Shea Ernshaw manages to create a haunting and chilling story of three women seeking revenge in The Wicked Deep. Two centuries ago, in the cursed town of Sparrow, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Drowned in the harbour. Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return from the depths of the water, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls and luring boys into the water. Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, Bo arrives in town, and Penny is forced to choose between saving him or herself.
Ernshaw is well versed in creating an atmospheric story, let me tell you that. The writing was so enchanting, the imagery so lively, and the characters so full. I was automatically wrapped up in the story, desperate to know how the story would play out – what boy would be stolen next? Which girl was being harboured by the witches? It was the perfect length for this story, and the typical YA writing-style really suited the tone and mood of the book.
The defining quality of the novel was, of course, the witches. It’s no secret around here – I love witches. Any book that mentions a witch has instant brownie points from me. I loved how the witches were dealt with in this: Ernshaw played into stereotypes, but she didn’t rely on the painfully obvious portrayals, like broomsticks and black, pointy hats. No, instead, she used patriarchal ideals of witches, mainly them as sexual temptresses, and gave them back the power. The narrative was suggesting that a small 19th century town could not fathom how women could assert their sexuality and find pleasure from it.
Ernshaw was trying to dismantle patriarchal power in this town through these three women, and, unfortunately, they suffered the consequences of their actions. It brought to light the painful and distressing nature of witch hunts. Innocent women being accused for stepping outside of what was normal. The Wicked Deep tried to demonstrate that whilst also restoring power to these women. Ernshaw managed to captured the very essence of a witch – as a non-supernatural entity – perfectly.
This, however, was when it started going downhill for me. The three sisters would return every summer to get revenge. They killed innocent boys as punishment for their own brutal murder. I understand that these sisters were holding these boys accountable for their ancestors’ wrongdoings, but this went out the window when they started targeting boys who were simply visiting the town for witch-season. There was no morality to the story at all, and the agenda of killing boys to get justice felt a little forced. I think there is a difference between writing a powerful story where women defy society’s expectations and find their own voice, etc. and writing a story that is simply misandrous (
is that a word?).
It stopped being about women breaking from the patriarchal norms, and started being a book bashing men. I just felt uncomfortable with it, and it really ruined the reading experience in the end. I think, otherwise, it would have been a lovely and inspiring read. I would have definitely enjoyed this when I was younger, but, as someone who is more mature and can see past things like this, I found it a little problematic at times.
Have you read The Wicked Deep before? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to have a chat!
Thanks for reading, Lauren X