Like fingers wrapped around their throats, it drags them into the deepest part of the bay among the wreckage of ships long abandoned, pulling them under until the air spills from their lungs and a new thing can slip inside.
This is how they do it – how the sisters are freed from their brackish grave. They steal three bodies and make them their own.
(The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw. P57.) Synopsis:
The people of Sparrow never took kindly to outsiders. Two centuries ago, three sisters were drowned as witches in Sparrow Bay. Every year since their ghosts have returned, to take revenge on the town by dragging boys to their deaths.
Penny Tabolt always thought the curse was a fair price to pay for what happened to the Swan Sisters. Then Bo arrives on the first night of Swan Season, unaware of the danger he is in, or that his arrival will change everything.
Bo and Penny both have secrets to hide. As Swan Season takes hold, mistrust and fear spreads through the town, and boys are once again drowned by the siren song of the Swan Sisters.
The Wicked Deep has everything I am interested in – curses and folklore, and the relationship between story and place. I read it in one breathless sitting, and was not disappointed.
I love the contrast between the gothic horror of the curse, and the way tourists and teenagers have turned this tradition into party season. It made the scenario feel more realistic that lots of people had stopped taking it seriously. Likewise I loved the story of local vigilante boys Lon and Davis, who use the curse as justification for their own hatred of girls and women.
The main theme is love and revenge. Is revenge ever justified? Can the cycle of blame and hatred and revenge be broken? Penny and Bo both have a role to play in ending the cycle. At times it seems their relationship will bring them together to end the curse, and at other times it seems their feelings will cause the cycle to continue. This conflict kept me turning the pages. I genuinely cared about Penny and Bo. Both want something more than to join in with the silliness of Swan Season, and both want the murders to end.
The secondary theme is place. Penny Tabolt feels there is nothing left for her in Sparrow, but where lots of the young people around her plan to leave, Penny finds reasons to stay. Her father disappeared a couple of years ago, and Penny doesn’t want to leave her Mum. I love how the story explores our relationship with place – what links us to a geographical area, and what causes those links to sever? This was an important theme in the story of The Swan Sisters, who were treated as outsiders by the people of Sparrow.
Shea Ernshaw has made some interesting observations about local stories. The truth about the Swan Sisters has been gradually lost to the folk story. Only the bare facts remain hidden within the story to tell people about Marguerite, Aroura and Hazel. I love how this ties together the relationship between stories, place and people.
I read this in one sitting, and the characters have stayed with me. You could say I’m haunted by their stories.
Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for my copy. All opinions my own.