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Literature / Deeplight

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Deeplight is a young adult horror novel by British author Frances Hardinge, first published in 2019.

In the old days, the islands of the Myriad lived in fear of the gods, great sea monsters that rose up from the Undersea to devour ships and depopulate entire islands. Now, the gods are no more. They tore each other apart in an event known as the Cataclysm. Fragments of their bodies (known as godware) are dredged up and sold. Hark and his best friend Jelt are petty criminals. When they embark on a dangerous scavenging expedition, they stumble across a strange, pulsing piece of godware and things begin to go very, very wrong.

Deeplight contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Selphin, the musket-wielding smuggler girl who never shies from a fight and slayed a god. She definitely takes after her mother.
  • Action Mom: Dotta Rigg leads a band of smugglers, many of which are her children, and rescues her daughter Selphin, Hark, and Quest from a wrecked submarine.
  • Are You Sure You Can Drive This Thing?: Quest asks if Hark knows how to pilot the Screaming Sea Butterly. He manages, although it takes him a while to get the hang of it.
  • Badass Family: Dotta Rigg's kids are trained up as part of her smuggler crew.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Jelt took Hark under his wing when they were orphaned in the same harsh winter. He protects the younger, smaller Hark while they grow up in the shelter and they are literally thick as theives.
  • Bizarrchitecture: The church-turned-auction-house was designed to be "frecht", referring to the awe-inspiring strangeness of the gods. The building is strangely proprotioned, with a high ceilling creating a pitch-black void above.
  • Brats with Slingshots: Hark and Jelt carry slingshots, which they use to take out a couple of beacon towers. It's no harmless prank; they're being paid by smugglers to do it.
  • Breathable Liquid: Humans can breathe Undersea water. Since it's essentially liquid fear, the experience is not pleasant. Side effects include experiencing the terror of shipwreck victims as they drowned.
  • Converting for Love: Quest originally joined the priests on Sanctuary to follow a girl named Ailodie. He stayed in the priesthood for other reasons, after coming to accept that she did not return his feelings.
  • Cool Boat: The Screaming Sea Butterfly is a transparent submarine, made from god-glass, and powered by an unholy noise produced via compressed air.
  • Cowardly Lion: Hark initally backs away from dangerous plans, but (usually) comes through when under pressure. As Jelt likes to tell him, "You'll do it if you have to."
  • Delirious Misidentification: The elderly Pale Soul often mistakes Hark for an acolyte he once knew, named Flint. Hark exploits it, both to help him care for Pale Soul (who is easily agitated, but much calmer around Hark) and to get information from him.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu??:
    • Quest stole the Hidden Lady's heart and used it to bait the other gods to their deaths.
    • Downplayed in the finale, as Jelt is a newly transformed, and therefore less powerful god. Selphin throws the air tank from a wind gun into it's extra mouth and pulls out the heart.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The gods of the Undersea. Enormous ocean dwelling monsters, they swallow ships whole, depopulate entire islands, and breathe fear. Later revealed to be mutated humans, whose hearts were changed by the Undersea as they drowned.
  • Eldritch Ocean Abyss: The Undersea, a sub-ocean created by human fear and populated by Eldritch Abominations. The water is breathable and the crushing pressure that ought exist in the depths is absent. You can swim around with no equipment, but the enviroment messes with your mind and may leave you with "Marks" (small mutations, a tentacle here, a patch of shell there..).
  • Eyes Do Not Belong There: Post transformation, Jelt has a cluster of extra eyes on his back. The narration is vague about their exact location, but they certainly aren't on whatever passes for his face at this point.
  • Face Your Fears:
    • Selphin confronts her fear of the sea twice; first when she jumps in the ocean to get away from her mother, then later by descending into the Undersea.
