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Undertow is a dystopian fantasy/science fiction trilogy of novels by Michael Buckley. Told from the viewpoint of Brooklyn teenager Lyric Walker, it shows a world turned upside down by the arrival of a species of violent aquatic humanoids on the shores of New York's Coney Island. These "First Men" or "Alpha," as they call themselves, come in subspecies named after a variety of beings from folklore: Sirena, Ceto, Nyx, Selkie. But the names is where the resemblance to the friendly creatures of myth end. Coney Island is transformed into a virtual prison as tense government authorities wait to see what the newcomers intend and human supremacist street gangs begin to appear. Making matters worse for Lyric and her family is a frightening secret that they have been living with since long before the Alpha came. But when the government agrees to integrate Alpha children into Lyric's school, Lyric is thrown into the middle of the inter-species standoff and all of her dark secrets begin to float to the surface.

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The first book in the trilogy, Undertow, was released in May 2015. Its sequel, Raging Sea, followed in February 2016. The final volume, Heart Of The Storm, is scheduled for a Spring 2017 release.


The first book of this trilogy contains examples of the following:

  • Abusive Parents: Bex's stepfather Russell, and her mother Tammy who is too cowardly to stop it.
  • Action Girl: All of the female Alpha encountered in the story, as well as Lyric and Bex by the story's end.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Niners, who evoke Nazi Brownshirts in every way possible.
  • Arc Words: "I am bigger than the world."
  • Ass Kicking Equals Authority: Pretty much everything in Alpha society has to do with how much ass a person can kick.
  • Attempted Rape: Russell to Bex, but she fights him off.
  • Badass Normal: Bex from the moment of Shadow's death going forward. She survives by herself on the streets of the Zone for four days (and is implied to have slain Shadow's killer during that time,) walks out of a tidal wave, and then knocks out an Alpha with a single hit!
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  • Beware the Quiet Ones: Bumper is the most shy and meek of the Alpha students at the school, but that doesn't stop her from electrocuting one of her tormentors to death.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Russell, Governor Bachmann, Alpha Prime & Minerva, and the Rusalka all do rotating stints as the primary threat to Lyric and her loved ones.
  • Blessed with Suck: Lyric's migraines, which are caused by excess electrical activity in her brain, which, as a Half-Alpha, in turn lets her use the water-controlling gauntlets.
  • Bullying a Dragon: You'd think that racist street thugs would eventually get the hint that they are no match for beings with superhuman strength, speed, and endurance with swords growing out of their arms, but they never do.
  • The Caligula: The Alpha Prime, whose arrogance and madness have left his civilization on the brink of annihilation.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Fathom to his father in the wake of Summer's trial.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A U.S. Navy ship appears offshore. It gets used in the ensuing war, but not the way that the people who sent it intended.
  • The Chosen One: Averted with Lyric. The power she possesses makes her incredibly rare and valuable, but by no means unique.
  • The Chessmaster: Doyle, the mysterious, government-appointed principal of Lyric's school.
    • Fathom, of all people, turns out to be quite a serviceable one as well.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The outcome of any attempt by the Niners to harm an Alpha. Bex who knocks out Minerva with one blow is a notable exception.
  • Cute Monster Girl: All female Alpha, up to and including Lyric and Summer Walker.
  • Defeat Equals Friendship: Noor, following his defeat by Fathom.
  • Doing In the Wizard: Alpha religious leaders think that the gauntlets allow communication with the Great Abyss. Ghost, whose grandfather invented the devices dismisses this, explaining that they work by enabling reaction between the electricity in the brain and salt in the water.
  • The Dreaded: The Rusalka. What they did was so total and final that the normally-fearless Alpha will no longer even speak their name.
  • Fantastic Racism: Most humans in the story want nothing to do with the Alpha, seeing them as abominations against nature. The Alpha reciprocate the feelings in turn.
  • Freudian Trio: Bex is the Ego, Shadow the Super Ego, and Lyric is the Id, or as she calls it "The Wild Thing."
  • Hero of Another Story: Doyle. His motives and loyalties may be questionable, but he holds the Niners at bay and is determined to foster successful coexistence between Humans and Alphas. He doesn't seem to approve of his government's policy of torturing Alpha infiltrators, and by the novel's end it looks like he intends to keep helping the heroes.
  • Hope Spot: Doyle finally gives Lyric the identification papers her mother needs and she is relieved that in one more week, Bex and her family will be starting a new life in Colorado. Before that week ends, Shadow is dead, Lyric's father is arrested, and Lyric, Summer, and Bex find themselves trapped with the Alpha between two advancing armies.
  • Honor Before Reason: Some of the Alpha balk at the idea of using guerrilla tactics against a numerically superior enemy, citing it as dishonorable. Luckily, Noor is there to set them straight.
  • I'm An Alphatarian: The Rusalka seem to prefer Alpha meat to all others.
  • Interspecies Romance: Between Lyric and Fathom, except not really, because Lyric is half-Alpha.
  • Love Triangle: Develops between Lyric, Fathom, and Arcade, who was promised to Fathom since childhood.
  • Made of Iron: Fathom. He's ridiculously tough even by Alpha standards. No matter how many hits he takes, he just keeps going.
  • Mama Bear: Summer Walker. Come after her daughter, or even just talk badly about her, and this timid, beachcombing hippie will literally break every bone in your body.
  • Muggle Best Friend: Bex, although this does not stop her from taking levels in badass right alongside Lyric.
  • Noodle Incident: Doyle shows up to work with a black eye at one point, presumably from a run-in with the Niners, but it never gets explained.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Governor Bachmann. She seems like an inept politician exploiting the Alpha crisis in an effort to win points with her constituency and her efforts to disrupt the school integration leave her repeatedly humiliated. Even Lyric manages to make her look like a fool at one point. She comes back stronger, leading both the Niners AND the New York State Army National Guard, creating an instant All Your Base Are Belong to Us and starting a war between humans and Alpha.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: All Alpha, whose names are unpronounceable in any human language and who are assigned rough translations of their names in English. Bex and Lyric's friend Tito, who only ever goes by his online handle "Shadow," also qualifies.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: Those with the ability to control the hydrokinesis gloves, making them able to summon tidal waves or turn anything with water on it into a flying weapon.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Alpha, to such an extreme that they view seeking medical treatment for wounds sustained in battle as cowardly.
  • Psychic Nosebleed: The hydrokinesis gloves will work for Half-Alpha but are not designed for them, resulting in this when the power is used. In a subversion, it does not seem to indicate long-term damage.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Fathom, who like all Alpha princes before him, fights for his father's honor in daily gladiatorial combat. Inverted with the Alpha Prime, who has earned the right to defer all such challenges to his offspring.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Shadow, who dies protecting Bex from Russell and the Niners.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Bumper is a background character for most of the novel. But when she kills another student in self-defense, it escalates the tensions between human and Alpha into full-scale war.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Fathom when he turns against his father.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Doyle, who couldn't be more smug and manipulative if he tried, but whose actions indicate that he genuinely wants to help Lyric and her family.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: The Rusalka avert this. The Alpha agreed to their demands for social reform, but the Rusalka carried out the genocide anyway when Alpha children began developing the same powers as they.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: From asshole victims like Mrs. Novoklova and Russell] to main characters like Fathom, the Prime, Mr. Lear, and Lyric's Parents' Book One ends with a vast number of characters whose fates are unknown, presumably to be revealed in the sequels.
  • World of Badass: Alpha society: children start training for combat as soon as they can stand, all disputes are settled through ritual combat, and everyone's superhuman strength is augmented by poison, electricity, bone blades, or some other natural weaponry.
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