The Descent of the Drowned (The Descent of the Drowned #1) by Ana Lal Din
Published by White Tiger Press
Young Adult, Fantasy
Release Date : March 15th 2021
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.
Set in a colonised Indo-Persian world and inspired by pre-Islamic Arabian mythology, The Descent of the Drowned is a tale about power, identity, and redemption, and what it takes to hold on to one’s humanity in the face of devastation.
‘The worst kind of monsters are those who pretend they’re human.’
ARC provided by the publisher White Tigress Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
A solid first book to a promising series that is rich in culture with compelling themes and dripping with potential.
The Descent of the Drowned is the first book to the same titled series and debut work by Ana Lal Din. This book first caught my eye back in 2020 when the ARC was circulating around Book Twitter. At that time I was new to NetGalley being a newb back then I jumped the chance to review this book and with the passing of time I forgot about it, until now. This is the third book I picked up for #NetGalleyNovember, I went in completely blind without any prior knowledge besides the names of the two main characters. This book is still highly underrated having less than 1k reviews so I wanted to give it a fair and honest chance as it is quite promising looking at my friends’ ratings. Before I dive into my review I would like to gush about the cover done by Marcela Bolívar. The snake with the gold flaking off it’s body and the heart dripping blood while sprouting a tree on top really got me excited to read this book. The level of detail that went into this cover is stunning!
Fate was an excuse. It was a manacle that enchained one to passivity. It had a grip on one’s mind and spirit, convincing one to remain shackled out of fear.
The story of The Descent of the Drowned is set in a colonised Indo-Persian world taking place in a society where your zaat (caste) determines your social-economical standing and background. In this story we follow two main characters, Roma, a sub zaat orphaned girl and dēvadasi of the goddess Lamia (a Lamiadasi); and Leviathan, the Firawn’s weapon and son born from the womb of a casteless woman. Their fates intertwine as they fight for survival in a world cruelty and ruthlessness choked by the steel grip of a tyrant. Both, Roma and Levi, are damaged souls battling their inner demons to grasp the humanity that is left within them after the endless beatings from the world.
Being a Lamiadasi—Roma grew up and lived in Lamiapur all her life with her mother figure that raised Roma and her sisters. Roma lived a happy life until the day she was auctioned off to potential patrons to serve them until she is released from the patronage. Patrons are viewed as vessels of Lord Biran and Roma a vessel of Mother Lamia, one of Lord Biran’s many Goddess-Wives. That night Roma spent with her first patron destroyed something in Roma leaving her traumatized and scarred for life. This trauma shook Roma’s faith as a lamiadasi and has her questioning the belief that she once devoted herself to.
After years of training at the Guild and serving under the orders of the Firawn, Leviathan comes back darker, out of touch, and slowly losing his humanity. The death of his mother threw him off balance as Levi blames himself for failing to protect the only person he loves. Now his mother’s body is burnt to ashes but Levi believes her death was a scheme plotted by the Firawn’s first wife. He is determined, fueled by grief and anguish, to find evidence of his mother’s alleged ‘murder’. But it all took a turn when Leviathan involves himself with the casteless clans because of moral obligation and his blood relation to them.
We are what they make us until we break them and make ourselves. We can choose not to give another the power to make us feel less than we are.
Ana Lal Din crafted a story that is vibrant with culture and sings words of many languages. Ana’s in depth knowledge of history and rich inspiration from pre-Islamic Arabian mythology is engrained deeply into the world as evident in the intricately detailed and vivid world building. Combined with Ana’s grim dark undertones and beautiful prose the story hums a magnetic appeal to me. The world beats its own rhythm and flow that is immersive and pulsing with life. The exploration of the setting is one of the aspects that gripped my attention. Ana’s atmospheric writing and tantalizing sensory descriptions made the story more whole and real as though readers are experiencing everything first hand. The themes that are weaved into the society is brutal and grim. The depiction of misogyny and mistreatment of clanless/lower zaat by all layers of society or people with power in general is executed well. Ana did not hold back in showing the harsh and harrowing acts that are down right despicable which can be found in the history of the communities that are affected. Based on Ana Lal Din’s interview with Ness from Talk of Tales, she goes in depth about the research done for the story’s sociocultural and political issues that is a central part of the plot. Ana takes inspiration from different cultures from South Asian countries, Afghanistan, the Middle East, and many more. If you want to know in depth do check out the interview! Fair warning Spoiler Alert! Proceed with caution!
