Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young (Book Review and Author Interview)
I’ll be honest: when this book started appearing all over my Instagram feed last year, I fell in love with the black and gold cover. So I bought it just for the external beauty—shallow book-lover that I am. However, when I started reading what I was expecting to be a fairly typical YA fantasy set in a Viking-inspired world, I was won over—not only by the stark prose and gorgeous imagery Young employs, but especially by the story itself.
“…the last time I saw my brother was five years ago. Lying dead in the snow.”
Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield—her brother, fighting alongside the enemy—the brother she watched die five years ago…
Sky in the Deep starts strong with an intense action scene that could have been lifted directly from the TV show Vikings, but then quickly takes us deep into the emotional heart of the story. The dramatic action sequences are at times graphic, and the pacing moves breathlessly even through the quiet family scenes, making it a fast read. But what is striking about this coming-of-age tale is not its strong female protagonist, rather its questioning of what strength really means. Eelyn starts out believing that honor is more important than life. Indeed, it’s her clan’s motto. Vegr yfir fjor. Honor above life. She’s ready to fight for her friends and family, locked into a vicious cycle of battle and loss with the enemy clan. She’s ready to kill for her clan’s way of viewing the world, ready to die for its honor.
This is a book about love and family and loyalty. It’s a book about a warrior’s struggle in overcoming the entrenched hatred and prejudice by witnessing the day-to-day life and the humanity in her enemy. It’s about looking beyond what our “clans” tell us the world should be, and then choosing to navigate that world on our own path, with love. And if we—and especially young readers—don’t need that kind of story in 2019, then I don’t know what to recommend anymore.
Ond Eldr. Breathe Fire.
I had the pleasure of interviewing author Adrienne Young about this book, and broke the ice with a simple Sorting Hat-type of question …
Timandra Whitecastle: Oh no! You are turned into a magical/mythical creature! Which creature are you most likely to become (and why?)
Adrienne Young: I would become a Phoenix because I think it would be amazing to experience the cycle of death and rebirth over and over again.
TW: Wow. Excellent choice! Sky in the Deep is a second-world low fantasy with a lot of Norse influences – what was it about the Norse setting that drew you while writing this particular book?
AY: I didn’t plan to write the Viking influence into the world, but it began to take that shape and it was just a really good fit. I needed a structure to put Eelyn into where it wasn’t abnormal for a woman to be a warrior and the cold, stark landscape was a great companion to the story.
TW: Your character Eelyn starts out as a younger version of Lagertha Lothbrok from the show Vikings – she’s a strong, fierce warrior who can hold her own, but then something happens that shakes her to her very core … Can you tell us about what makes Eelyn strong, and why you decided to shift the emphasis from young girl levels up her warrior skills (Arya Stark springs to mind) to young woman overcoming strongly entrenched prejudice?
AY: Eelyn’s strength really comes from her love of family and love of her people. It’s a really deep love that serves as the compass for everything she does. But I didn’t want her to find her strength within the story, I wanted her to already be that fierce girl. It’s when she has to merge her strength with the realization that she doesn’t necessarily believe everything she’s been taught by the people she loves that we find a different kind of strength within her.
TW: I really loved that aspect in the book. In a different interview, you once spoke of the sense of urgency you felt when writing and then querying this book. Author Austin Kleon says that we should look at the world and write the book we think is missing – was this the case with Sky in the Deep? Did you feel that something like this was/is missing (in YA) and needed to be written?
AY: When I was struck with the idea for the book, I definitely felt as if it would fill an empty place on the YA fantasy shelf. And I knew that if my book didn’t fill it, then another would. I just had a gut feeling that I had to move fast.
TW: There’s this cliché that your debut book is always about you, the author. Writing can be a way to work through your own issues in the hope that you can help others struggling to work through theirs. Was this the case for you?
AY: Definitely! But honestly, ALL my books are about me. The undertone usually has to do with something I’m dealing with in my own personal life. With Sky, I was going through a pretty significant transformation in the way I saw the world around me. Eelyn’s journey was a safe space for me to work that out.
TW: Can you talk about your creative process? What did it look like for Sky in the Deep and has it changed?
AY: Sky is very much as I first wrote it. That doesn’t happen a lot with my other projects. Like every other book, you go through stages of revisions that move things around or reshape things. But Sky in the Deep was different. The story just really flowed and had a life of its own.
TW: You’ve created a playlist for this book and there are some great choices on there! Are these the tracks you actually listened to while writing (on repeat)? Or are they more inspirational?
AY: Yes, I build a playlist for every project I work on and I listen to the whole thing on repeat while I’m drafting. Music helps create the mood and keeps my head in the world.
TW: In addition to music, what are some of the other things that make up your creative diet? What books, TV, other media, movies, etc inspire you to go and create?
AY: I am always inspired by books I read. Most recently, The Cruel Prince was a big one because it made me remember all the reasons I love writing YA so much. I love shows like Game of Thrones and the early seasons of The Walking Dead. Storylines that put characters into survival mode always spark ideas for me.
TW: Lastly, my favorite question: Forget about writing for a moment. Forget about your book. Forget about your characters, your plot. Forget about your ideas for a sequel. FORGET ABOUT WRITING! What’s got your interest at the moment? What are you excited about? What are you angry about? What are you preoccupied with? Tell me all about that, and then… Tell me if you think it’s going to affect the next thing you write, and if so, in what way.
AY: Right now, I’m really consumed with planning this huge trip I’m taking to Europe with my family this summer. Travelling the world with our kids is something I’ve always dreamed about and I’m really excited to go. But I’m also really overwhelmed and sad about some of the things that have been happening in the world, like the attacks on the mosques in New Zealand. The state of the world in general—I am so inspired by all the beauty and culture that surrounds us but then there’s so much darkness. Both of those things will definitely influence whatever I’m working on next because what I’m processing always finds a way into my books. For our trip, all the new sights, sounds, textures and for the things that are sad, a place to dig into those feelings.
Thank you so much to Adrienne Young for taking the time to answer, and to Titan Books, especially Sarah Mather.
Sky in the Deep is a touching coming-of-age story with a lot of the trappings of a YA novel, but with an ax-sharp edge. If you enjoy Norse-inspired fantasy, epic battle scenes and slow-burn romances, this might be exactly the book you’re looking for.
Sky in the Deep is out in paperback and ebook TODAY.