Book Review: SONGS FROM THE DEEP by Kelly Powell

Songs from the Deep tries hard to be something it’s not, resulting in a shallow read stripped of fantasy and wonder. A boilerplate romantic mystery.

Book Cover: Songs from the Deep


A girl searches for a killer on an island where deadly sirens lurk just beneath the waves in this gripping, atmospheric debut novel.

The sea holds many secrets.

Moira Alexander has always been fascinated by the deadly sirens who lurk along the shores of her island town. Even though their haunting songs can lure anyone to a swift and watery grave, she gets as close to them as she can, playing her violin on the edge of the enchanted sea. When a young boy is found dead on the beach, the islanders assume that he’s one of the sirens’ victims. Moira isn’t so sure.

Certain that someone has framed the boy’s death as a siren attack, Moira convinces her childhood friend, the lighthouse keeper Jude Osric, to help her find the real killer, rekindling their friendship in the process. With townspeople itching to hunt the sirens down, and their own secrets threatening to unravel their fragile new alliance, Moira and Jude must race against time to stop the killer before it’s too late—for humans and sirens alike.

To be honest, I almost DNFed Songs from the Deep in the second chapter.

The writing style really doesn’t work for me. Kelly Powell’s version of a period setting seems to be having everyone speak in incredibly formal sentences. The prose desperately wants to be third person, but Powell crams the story into a first-person perspective that doesn’t fit the voice at all. The book spends so much time being “”poetic“” that we get very little substance.

why does everyone talk like Frasier???

But I kept going, because Songs from the Deep was setting up a story I hadn’t quite seen before, and I was fascinated to see where this odd fantasy blend would go.

Songs from the Deep sets out to do something very strange.

The gorgeous cover will make you think that this book is about sirens. It’s not… at all. Despite the fact that sirens are mentioned… let’s see… six times in the publisher synopsis, they’re not a primary focus of the book.

The sirens are… set dressing, I suppose. They’re there to provide some creepy atmosphere and be objects in the plot, but nothing more. We only see them a few times, and only once up close. They’re never described in detail, much less given the page space to reveal their behaviors or customs or anything else you might want to know.

I thought I’d get a little more of this

Songs in the Deep is a murder mystery romance that just happens to take place on a siren-surrounded island. It’s a really bizarre premise for a book, especially in YA. We’ve got the story, which is completely realistic, but there are also sirens over there… and they’re supposedly the source of conflict, but they’re basically left out of the book.

I can’t quite think of another book that uses fantasy elements this way. The closest I can come up with is Patrick Ness’ The Rest of Us Just Live Here, but that book is pretty up-front about what to expect. The lack of world-saving is, itself, the hook.

But Songs of the Deep seems to want to be a siren book. It just isn’t interested in sirens at all.

That’s a real problem for the book.

To begin with, the mysterious lack of siren content in Songs from the Deep is sure to disappoint anyone who picked up the book because they, you know, like reading about sirens. When everything about the book is marketed on the fantasy creature hook, why would you want to leave your one guaranteed audience disappointed?

But the neglect of the fantasy creatures leads to some bigger structural problems too. Most importantly, Songs from the Deep never quite figures out what it wants to be.

I have no idea, after finishing this book, if the sirens in this universe are people. Are they just animals, which makes Moira’s mission analogous to a contemporary story of a heroic teen saving endangered owls? Or are they, in some sense, persons, which makes this a standing-up-for-the-marginalized narrative?

In the few scenes we see sirens up-close, they’re quite personified. The focus on the emotion seen in their eyes suggests some degree of humanization. And that makes the neglect of those characters even worse. It’s not exactly heroic to campaign for protecting the “voiceless” if you’re not interested in the voice they already have.

And when you’re talking about sirens… claiming voicelessness is a little on-the-nose, isn’t it?

Without a strong fantasy element, period atmosphere, or clear point of view, the book flounders. The romance is pleasing enough but boilerplate. The mystery is shallow and predictable. When sirens are the only thing that make a book different… why would you ignore them?

Thank you to Margaret K. McElderry Books and Simon and Schuster for providing an advance review copy of this title for review. No money changed hands for this review and all opinions are my own.

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