She is bound to serve. He is meant to kill. Survival is their prison. Choice is their weapon.
As the sacred slave of a goddess, Roma is of a lower caste that serves patrons to sustain the balance between gods and men. What she wants is her freedom, but deserters are hunted and hanged, and Roma only knows how to survive in her village where women are vessels without a voice. When her younger brother is condemned to the same wretched fate as hers, Roma must choose between silence and rebellion.
Leviathan is the bastard son of an immortal tyrant. Raised in a military city where everyone knows of his blood relation to the persecuted clans, Leviathan is considered casteless. Lowest of the low. Graduating as one of the deadliest soldiers, he executes in his father’s name, displaying his worth. When he faces judgement from his mother’s people—the clans—Leviathan must confront his demons and forge his own path, if he ever hopes to reclaim his soul.
But in the struggle to protect the people they love and rebuild their identities, Roma’s and Leviathan’s destinies interlock as the tyrant hunts an ancient treasure that will doom humankind should it come into his possession—a living treasure to which Roma and Leviathan are the ultimate key.
Thank you to White Tigress Press for sending me a free copy of this book for review. I can confirm all thoughts and opinions are my own.
“The worst kind of monsters, Saheb –“ Roma said through gritted teeth, “- are those who pretend they’re human.”
I mean… to start off with, just look at how beautiful that cover is! It was certainly the first thing that caught my eye, and once I had read the synopsis I just knew I had to read this book. The Descent of the Drowned is steeped in Islamic Arabian mythology, with heartbreaking and complicated characters and filled with beautifully descriptive writing, I found myself easily flying through the pages. I will mention that this book should come with some major trigger warnings for: rape (not on page), self harm, suicide, forced drug addiction, child death, torture as well as child and adult prostitution. It is certainly not a book for the feint of heart but the darkness and brutality of this book add to the story and made it feel more real. The Descent of the Drowned is an incredibly hard book to explain without giving away spoilers, so I’m going to refrain from my usual added synopsis.
The story is told from two POV’s. We start with Roma, a devadasi, someone who is seen as a vessel to the God, Mother Lamia. After being abandoned on the steps of the temple as a child she has been raised by the other devadasi to believe she is a divine conduit, but Roma wants nothing to do with the Gods. She see’s her role as servitude rather than divine. After being abused by her first patron she constantly lives in fear of having to be sold again, still not over the scars, both physical and mental, the first time left. Bust despite all that she is incredibly resilient and protects those lesser off. She is angry, and before long that anger will find its way out.
Leviathan is torn between two worlds. The son of the Firawn and the clans, he has been raised to be a brutal and efficient killing machine, used by his father to keep his people in the clans in check. He desperately wants to fight against the path his father has set him on, but his sheer brutality and seeming lack of empathy means the clans aren’t quick to forgive someone who has killed so many of their own. He longs for a better world, but that would mean killing his immortal father, something Levi isn’t sure he’s capable of.
As well as out two main POV’s we get treated to a wealth of side characters from the other devadasi serving alongside Roma, to Levi’s brothers in arms. But my favourites by far were Chirag, Roma’s little brother, if not by blood than by circumstance and Malev, the one person Levi can rely on. We also get characters that are SO easy to hate. Our two man characters are by no means ‘hero’s’ but the characters they stand up against are the worst of the worst.
I will say that this took a little while to get going, for the first part of the book the author focuses on introducing us to her world and the characters that inherit it. We get introduced to the different Castes: Higher Zaat, lower Zaat and the clans, as well as the political climate.This meant it took a little while for the main plot to get going, and at first I wasn’t sure quite where the story was going. However, once the plot picks up it really gets going and I powered through the last 40% or so of the story unable to put it down.
Ana Lal Din certainly pulls no punches when it comes to the brutality of her world, something that added a whole new depth to the story and made it seem that much more real. Take away the magic and her world is potentially not that far from what life was like back then. This is by no means a light and fast read, she deals with some hard hitting topics and her writing style lends itself to a slower reading speed. But don’t think it’s all dark, there are plenty of light parts as well as humorous ones that broke up the story well. If, like me, you love delving into other cultures, especially their mythology/folklore then I can highly recommend this book.
One thing that shocked me, but in a good way, there was no romance. I mean, there was potential for one maybe in future books, but I would not at all be bothered if she just didn’t write it into the story. I think because of what the characters go through, having no romance makes it more realistic. There was no need for it, the characters were on their own paths, though we may not have known it at the time, and if she had added romance it would have completely gone against how she wrote her characters. They don’t trust easy, let alone love. And for Roma, growing up in a world where she is only valued for her body and ability to birth children, it just wouldn’t have seemed right for her to get a romantic interest.
If I had one issue with this? The magic system needed to be explained better. By the end of the book, I still wasn’t sure what exactly the magic was used for, who could use it etc, but I’m sure this can be developed more in the second book. The pacing at the start was a little slow, but it definitely picks up before the end and what and ending it is. I genuinely didn’t see it coming and am incredibly eager to get my hands on the second book. An easy 4*