The Vicious Deep
Author: Zoraida Cordova
Published By: Sourcebooks Fire
Reviewed by Justine Manzano
It’s not every day that a college friend of yours invites you to her book signing. So, when Zoraida Cordova, my classmate in not one but two writing workshops at Hunter College, invited me to attend hers, I not only rushed to be there, but I was filled with excitement for her. She had published her first book, an idea we had salivated over in class, and she deserved it. She was among the best of us Hunter writers. Still, as I lugged home my signed copy of the Young Adult novel, The Vicious Deep, I never had the intention of reviewing it the way I had countless other books for this site over the years. Zoraida is a friend and bad reviews can often have a bad effect on friendship. However, Zoraida and I had, in the course of our workshops, pointed out the best and worst in each others work, so I knew she could take it if I had negative comments. As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about.
The Vicious Deep is the story of Tristan Hart, a typical handsome teenage boy – he loves girls, swimming, girls, being a lifeguard, his friends and…well…girls. He has a gaggle of silly friends, an army of girls fawning over him and a best friend who has always stood by him no matter what. A best friend named Layla, who he is just starting to realize he’s more than a little in love with. Then, one day, a freak incident leads Tristan to be sucked out to sea by a wave. He’s missing for three days, but when he returns, something about him is different. It’s only when he starts sprouting fins and his parents aren’t terribly surprised that Tristan realizes that most of what he’s believed in life has been a lie. Sucked into a world of Sea Kings, evil witches and challenges to win a throne, Tristan begins to wonder how he’ll ever get back to his normal high school life – and soon realizes that may just not be an option anymore.
The fact that Zoraida is a woman never made the voice of her teenage boy Tristan lack veracity. Tristan thinks like a boy and acts like a boy (at one point, when he’s just discovering his merman tail, he spends a considerable amount of time wondering where “it” goes) and one that has a ton of growing up to do at that. Layla is the perfect grounding force for him and the two provide each other with a balance. She’s tough as nails and manages to behave as Tristan’s conscience, keeping him human. Along the way, Tristan amasses other friends, the uptight Kurt, innocent Thalia, and smart mouthed Marty as well as another, final addition to his team that I can’t tell you about, lest I spoil the ending. Each of his friends provides something that Tristan needs in his journey, be it levity, protection, or simply balance.
The story is wonderfully written, with vivid imagery and strong metaphors throughout, while still never seeming out of place for Tristan to be thinking about. If I had to complain about anything, I would say that there were moments where I felt the story rushed ahead and I got left behind, sometimes needing to take a slight reread to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. The story always eventually righted itself after something like this, but it could be a little disorienting at times.
This book is for anyone who has ever asked the question, what if Ariel and Eric from The Little Mermaid had a baby – and that baby needed to return to the sea. It’s not heavy-handed, but the inspiration for the story is clear, and you find yourself sort of picturing Ariel and Eric in Tristan’s parents, despite yourself. However, this novel is no Disney film, instead filed with cutting dark humor, murderous sea creatures and death dealing merfolk. And it ends in a way that hooks you for book two of the trilogy, while never making you feel like you’ve been strung along and received no payoff. There is definitely a payoff.
So check out The Vicious Deep, the intro book to Tristan’s trilogy and the intro book to Zoraida Cordova, from whom I’d like to hear more in the future.