Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Review: These Deathless Shores by P.H. Low

These Deathless Shores by P.H. Low
Publication Date: July 9th, 2024
Paperback. 464 pages.

About These Deathless Shores:

"Jordan has gotten good at pretending.

On an Island where boys fly and fight pirates, but girls can only be mothers, Jordan's shaved head and false swagger are the only things keeping her adopted crew of Lost Boys from forcing her into a role she has never wanted. When she gets her first period, she's exposed and thrown back Outside—into a world where grown-ups die slowly in offices, flight is a fantasy, and withdrawal from the Island’s magical Dust slowly strips its afflicted of their dignity.

To Jordan, it’s a fate worse than death.

Nine years later, when the drug she has been using to medicate her withdrawal begins to show its fatal final symptoms, Jordan persuades her best friend and fellow ex-Lost Boy to return with her to the Island. With the help of a temperamental pilot and her long-estranged sister, she sets in motion a plan to oust Peter from his throne and seize control of the Island’s Dust supply.

But Peter isn't the only malevolent force moving against her. As Jordan confronts the nature of Dust, first love, and the violent legacy carved into the land itself, she realises the Island may have plans of its own..."

These Deathless Shores is a dark Peter Pan-inspired story that really grabbed me with its premise. I will read any and all Peter Pan-inspired stories, so this was an immediate must-read for me. While the execution didn't quite meet my expectation, there were still so many elements that I really liked and I found myself consistently captivated by this gritty, complex world created by the author. 

The story follows Jordan, who as a child disguised herself a boy in order to be swept away to Neverland alongside her friend where the two could fulfill the role of the 'twins' together as one of Peter Pans Lost Boys. When she is eventually kicked out and left for dead, she struggles back in the real world with her strong addiction to the magic Dust and her deep desire to be back on the Island.

Jordan is a complicated person who has been through a lot and struggles with her addiction to Dust and attachment to the Island, which she has never really been able to move on from. She leads a somewhat erratic life with a main goal of getting back to the Island, though she generally seems a bit unclear about what she wants long term. I'm not sure even Jordan knows what she wants from life, and I could relate to this struggle with finding yourself and your place in this world.  Baron acts as somewhat as a foil to Jordan and was a bit of an odd character, but I liked him and connected with him and many of his anxieties and desire to move on from things. He's not overly adventurous and prefers to probably stay out of things, but he makes some personal discoveries throughout the book that really help him development as a character. He's the type of character that's easy to be bullied by other characters, if that makes sense, and I actually felt like Jordan wasn't always the kindest to him in ways that made their friendship feel very complex and tense, a setup that I think Low explored very carefully and with thoughtfulness that made it a really fascinating dynamic.

This is a dark tale that deals with a lot of mental health struggles and traumas, so a quick look at content warnings is a good idea if you're sensitive to anything along those lines. I appreciated that the author did include relatable struggles such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders, disability rep, addiction, and more, as I thought it packed in some realism that helped me connect more with the characters and even better understand their actions and motivations. There is also a fair bit of violence throughout the book that fit in well with this gritty dog-eat-dog type of world. There's a definite 'everyone looks out for themselves' vibe throughout, so it was interesting to see how different connections were able to be formed by different characters. It's a brutal life to live on the Island with Peter. 

The world-building felt both over and under developed at the same time. While the world felt like an alternate, somewhat dystopian vibe version of our own–but with different names and it's own map–there really didn't seem to be enough exploration or explanation of the world for it to make sense to me. I was left wondering where exactly different places were and what the general setup of this world was, and in the end I just ended up feel fairly lost throughout some of this book. This is also shows up in the layout of the Island itself, as I felt there were sometimes conflicting descriptions given of just how big or small the Island was and where all of its inhabitants were located. For instance, the Island is home to Peter and his Lost Boys, and the Pirates, and the Pales, the latter being Lost Boys who aged out of being Lost Boys but remained on the Island. It was a little unclear to me at times where all these different factions existed and how exactly they lived on the Island and interacted, and this bothered me a bit while trying to understand the world. 

I also felt that the plotting and pacing were a little messy at times. It often seemed as though the author wanted to tackle a lot of different angles of this story, but didn't fully commit to any. This also created some uneven pacing, where at times things seemed to be progressing quickly–occasionally too quickly–but other times it didn't seem like it was going anywhere.  I also didn't care for the ending and felt it was a bit lackluster and disappointing compared to what the story had been building up to, and I didn't personally feel like all the previous plot points had been fully addressed. 

All that being said, I always like to leave credit where its due so I think it's important to note that despite these struggles, I kept reading the book and finding myself curious about what would happen next. I'm not someone who really holds back on DNF-ing books anymore, so clearly something kept me going, and I strongly believe it's the author's writing the kept me so engaged. Low did such a great job of really capturing the gritty atmosphere of this rather brutal tale and conveying it through their thoughtful prose style and through their characters and their emotions and reactions to everything that happens. I was really captivated by Low's writing and would certainly want to see what else they may write in the future. 

Lastly, I also just want to note that I really hated the romance that occurs in this. Maybe it shouldn't have been this way, but it really felt like it came out of nowhere and it didn't work to me at all. The dynamics also felt really off and I just didn't feel comfortable with this pairing, so that was something that frustrated me whenever it came up.

This review may seem fairly negative, but I really didn't dislike this book. I loved a lot of the bones and general core of it, I just wish everything else had filled in a bit better. As mentioned, I really enjoyed the author's writing and think there's a lot of promise there, so it's one I'd still encourage people to check out if it sounds interesting to them. Overall, I've given These Deathless Shores 3.75 stars!

*I received a copy of These Deathless Shores in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Bookshop.org

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