*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*
Raised as a vessel for the goddess Lamia, Roma finds herself questioning the path set out for her and must fight for survival without condemning her fellow sisters. Leviathan, the bastard son of an immortal tyrant, was raised to kill in his father’s name. But they both cannot run from their past forever as they find themselves inexplicably linked as the tyrant’s search for power threatens the world as they know it.
When finishing The Descent of the Drowned, my first thought was the books’ blurb really does not do this book justice. The catalyst event that the blurb suggests (Roma’s brother being sold) does not occur until well over the story’s halfway mark, which may confuse some readers. The story does take some time to take off truly. That being said, I still really enjoyed this book. Lal Din paints a brutal world. This book is hefty in terms of the story, touching upon rape, suicide and human trafficking. (see Halla’s content warnings for more) The story highlights the caste system, abuse of the trans community, ethnic cleansing and colonisation. And Roma is just one of many women suffering under its harrowing grip.
The Descent’s story is split between Roma and Leviathan (Levi) as their paths slowly converge together. Roma is counting down the days until she is given to another male patron. Her last time being a few years prior, which resulted in her harming herself. She finds herself questioning her position and whether her spot is truly divine given or not. But when everyone around her is adamant in their belief, she must be careful where she treads or risk endangering her temple sisters and brother’s lives. Levi was raised a killer but found himself struggling to forget his past when most of the blood he sheds are members of his mother’s clan. He tries his best to help, but the persecuted clan wants nothing to do with him. When a rescue plot turns awry, Levi finds himself chasing up on the elusive White Wolves, an opposition group working towards taking down Levi’s father.
It takes some time for the two to meet. I found it fun reading their perspectives because it felt like reading two different stories, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. Roma’s story highlights the lives of the oppressed and casteless. At the same time, Levi’s strengthens the worldbuilding beyond what Roma is never allowed to see. I, personally, preferred Roma’s side of the story, partly because it had taken me some time to warm up to Levi. Roma grows more in the story in a consistent way, while Levi takes some time to appreciate. He’s not a bad character; he just makes some decision that I didn’t agree with that soured my opinion of him.
What I loved the most about their story is each protagonist’s respective group. Levi has his own brothers-in-arm. As mentioned, Levi does not make good decisions, deeply affected by his past trauma, but his friends, Junho and Malev, will do anything to help reel him back in. Roma’s side consists mainly of her temple sisters. Despite her conflicting opinion, Roma truly cares for her sisters. Her actions are rooted in making sure they face the least amount of harm, but she can’t stay silent forever, and one wrong move puts her entire family at risk. I personally found the story very slow, but the characters make up for it in abundance.
Inspired by Pre-Islamic Arabian mythology, The Descent of the Drowned is a thrilling yet terrifying read. Roma’s journey is powerful and heartbreaking. If anything, the story ends too soon, with its worldbuilding taking up most of the page. Regardless, I’ll anticipate its sequel because this story feels like the stepping stone to something extremely remarkable.