Book cover: The Edge of the Abyss - Emily Skrutskie (all the red tentacles thrashing out of the sea, faced by a girl looking back over her shoulder towards the reader)Broken-hearted but out of options, Cas Leung turned her back on the shore and signed on as Santa Elena’s trainee. But abandoned Bao isn’t the only Reckoner living wild in the NeoPacific – and they’re eating the sea empty. Can Cas persuade the pirates to risk their lives for the greater good?

I finished lesbian pirate / kaiju adventure The Abyss Surrounds Us with mixed feelings last year, which I eventually realised was my own fault: I wasn’t expecting a YA read (my bad research; I should have known that before I started). But it settled well, because honestly, what’s not to like? Lesbians. Pirates. Mixed-race heroine. Sea monsters. I mean yes, this is epic silliness – honestly, why would you breed sea monsters to sink pirates rather than just build boats? – but really, who cares?

Consequently, I was delighted to get my hands on an ARC of the sequel – and I’m happy to say I’ve ripped through it, because it’s at least as good – and possibly a bit better. We rejoin the crew of the Minnow a few weeks after Cas set Bao on the SRC navy and Santa Elena revealed that Cas’s beloved Swift murdered her equally-beloved Durga. The pirate captain has always believed in setting her trainees against each other (after all, there can be only one heir), so she has as few qualms about using the antagonism between the erstwhile lovers as she does about whipping Cas into physical shape. And it’s paying off. Cas – against the odds – is showing signs of being a decent pirate.

When the Minnow encounters an unaccompanied Reckoner in the Antarctic, it’s inevitable that Santa Elena will put Cas in command of the mission to bring it down. It nearly kills her – but once again, surviving may be the start of a nightmare she’s not really ready to face. The NeoPacific can’t cope with a population of wild Reckoners – even disregarding the threat to shipping, their voracious appetites will rip apart the ecosystem. Cas must steel herself to kill the creatures she once trained – and while Santa Elena is surprisingly quick to catch on to the scale of the threat, they must then persuade the other pirates of the NeoPacific to join them if they’re to stand any hope of putting an end to it.

And somewhere along the line, maybe Cas and Swift can sort out their issues.

Cue another stupidly cinematic romp, with more sea battles, more pirates and more monsters – plus pirate councils, girls kissing (they can’t fight all the time) and a New Year’s Eve party aboard the Flotilla. Santa Elena’s outfits don’t get to do quite so much swishing, but we do have a ringside seat for her ruthless management style and her command of pirate politics. If there’s a little less backstabbing and pushback than I’d like, that’s still some interesting nuances (such as the deals between pirate captains for trading trainees and pirate prince Eddy Fung).

Even without the sea monsters it would be fascinating stuff – but we get loads more of them (and get up close and personal with the differences between serpentoids, terrapoids, cetoids and even – weirdly, what is it even for because surely it’s no use at sea – a hairy ape-based one), not to mention the properly tense sequence in which Cas brings Bao back into the fold. By the time Cas is strapped to Bao’s back for the final epic sea battle, I was punching the air with delight at certain developments.

Because Cas Leung is a great heroine – spiky, conflicted, determined and delighted to find some Canto food after months at sea – and she’s a lot more fun to spend time with when she’s not feeling guilty for not committing suicide. Don’t write off the angst – brace yourself for a big helping as she tries to work out her feelings for treacherous Swift (which is massively unfair: Swift didn’t even know Cas when she murdered Durga). She’s also got to wrestle with her life choices: was she right to sign up with Santa Elena – and is she really prepared to spend the rest of her life as a pirate?

Although the introspection gets a little repetitive in places, the book never drags and Emily Skrutskie is good at providing regular distractions. While I have never been quite as invested in the Cas / Swift relationship as the books would like me to be, I did enjoy Cas’s burgeoning friendships with the other trainees and – as ever – every moment on the page of that gloriously nasty woman, Santa Elena herself (and seriously, if anyone spots Santa Elena / Zamira Drakasha fan fic, I will break my fan fiction free diet to read it).

Underneath the rapid escalation of plot element, there are two themes woven through it that I liked a lot: nobody stands alone (ecosystems are bigger than states, and we need to put aside our differences to save them) and everybody has a choice (with side helpings – albeit largely left on the table unchewed – of intergenerational conflict and privilege, which I would like to have seen explored more in retrospect, although at the time I was distracted by the sea monsters).

It makes for a hugely entertaining and very satisfying read.

And for those who care less about spoilers than ending (ENDING SPOILER: MOUSE OVER TO READ) yes, we get a HEA. YAY.

****

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.