Book lovers will know the unrivalled anticipation of counting the days to the publication date of your most anticipated read of the year. Well, there is no better feeling than being blessed by Waterstones to receive your pre-order a couple of days early. I received my pre-order of Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water on Tuesday and immediately devoured the first one hundred pages. To celebrate the publication day of this dark, mysterious and deliciously addictive read I’m going to share my initial impressions of the pages I’ve read. *
*I’m writing this on Wednesday, before reading any further than these one hundred pages so with any luck when this goes up, I’ll be even further along.
It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported from the Dutch East Indies to Amsterdam, where he is facing trial and execution 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, while also on board are Sara Wessel, a noble woman with a secret, and her husband, the governor general of Batavia.
But no sooner is their ship out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A strange symbol appears on the sail. A dead leper stalks the decks. Livestock are slaughtered in the night.
And then the passengers hear a terrible voice whispering to them in the darkness, promising them three unholy miracles. First: an impossible pursuit. Second: an impossible theft. Third: an impossible murder.
Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes?
With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent and Sara can solve a mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board…
— Publisher Synopsis, Bloomsbury (Raven Books)
First a little note on how I came to be so excited about this book. Turton’s debut novel, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, was a huge success both personally and critically. It dominated my BookTube watchlist and Twitter timeline and as soon as I read the synopsis, I knew I needed to read it. Spookathon 2019, a readathon run by BooksandLala, offered the perfect justification to finally pick-up the paperback and I can still remember the train I was sat on whilst travelling home from work, from Birmingham to Cardiff, when I exclaimed “what!” when the sorely needed revelations finally came. From that exact moment, I’ve been eagerly awaiting his second novel and it’s finally here!
Turton’s second novel offers another large cast, echoing the literal numerous faces present in The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, but I’m currently finding it easy to keep track of names, roles and relationships. Turton’s writing style creates a subtle but definitive delimitation between the primary characters and those who are more secondary or tertiary without hindering the quality of their character development, interactions, or the narrative. The character-driven quality of this novel is certainly the primary draw at this point. I’m thoroughly enjoying learning about each primary character and following their escapades. The chapters do follow a different character, but in the third person, so it is closer to moving throughout the ship to follow them rather than dropping into each person as in Seven Deaths. Even if particular characters seem on the fringes of the narrative, or simply don’t stick around for very long, Turton has injected their appearances with enough intrigue to ensure they remain at the forefront of both the reader and character’s minds.
The hidden nature of Samuel (Sammy) Pipps’ crime is proving to be delightfully frustrating as I just want to know already! I’m hoping for a meaty reveal further down the line, especially as I’m currently learning more about Arent Hayes’ life and background. Sara Wessel immediately made an impression and her perspective on the Governor-General is a welcome, intriguing contrast to the sycophantic underlings and dignitaries usually surrounding him. Similarly, their daughter Lia Jan has piqued my interest immediately and I hope I’m going to learn more as she begins to speak out more.
I will admit that initially, the ship setting made me nervous. I’m learning that my reading taste seems not to favour books set on boats. In real life I quite like boats, I don’t get seasick, so I’m not sure why this is. For example, while I adore Frankenstein, I could easily leave Walton’s extensive descriptions of his boat hoping and hiring of individual sailors. My favourite mystery/thriller setting is a gorgeous big house which holds lots of secrets, maybe a good creepy attic, that I can delve into and learn about. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the balance Turton has achieved when it comes to the boat setting in particular. The setting is certainly informing some action and spurring character development and interaction, but it is also very much the backing to said action meaning it’s interestingly not setting off my apparent boat setting dislike. It’s going to be interesting to see if the setting progresses and the intricacies of boat life become more apparent. I also loved the reliance on the sail as one of the first mysterious elements.
I know the typical saying is to not judge a book by its cover, however, I have to finish this impressions blog by detailing just how gorgeous this book is! It is a beast, coming in at roughly 550 pages long, but that just means that we get more of the decedent sprayed edges which feature the waves from the dust jacket. I am completely in love with these sprayed edges, but the endpapers are similarly detailed and gorgeous. As I’ve become more aware of the Production departments within the UK publishing industry, thanks to employability publishing industry events, I also noticed that the high paper quality as, in the signed Waterstones edition which I have, it’s noticeably smooth. Huge credit to David Mann for the design and the team at Bloomsbury/Raven Books!
As I mentioned above, this book is a beast. For my reading taste, a 550-page word count isn’t necessarily long, but I know it certainly is compared to the typical 300-350-page mark of most popular titles, especially paperbacks. So far, it has certainly gripped me and I’m eagerly awaiting jumping back in which is always a positive sign given my accidental DNFing habits when I leave a book for too long without realising. I’m currently still settling into the action, but I can feel certain aspects beginning to speed up now and I’m moving through the pages quite quickly given my usual glacial reading pace. I’m hoping to have it read, my mind blown, and a complete review up during next week.
Are you going to be getting The Devil and the Dark Water? Did you read The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle? Let me know your thoughts below!
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton was published by Raven Books, Bloomsbury on the 1st of October 2020.
None of the links in this article are affiliate links. I have no obligation to post links to retailers or publishers, and I have no financial relationship with them. This post was published with no connection to the publisher, their press team or the retailer. I purchased my copy myself and, as it arrived early, I decided to publish this to celebrate publication day. I did recieve a small (16-page) preview via NetGalley and I have submitted this first impressions blog as my feedback for this preview. This is linked for ease of access should you wish to support the author and publisher by purchasing a copy.