Series: Undertow, Book 1
Author: Michael Buckley (site)
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 5, 2015
Genre: Young Adult Speculative Urban Fantasy
Told: First Person (Lyric), Present Tense
Content Rating: Older Teen (intense situations, violence, sensuality, death, child abuse, a few words of language)
Format Read: ARC (trade)
Find On: Goodreads
Purchase On: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
Sixteen-year-old Lyric Walker’s life is forever changed when she witnesses the arrival of 30,000 Alpha, a five-nation race of ocean-dwelling warriors, on her beach in Coney Island. The world’s initial wonder and awe over the Alpha quickly turns ugly and paranoid and violent, and Lyric’s small town transforms into a military zone with humans on one side and Alpha on the other. When Lyric is recruited to help the crown prince, a boy named Fathom, assimilate, she begins to fall for him. But their love is a dangerous one, and there are forces on both sides working to keep them apart. Only, what if the Alpha are not actually the enemy? What if they are in fact humanity’s only hope of survival? Because the real enemy is coming. And it’s more terrifying than anything the world has ever seen.
Action, suspense, and romance whirlpool dangerously in this cinematic saga, a blend of District 9 and The Outsiders.
* * *In a Sentence: An intense speculative urban fantasy about racism and the importance of family and identity.
I was initially attracted to this book because I thought it was about aliens, so imagine my surprise when the aliens instead turned out to be a nation of underwater beings who emerge from the ocean. While I was a little disappointed (I'm on an alien kick right now), I was impressed with the imagination behind the unique and unusual race, and once I started reading all disappointment about aliens was forgotten.
This was a seriously intense story that like its namesake sucked me in and would not let go. Written in an edgier style that brought the grittier setting to stark life, the all too realistic story was a pressure-cooker of tense situations and frayed nerves as two square miles of walled and guarded Coney Island became ground zero for an implosive case of racism. But despite revolving around heavier subjects of fear, child abuse, death, government control, racial segregation, violence and war, among others, the story was remarkably not as oppressive as it could've easily been and the book was a rush of a read with a surprising twist of "magical" powers near the end. After so much heavy realism the powers were a bit fantastical, but the explosive climax had good movement and description and was thoroughly entertaining - I could definitely see this book being made into an epic movie.
Lyric was a wild thing suffocated by her situation. Due to her father's overbearing nature to protect his family, and Lyric's own fearful self-preservation, she had to rein in who she really was to slide under the radar. But what she was at heart could not be contained, and when it mattered she was fierce about fighting for her friends and family and what she felt was right. Fathom, driven by family and tradition, made for an intriguing character and even more intriguing love interest. He and Lyric had really great chemistry so their scenes together were the highlights of the book for me, although sadly there were few and Fathom got disappointingly little screen time. Bex was a good if wild friend for Lyric that, while her life mainly fed the heavier subject matter, also added some essential "everyday" diversion from the broader conflict. The Alpha were a diverse species of unique and imaginative beings with intriguing features and powers, and although I'm not usually one for creature-like people they were too interesting not to be fascinating and I enjoyed getting to know them (even the creepy ones).
Conclusion: While not quite what I was expecting, this book proved an extremely intense and engrossing read I did not want to put down. Highly recommend for spec fic, dystopian, post-apoc and sci-fi readers. The first in a trilogy, I look forward to reading Book 2: Raging Sea (releasing February 2, 2016), soon!
For Fans Of: Speculative Fiction, The Twixt series by Dawn Metcalf