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Title: The Devil and the Dark Water

Author: Stuart Turton

Published: 1st of October 2020 – Raven Books

Format: Hardback – 576 pages

“Some songs weren’t mere songs. They were memories curled tight and set alight. They made you heartsick.” – The Devil and the Dark Water

Hello Hello! How are you all?

Happy Sunday! I can’t believe it has taken me so long to get around to posting my review for The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton since I read this with my TWR buddies all the way back in December. It took me a long time to get my thoughts together for it, but here they finally are!

This one has stayed with me ever since I finished it over 4 months ago. Stuart Turton has definitely turned into an auto-buy author for me. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle was fantastic and this one had the same stunning writing style and atmosphere! Keep on reading for my full waffly thoughts on this great book!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A murder on the high seas. A detective duo. A demon who may or may not exist.

It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported to Amsterdam to be executed for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent.

But no sooner are they out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A twice-dead leper stalks the decks. Strange symbols appear on the sails. Livestock is slaughtered.

And then three passengers are marked for death, including Samuel.

Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes?

With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent can solve a mystery that connects every passenger onboard. A mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board.

MY REVIEW

Trigger Warnings: alcoholism, domestic abuse (physical, emotional), character death, burning someone alive, murder, threats, religion, rape (on-page and mentioned).

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton is his second book and one that I read with the TWR Gang book club in December 2020. As soon as Candyce and I buddy read The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, I knew I wanted to read his second book and I am so glad I did because I really enjoyed it, even though that ending completely took me by surprise, and disappointed me somewhat.

Can I just say that this book is beautifully written and therefore, very quotable, so please excuse the number of quotes in this review aha! Also, I read this quite a few months ago, so I don’t remember everything and I’ll try to keep my review short (I failed by the way) so I don’t inadvertently spoil you.

“Cleverness is a type of strength, and they won’t accept a woman who’s stronger than they are. Their pride won’t allow it, and their pride is the thing they hold dearest.” – The Devil and the Dark Water

SETTING

This book is set on the Saardam, a boat in the Dutch fleet heading towards Amsterdam from the Provinces, specifically Batavia, in 1634. You know that I love anything historical and the fact that this book is loosely based on real facts from that period just won me over. I haven’t heard much so far about the United East India Company and the Dutch Provinces, but these are definitely things that I will be trying to find out more about in the future.

I actually loved the setting of this story. I have recently been reading more books set at sea and on boats and I’ve really liked them. I loved that the author and publisher included a map of the boat at the start of the book and just how many details Stuart Turton wove into the story about the Provinces, about Amsterdam, about the history in that period, the boat and the characters. In the note at the back, the author did mention that everything was not historically accurate, but I actually enjoyed a lot of the information we were given and it has made me want to learn more about this period.

CHARACTERS

Sara: Sara is one of the main characters in this book, Lia’s mother and Jan Haan’s wife. As you can probably guess from the time period this book is set in, Sara has a tough life, no choices or freedom and must forever hide her daughter’s genius and her own qualities. Sara was my favourite character I think. She is very strong-willed which is a trait that I love to see in historical fiction, and she knows exactly what she wants. She has some very precise motivations when we meet her and it is intriguing to see how these shift. She also has a very strong moral compass and I loved seeing her interactions with the other characters, especially Lia, Arent and Sammy. She is a formidable protagonist.

Lia: Lia is Sara and Jan Haan’s daughter and she is a genius, quite literally. I can’t exactly say much more on this point because this topic includes some revelations for later on in the book. I loved the fact that Lia is so intelligent. Intelligent characters who know how to get out of a scrape in a pinch and have a tonne of wit are just some of my favourite characters. I loved Lia’s relationship with her mother as well.

Creesjie: Creesjie is Sara’s best friend I suppose you could say and a character that had me intrigued from page 1. Again, I can’t say anything else about who she is exactly, but it was quite surprising to me to learn who she was to whom and the relationships she had with the people around her (sorry if that makes no sense whatsoever).

