The Descent of the Drowned by Ana Lal Din: Review
Thanks so much for checking out my review for The Descent of the Drowned! Keep reading to see my review, an excerpt from the book, and links to where you can purchase it. Trigger warnings for the book are at the end of the post.
Title: The Descent of the Drowned
Author: Ana Lal Din
Publisher: White Tigress Press
Pub Date: 03/15/2021
Genre: YA Fantasy
Edition: ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy)
She is bound to serve. He is meant to kill. Survival is their prison. Choice is their weapon.
As the sacred slave of a goddess, Roma is of a lower caste that serves patrons to sustain the balance between gods and men. What she wants is her freedom, but deserters are hunted and hanged, and Roma only knows how to survive in her village where women are vessels without a voice. When her younger brother is condemned to the same wretched fate as hers, Roma must choose between silence and rebellion.
Leviathan is the bastard son of an immortal tyrant. Raised in a military city where everyone knows of his blood relation to the persecuted clans, Leviathan is considered casteless. Lowest of the low. Graduating as one of the deadliest soldiers, he executes in his father’s name, displaying his worth. When he faces judgement from his mother’s people—the clans—Leviathan must confront his demons and forge his own path, if he ever hopes to reclaim his soul.
But in the struggle to protect the people they love and rebuild their identities, Roma’s and Leviathan’s destinies interlock as the tyrant hunts an ancient treasure that will doom humankind should it come into his possession—a living treasure to which Roma and Leviathan are the ultimate key.
Set in a colonised Indo-Persian world and inspired by pre-Islamic Arabian mythology, The Descent of the Drowned is a tale about power, identity, and redemption, and what it takes to hold on to one’s humanity in the face of devastation.
The Descent of the Drowned isn’t going to be for everyone, but it very much was the book for me. It’s not an easy read in the slightest, and I had to take several breaks while reading to process what was happening, but that’s one of the reasons I liked it so much. The author uses fiction to analyze and ask questions about real problems humans are facing and creating. I think one of my favorite conversations in the book was around what can push people to terrorism and how important it is to make them feel apart of something positive, so they don’t get recruited to commit atrocities.
It did take me a few chapters to get into the book because the prose is so rich and there are a lot of terms and history which I would keep forgetting over the course of the book. There is a glossary in the back though if you struggle with remembering too!
One of the highlights of this book is that no matter how you frame it, slavery is slavery. Forced prostitution is forced prostitution. Whether you believe it’s for a religious reason or not doesn’t change what it is and how it mentally and emotionally impacts those involved. We get an in depth look at those impacts on the characters in this book. And this is just a general note about the story, but men are the worst.
Now let’s get into the complexity of the characters. I loved how Roma wasn’t a character who in the face of evil is just always strong . She’s fragile and in turmoil. She has moments of strength borne out of necessity, but she’s not a superhero. Just a girl trying to survive.
Now Levi. Leviathan. The Firawan’s son. Oh how should I feel about you? I think my biggest takeaway from anything Levi was involved in is that intention doesn’t equal impact. Just because you think you’re doing the right thing doesn’t mean other people will see it as that. And if you think the means justify the ends, you better be able to stand for what you did when you get to the end. I can’t help but to sympathize with him and the trauma he also had to go through. It doesn’t excuse his actions though, so I can’t wait for the next book to see how he handles what happened in this book.
The only thing I’m gonna say about the ending is that it was so wild, and I should have expected it, but I did not see that coming at all.
The Descent of the Drowned is the kind of book I could write a whole essay on because it has so many layers, and there’s so many aspects of it I want to talk about like magic, Chirag, and the refugee crisis. I would recommend this book if you don’t mind more worldbuilding than action and like dark, realistic fantasy.
*Thank you to the publisher and Books Forward for the ARC. All opinions are my own*
Roma clutched the hairpin in her hand. The daunting frame of the Firawn’s son was shrouded in a black cloak, the curved-sword pendant tucked out of sight, but his hood was drawn back from his head. Shadows haunted the hollows of his face and obscured his emotions to anyone who might search beyond the surface. She met his unwavering stare with a cumulative numbness within her chest and the promise of blood in her eyes. She didn’t want to feel such despair, nor did she want darkness to swaddle her mind, but she had accepted that her auction would end with her death.
What did it matter if it were an executioner who took her life or if it were her?
When the Firawn’s son took a deliberate step toward her, the blood promise blazed like a fuelled torch, and she touched the tip of the blade to her throat.
“Don’t come near me,” she warned.
Every sound, smell, and taste overpowered her heightened senses. Her frantic pulse throbbed like drumbeats in her ears. She smelled the scattered rose petals and tasted the subtle vibration in the air at his slightest shift. It somehow reached her, pricking her sensitive nerves and exposing his invisible stealth. She shifted as he did. Her mirrored movement caught his attention, and he looked at her with a different awareness.
“You don’t want to do this, Roma.”
Tipping back her head, she pressed the point of the blade into her skin. A warm line of blood seeped down the side of her bared throat. His face hardened and his movement stilled.
“I don’t want you to touch me.”
“If I wanted to touch you,” he said, disturbingly calm, “you’d already be on the bed.”
Her knees trembled from exhaustion and her skin still burned from the fever. Fear had eroded her for hours, days, years. Now she came full circle. It would all end tonight. “Then why am I here?” she asked in no more than a whisper. He was silent. Because he didn’t have an answer that could convince her of his lies. “I’m not educated like you, Saheb, but I’m not stupid.”
“No, you’re not,” he murmured.
“I know what you want. You want power. And it makes you feel powerful when you subdue me.” The blade burrowed deeper and the blood trail thickened. A surreptitious shadow of emotion came and went in the nadirs of his eyes. She didn’t care to define it. “I won’t be broken by your kind again.”
“Your kind, Saheb. Men.”
“You’re a survivor.”
“This is my survival,” she whispered.
Drawing back her hand to stab her throat, she saw him close the distance in mere heartbeats. She should have killed herself, but an instinctual part of her—a part far too strong that always sought life over death—overwhelmed her, and she switched to sink the blade into him in the very last second.
It was a mistake.
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Ana Lal Din is a Danish-Pakistani author currently based in England. When she doesn’t have her nose in a book or her fingers on a keyboard, you might find her in the nearest Caffè Nero with a Caramel Latte. The Descent of the Drowned is her debut novel and a YA Indo-Persian Fantasy set to release in Spring 2021.
The triggers listed at the beginning of The Descent of the Drowned: Physical and emotional abuse, mention of rape and sodomisation, sexual assault, suicide, bigotry, drug abuse, and human trafficking.