“Wallahi,” he whispered. “Ainaky todamerani rajolan.”
‘Your eyes could ruin a man,’
The main characters of The Descent of the Drowned, Roma and Levi, are of different caste and on different positions of power. Being a woman in a society that views them as less as men, Roma goes through a lot of horrible experiences. The experience she goes through is especially worse because Roma is an orphaned lamiadasi of the lower zaat. Her life revolves around being a lamiadasi in lamiapur so Roma is confined to a fate of servitude and obedience. But this didn’t stop her from fighting and didn’t bend her bravery as she finds strength within herself to survive. Roma’s characterization is truly monumental and compelling. Roma is one of the strongest female protagonist I’ve read in young adult fantasy. To avoid spoilers I’ll just say that her overall development and character arc is scream worthy.
You are a queen in disguise who wears her scars like a crown.
The way Ana writes Roma’s constant struggle with her fate and many traumatic experiences is meticulously done with a slow ascent to the eventual climax that answered her growing doubts for humanity and finally taking charge of her once decided fate. I’m looking forward to what will happen in the sequel because the flaming epilogue is the peak of Roma’s arc that has been built up through out this first book. I don’t want to say anything that will hint at it so I’ll stop here before I spoil anything.
“You are a weapon. You’re the son of the Firawn. Raised as a remorseless soldier, but with the blood of a merciful Khan in your veins. You’re light and dark, a question and an answer.”
Levi on the other hand, for me, wasn’t that noteworthy and his character arc felt scattered. The lore behind Levi’s character is written with more tell than show. Being a child of a clanless mother and the Firawn, Levi went through a rough childhood of being pressured to do things that are the opposite of his compassionate nature. The delivery of Levi’s hard childhood weren’t done effectively in his POV as it disrupted the pacing and flow the story. Levi has flashback after flashback that sometimes didn’t make sense with current predicament he’s in. There is potential in his characterization to pull me in and invest in him, but comparing Levi with Roma, Levi’s fell flat and forced with the constant flashback for me.
From my perspective I thought Levi and Roma are parallels that are fated together in some way, but they only interacted a few times and are mostly separated. Honestly, I wouldn’t think there is romance between the two if it wasn’t mentioned at all because the moments were too short. I understand that this is the first book so the story is more focused on establishing a foundation for both characters and the world. I hope to see more interaction and relationship growth between the two.
They were both survivors. They never quit. No matter how badly they were beaten, or how much they bled.
The main gripe I have with the story is the pacing as I’ve mentioned in Levi’s characterization. While reading the story the pacing had a few set backs that distracted me from fully investing in it. The strange thing is that the story is slow paced but also fast in execution. If I step back and summarize the events that transpired, I’ve read 60-70% of the book but the story only covered a handful of plot points. It is as though I’m running a marathon for hours but only covered a quarter of the distance. To simplify, in my opinion, there isn’t balance in the worldbuilding, characterization, and plot of the story which resulted in the pacing to stumble and fall behind. I’m more sad that the story didn’t fully resonate with me because of this.
“By the gods, I’ll destroy everything.”
Final thoughts, The Descent of the Drowned is a dark fantasy with immersive world building, wonderful characterization, and a story that is dripping with potential. A story that tackles themes of colonialization, oppression, misogyny, and many more that is raw in it’s depiction and heart wrenching in it’s execution. I am looking forward to the sequel, The Blood on the Blade, of this trilogy and looking forward to see more Roma and Levi. This book is probably the darkest young adult book I’ve read that actually delivered in it’s harrowing darkness more than any other book I’ve read so far. I highly recommend for readers to pick up this book as it is rich in history and culture stemming from many roots that will surely stand out amongst the rest.
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.