[ARC Book Review] Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

“The gods are dead. Decades ago, they turned on one another and tore each other apart. Nobody knows why. But are they really gone forever? When 15-year-old Hark finds the still-beating heart of a terrifying deity, he risks everything to keep it out of the hands of smugglers, military scientists, and a secret fanatical cult so that he can use it to save the life of his best friend, Jelt. But with the heart, Jelt gradually and eerily transforms. How long should Hark stay loyal to his friend when he’s becoming a monster—and what is Hark willing to sacrifice to save him?” – Goodreads

Release Date: April 14, 2020 in the US.

3/5 Stars

First Impressions

I fell in love with the description at first. I was really in the mood for a sea adventure and the plot seemed super thick and juicy! I mean, you have everything in that description: dead gods, a teen with a catchy name (Hark is an amazing name), smugglers, scientists, a cult, secrets, and a friend that’s been turned into a monster. I really wanted to read this book. I remember telling my boyfriend about it and he gives me this ‘there she goes again’ look.

I want to thank Netgalley, ABRAMS Kids, Amulet Books, and of course Frances Hardinge for the opportunity to read this ARC before it releases.

Sign Language Influences

My favorite aspect of this book by far is the integration of sign language. In Hark’s world, being sea-kissed means that a person’s hearing is gone because of their voyages under the sea. It’s an honor to be sea-kissed and warrants great respect.

Hardinge creates her own culture with the sea-kissed characters she created, while staying true to deaf culture at the same time. I’m not fluent in ASL, but I’m close. I know the culture norms pretty well and I would say this book would raise awareness for the deaf.

One of the main characters, Selphin, is sea-kissed. She lip-reads well but expresses the difficulty behind it. She acknowledges the pain she feels when there are multiple people talking around her, but nobody is taking the time to sign to her. She talks about feeling the vibrations of sounds and interacting with sound-making objects as well as a hearing person could.

This integration was a selling point for me.


“No stories were complete anyway; they were all really just parts of a bigger tale that could only be told by many different voices and seen through many different eyes. There was always more of the story to learn.”

Deeplight, page 418

The characterization was the spotlight of the book, I think. Hark is our main character and we follow him throughout most of the story. Hark is obsessed with other people’s stories and he hides in them for a while, before figuring out that he has a story to tell himself.

He definitely changes into a new person by the end of the book. All of the characters do.

Each character has their own distinct voice, which is really important in young adult literature. Many authors struggle with this part, I think. Hardinge has it down, though. I had no difficulty navigating dialogue.


The plot was weird. A combination of the plot, world building, and writing style factored into my low-ish rating for this book. The plot was hard to follow, especially at first. I didn’t feel prepared going into the novel. There was so much happening in a world that I didn’t recognize, and I don’t think there was enough time dedicated to submerging readers into that world before the plot kicked in.

I didn’t understand where the story was going until about forty percent of the way through. When I did start to understand the trajectory of the plot line, I was a little disappointed. I thought the plot would be deeper than what it was.

Writing Style

She got me on the writing style, too. I loved the atmosphere that she was painting; it was very Lovecraftian, which I adored. However, the language was weird and difficult to adapt to. The point of view switches also confused me.

She writes Deeplight in third person omnipresent, which is fine. Although, I’ve never read a book that switches point of view in third person before. We see the world from three point of views in some chapters, switching with the use of paragraph breaks.

I get that those scenes needed to be seen from different perspectives to fully understand what’s happening, but the execution was weird. Not necessarily bad… just weird.

Recommendations & Reason for Rating

If you like darker young adult novels about sea monsters and secrecy, pick this one up. Deeplight has a little bit of everything, except for romance. There are splashes of deaf culture and sign language throughout the novel, as well as rich characterization. The only weak spots, in my opinion, were in the plot and the point of view switches.

For Teachers

I’m not sure if typical students would enjoy this one. There’s blood and violence, but not much else. No profanity or sexual scenes. Interest wise, you could try it on your library bookshelf, but I wouldn’t teach it.

Grades: 7-12

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge is being published on April 14, 2020 by Amulet Books. This is her ninth published book. Hardinge is an English (by that I mean she lives in England) young adult author and has a killer website, which you can find here.


Hi, everyone! I have worked in the field of education since I was nineteen and have a passion for literature. I have five years of experience as a library media specialist (paraprofessional), 2 years as a substitute teacher, and I am currently a general education paraprofessional. I have a Bachelor's in Library Media and Science, which I intend to use to eventually become a youth services librarian. I'm a proud book nerd, writer, gamer, hiker, and baker.

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