turbulent waters is never seen again. Wren has spent most of her life on Edgeland, a nearby island where people bring their dead to be blessed and prepared for the afterlife. There the dead are loaded into boats with treasure and sent over the cliff, and into the Drain. Orphaned and alone, Wren dreams of escaping Edgeland, and her chance finally comes when furriers from the Polar north arrive with their dead, and treasure for their dead. With the help of her friend Alec, Wren plans to loot one of the boats before it enters the Drain. But the boat--with Alec and Wren onboard--is sucked into the whirlpool. What they discover beyond the abyss is beyond what anyone could have imagined.
The island of Edgeland sits on the very fringe of the known world. It is the last stop for the dead, before their very literal descent into what is believed to be a sort of Purgatory. The inhabitants of the island thrive on the business of preparing and sending off the dearly deceased. Some, like young Alec, work for the bone houses—elaborate funeral homes where rituals are performed catering to both culture and religion. The less fortunate, like Wren, are orphaned scavengers—hated by all and desperately scraping to survive.
This story is told in third-person perspective, alternating back and forth between Wren and Alec.
What I Liked:
The premise is absolutely hook-worthy. The idea of there being a mysterious giant hole in the middle of the ocean—which no one knows the origin of but everyone is convinced they should use as a sort of bottomless dumping ground for corpses—was beyond intriguing. Add to that Halpern and Kujawinski’s solid worldbuilding efforts and two immediately sympathetic young protagonists, and the initial push into the plot was a compelling success.
The first half of the story is well-paced. You know from the back cover blurb what is going to happen, but the time they take getting there is both necessary and non-tedious. Character motivations are clear and events develop in a believable, organic manner. And the authors manage to present a tight friendship element between the male and female protagonists, without an obligatory romantic angle thrown in.
Wren is a strong, clever young heroine. She’s been in survival mode for a long time, and her situation is dismal. Yet, she hasn’t lost sight or her goal—the hope she has that she might have some family left out there somewhere, if only she could get free of Edgeland to go looking for him. Her honed sense of self-preservation is a complement to Alec’s cultural competency.
What Didn’t Work For Me:
I struggled more with the second half of the book. In part because of the drop in pacing, and in part because of the introduction of so many additional characters--of whom it didn’t seem wise (or particularly tempting) to become attached to. Here there seemed to be more tell than show. And for some reason, I found myself losing a deeper emotional connection to the two POV characters not long after they were pushed together into the same scenes.
Why things were the way they were (in the preternatural sense, and in the worldbuilding physics sense) never really reached a point of explanation. And with the finality of death in question, the stakes became a bit nebulous.
There were also points where I wasn’t sure if it was still being told third-person limited or if we'd slipped into omniscient. (Note: I read an ARC copy, so don’t know if the perspective issue was altered with the final release.)
Ultimately, a somewhat open-ended tale with potential for a sequel. Lots of supernatural adventure with some superficial religious commentary. Content-wise, nothing inappropriate for a standard MG audience.