Arent: Arent is the second main character and I actually saw him as basically Watson from Sherlock Holmes. He is a great character with secrets and he struggles to see his capabilities, which makes him a really believable character. Although he is flawed, I could believe all his actions and he came across as very real to me. I loved learning about him, he had a quite frightening childhood and his adult years before meeting Sammy were crafted in such a way that it was almost like small flashbacks that the reader got to experience alongside Arent. I thoroughly enjoyed his interactions with Sara and Sammy and I was completely rooting for Sara and him, to see if they would be able to figure out the murders, the weird events, the frightening atmosphere, the threats, but if they would also get what they wanted in the end.

Sammy: Sammy is basically Turton’s depiction of Sherlock Holmes and I think he did a great job. Even though Samuel Pipps is such an important character in this plot, we hardly see him because he is under lock and key in the bowels of the ship for having committed an atrocious crime that actually no one except the Governor General, and allegedly Sammy, are aware of. This was really well handled by the author who kept the suspense high and the questions about Sammy, his past, his motivations and his “crime” at the forefront of the story despite everything else going on.

Governor General Jan Haan and Vos: Finally, I just want to talk about these two men because they are utterly vile and I have to warn you they are cruel, they are misogynistic, evil and basically the exact depiction of what I would imagine a man with power would be like at that time in history. I hated both of these men and I was so glad of what happened to them. The author did a good job of making these two despisable.  

There are so many other characters and crew members on the ship, but I would be here all day if I started talking about them. They are all mostly memorable though and do have a big part in the plot, I just can’t remember that much about some of them because they bled together a little and I did struggle to distinguish them. However, at the front of the book is included a passenger list which was really helpful when I got muddled between different people.

THEMES

A mystery at sea: This was basically what I remembered from the blurb going into this book and I have to urge you to go in with the least information as possible because everything unfolding in front of your eyes is fantastic. I love a touch of mystery, dead bodies, unexplained events and a sleuthing team, that is exactly what I got, but so much more. I’ve also been enjoying books set at sea and the information we get about the boat, the fleet, the sinister feeling we get that pervades this ship and the characters were just great.

A dark and frightening atmosphere: This is THE best part of the book in my opinion because I’m a sucker for a fabulous atmosphere and the books I’ve been reading lately have given me all that and more. This book is creepy, sinister, dark and eerie. Turton has made his book into such a palpable and dark force that it feels like the world you dive into is real (I mean it was but it’s also fiction). Reality and fiction and woven together seamlessly and the fact that this book makes your spine tingle and your hair stand on end is just top-notch.

The devil at work: This was the part that has me so intrigued by the blurb and kept me guessing and turning the pages as quickly as I could. As the characters travel to the boat that will take them back to Amsterdam, a leper appears and threatens them and their ship. Throughout the book, so many events such as this one happen and it’s clear that everyone believes the devil is aboard the boat. There are signs marked on the walls and sails of the ship, people start hearing voices and atrocities are committed. The devil element and the revelations around this, what implications it had on the characters, past and present events were really clever in my opinion.

Human nature: I talked about this in my review of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, but Stuart Turton has now written another book that once again has something to say about human nature and boy does he say it loud. I adore books with social commentary because I feel like they really make you think about what is happening in the story. The fact that Sara, Lia and Arent have such a strong moral compass and how this is contrasted with the devil, the Governor and Vos for instance was really well thought out, even though the ending left me utterly speechless, and not necessarily in a good way. Human beings can be and will be cruel, power is corruptive and no one on the ship can back away from the sinister goings-on. The author shows us just how bad Man can be, and this left me thinking for hours after I turned the final page. I have to applaud the author because, despite that very odd ending that disappointed me, the actual book and the messages make your blood run cold.