    • Hark finally faces the fact that Jelt is no longer the friend he grew up with, and it's been the case for a very long time.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Selphin thinks Hark is an idiot for messing around with weird godware; Hark thinks Selphin is crazy. By the end of the book, they've been shot at by Leaguers, taken a trip to the Undersea to slay a god, and are thick as thieves.
  • God-Eating: If two gods are close enough to sense each other, they will fight to the death with the loser becoming lunch. One such battle, between the Gathergiest and the Swallower, is graphically described.
  • Götterdämmerung: The gods of the Myriad ripped each other apart (taking hundreds of islanders with them) in the Cataclysm.
  • Guile Hero: Being on the puny side, Hark relies on wits, manipulation, and running away in the right direction.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: An unnamed Leaguer at Wildman's Hammer is bisected during Jelt's rampage.
  • Handicapped Badass: Smuggler's daughter Selphin is "sea-kissed" (deaf) after a childhood diving accident. Downplayed, as sign language is widely spoken in the setting and sea-kissed are deeply respected.
  • Harmful Healing: The mysterious godware causes mutations when it heals people. Although the Myriddens are surprisingly unconcerned about growing tentacles.
  • Heart Drive: A god's heart is the core of it's being, the only organ they all have in common; breaking or stealing the heart will kill the god. An intact heart will continue beating outside the body and mutate any humans who come into contact with it.
  • Human Sacrifice: The gods were appeased by sacrificing randomly selected islanders. In truth, the sacrifices themselves meant nothing. It was the fear of the surviving people that fed them.
  • I Have No Son!: Subverted: Rigg initially disowns her daughter, Selphin, for betraying her crew. It doesn't stick, as Hark and Sage talk her out of it.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Lung damage is a potential consequence of Riser's Bane, the setting's name for the Bends. Quest suffers from it; returning to the Undersea worsens his condition, and he passes away in the epilogue.
  • Indentured Servitude: Criminals are someitmes sold at the Appraisal on Lady's Crave, most end up working the oars on ships. Hark doubts he'd survive his own three-year sentence in the appaling conditions.
  • Lamprey Mouth: Post-transformation Jelt's secondary mouth is conical, lined with many rows of teeth, and lunges out to grab prey.
  • Mad Scientist: Dr. Vyne built the Screaming Sea Butterfly, a god-glass submarine that lives up to its name, and thinks replicating an Eldritch Abomination (and transplanting the actual heart of a god into it) is a good idea.
  • Mark of Shame: Serious criminals in the Myriad have slits cut in their ears. Once someone has three slits, getting caught law-breaking again will earn them an automatic trip to the gallows.
  • Monster from Beyond the Veil: Hark realises near the end that Jelt really did drown in the bathysphere accident. The orb didn't heal him. It resurrected him and has been slowly turning him into a monster.
  • Not That Kind of Doctor: Dr. Vyne is an expert in "practical theophysics". When confronted with a serious injury, she notes the trope, then adds that even she knows feeling cold is a bad sign.
  • Portmantitle: Deeplight, referring to the eerie, unsettling light under the ocean.
  • One-Word Title:
  • Orifice Invasion: The Gathergeist defeated the Swallower by shoving its tentacles into the Swallower's mouth, breaking its jaw, and eating it from the inside.
  • Recruited from the Gutter: Dr Vyne buys Hark at an auction of indentured criminals, saving him from the galleys. He works for Dr. Vyne at Sanctuary, but she makes it clear she'll send Hark back to the gutter if he steps out of line.
  • Retired Badass: He might be old and frail now, but in his younger days Quest stole the Hidden Lady's heart (which killed her), then engineered the Cataclym that killed the gods and was the only one to survive the mission.
  • Too Many Mouths: The tranformed Jelt has an extra mouth on its back.
  • Transformation Horror: Jelt's body is streched and warped, as it merges with the god-construct.
  • Unwanted False Faith: Hark is disturbed by the cult that springs up around Wildman's Hammer.
  • Unwanted Healing: When Selphin refuses to let Hark and Jelt attempt to cure her fear of the sea, her mother decides to force her into it.