The life of women in this time period: As you can probably guess, because of the time in which this book is set, during the Dutch colonisations of the Provinces (I think this is Jakarta today), and the need and greed for more and more land, more and more power, inevitably, women and girls are left behind, possessed and owned by men. Their lives are belittled, they are merely objects to amuse and beguile their husbands. They are sold off at the highest price, fattened up for marriages and childbearing and they have absolutely no say in it. Unfortunately, this still happens frequently today, but I think that the way that the author wrote about this in his book was thought-provoking and intelligent. Despite the fact that men want to push Lia, Sara, Creesjie and other women down on the ship, that they don’t believe they actually have a brain to work anything out, these women fight for their freedom. They show just how intelligent they are and this is something that I thoroughly enjoyed reading about.

Supernatural elements – or are there? Finally, I want to touch on the fact that this book is very genre-defying. It has a bit of everything, to be honest, and one of those prevalent themes in this book is the supernatural elements, including the work of the devil and the corruption that he imbues in the crew and passengers. My brain was going a mile a minute to try to figure everything out, I was constantly wondering if this was going to be full-on supernatural or whether it had a rational explanation and I honestly did not see that ending coming.  

“Questions are swords and answers are shields,” persisted Sammy, still staring at Sara. “I’m begging you, armor yourself.” – The Devil and the Dark Water

MY THOUGHTS AND RATING

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I’m so glad I got to read it with my TWR buddies. Just like his first book, Stuart Turton has created a genre-bending, engaging, spooky and thrilling dark historical fiction mystery that had me hooked from start to end. This book has a lot of dark and gory elements, so maybe just check the trigger warnings and be sure you are not sensitive to quite graphic elements before starting this book because it is not for everyone.

The writing style was amazing. I love Turton’s style, it is just so mesmerising and he has a real talent for creating worlds, settings, plots and characters that send shivers down your spine while you are reading. I don’t really know how to explain this book other than it is alive and has such depth, detail and intricacy. If you don’t like spooky, creepy, gloomy, dark and atmospheric reads, then I would stay away from this book because it has all those elements and more. As you know, I adore a great atmosphere in my reads and this one more than delivered on that point for me.

This one is a bit slow to get started and there are moments where the pace lags a little bit, but I actually quite liked the way this book was set up and I just really enjoyed how slow things got started because it really made the plot suspenseful and made me just wait on the edge of my seat for things to explode, which they really did! The way this book is written is so fantastic and it makes the whole story feel so sinister, you almost want to hide your eyes, but can’t stop reading at the same time.

I will stop waffling now and say that I gave this book 4 stars (full ASPECTS rating below). The reason I dropped this down a star is because the ending took me by surprise and I honestly didn’t think it was plausible when you think about the morality of the characters involved throughout the whole book. I don’t want to spoil anyone, but the final reveal just turns everything on its head and you can’t even imagine what the ending will hold. I adored this book up until everything was explained because I just didn’t get it, it didn’t make much sense and I really didn’t understand Sara and Arent’s stance towards it. Other than that disappointing ending, the book was fabulous. I loved every minute of it and was thoroughly engaged. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

Turton has created a fantastic, mind-bending and reality-altering book that can be placed in multiple genres all at once. The atmosphere is on point. The characters were believable (apart from the end) and I enjoyed learning about each, their motivations, how everyone had secrets and just how twisted human nature can be. Once again, Turton has written a commentary on human nature and weaves in history, supernatural elements, and a fascinating mystery. I highly recommend it.

That’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed reading my post and I congratulate you if you got to the end (I’m sorry I couldn’t stop waffling aha).

See you soon, stay safe,

Ellie xx

“Power should be a burden, not a shield. It should be used to everybody’s betterment, not merely for the person who wielded it.” – The Devil and the Dark Water

ASPECTS RATING

Atmosphere – 7.5

Start – 7

Pacing – 7

Ending – 6.5

Characters – 7

Theme – 7

Style – 8

Total = 50

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If you would like to purchase this book, you can find it here: Amazon UK – Amazon FRAmazon USAbeBooksThe Book DepositoryAudible FRWaterstonesBarnes and NobleAudible UKBlackwell’sBetterWorldBooksWordery

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6 Comments

  1. Lovely review, Ellie! I really enjoyed this book, the ending in particular. It was just a bit slow paced at times and like you say, some of the characters were hard to distinguish. But I loved Sara!

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