Undertow Review

Undertow - Michael Buckley

*I received a free ARC in return for a honest review. Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the swag*

Due to New York state statute BS-101, it is allegorically impossible to hate a book wherein a character named Minerva is mentioned. See also: Maleficent, Ursula, and That One Chick Who Gave Snow White A Goddamn Apple.

Yup. It’s gonna be one of those reviews.

For all the content that Undertow gets wrong or blatantly rips off, it’s not an unenjoyable book. The writing flows beautifully, and the author takes some bold chances near the end. It has a beautiful cover here in the States, but the UK ebook cover is far superior in tone. Because Undertow is not about rampaging Mer-People who tear apart Coney Island and stake claim to the boardwalk. This isn’t about carnies gone wild because they couldn’t get a Coney Dog from Sonic (if you don’t have Sonicwhere you come from, I weep for your very soul and covet your waistline). Unfortunately, you probably wouldn’t have bought this book without that cover gracing the front, so the publishers screamed “YOLO!” all the way to the bank. Why wouldn’t you have bought it? Because the first hundred or so pages (I’m guessimating here, because I read an ARC on my Kindle) is boring. I doubt anyone would pick up this book, read the first chapter and say, “Hey, this sounds like it won’t be too terribly bad. Lemme drop twenty bucks on the off-chance it’ll be good.” It reads like every other YA novel out there. The only standout is that cover. Go look at other reviews. See how many times people have said, “I only requested/bought this because of the cover.” Almost all of them. The problem lies in the fact that the cover lies. Or, if you prefer, gives the reader false expectations. Luckily, the end of the book is big fun, and that makes up for the boring beginning. Mostly.

I never allege thievery and plot holes without points of reference. I’ve read several reviews of this book wherein the reviewer calls it “vastly original” and “unique” and “mind-blowingly unlike anything else ever in all of the universe, PRAISEJESUSAMEN!”, and I found myself asking what rock these people have been living under.

Here are a few examples of how unoriginal this book is.

#1. Lovecraft called, Dagon wants their fish people back. See also: The crew of the Flying Dutchman, via Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

#2. The quarantine zone from District 9 will be suing for copyright infringement. Not only do the Alpha salvage and weaponize themselves with scraps, like the Prawn, but they live in a run down tent city that could substitute for a shanty town in Africa five days out of seven.

#3. The love story is brought to you by Anna and the King of Siam, or, if you prefer, Anna and the King, or The King and I. I liked this story better when Yul Brynner played Fathom… I mean the King of Siam. I still have no idea how the writer of the synopsis got the connection to The Outsiders. I’m going to have to read that one, because the film adaptation of The Outsiders is nothing like this book. I’m only guessing but it might be because of the warring factions of Niners versus… well, versus everyone not insane.

#4. Every YA cliché ever is on display here. Unique girl who’s not overtly popular, but is just different enough to fit in with everybody, has an edgy gal pal with a terrible family, and there’s a boy that both girls are friends with, but it is glaringly obvious at the start of the book, at the boy’s very introduction that he will end up being with the edgy gal pal.

#5. This bit of borrowed history is actually a plus. I thought the way the author handled the integration was classy. Michael Buckley successfully fictionalizes the 1963 Alabama Integration. Remove Governor George Wallace and replace him with fictional Governor Pauline Bachman (whose bears a striking resemblance to Ol’ Crazy Eyes Michelle Bachman, unless I misread the subtext) and you have that famous scene outside of the University of Alabama to a T. Written poorly, that scene could have easily went off the rails, given that Buckley essentially replaces African-Americans with fish people.

#6. Neo/The One storyline. I know this storyline existed long before The Matrix, but it’s the easiest point of reference, and Buckley steals it effortlessly, right down to the “I’m not the one!” “You ARE the one!” ending motivation. Dude, I was rolling my eyes so hard in that chapter my ocular nerves decided to take a vacation on Coney Island to recuperate. Too bad the place is a cesspool.

So please, for the love of all that is holy, stop calling this book original. There’s nothing original about this book other than how the author puzzle-pieced all these things together, and saying it is original is an insult to all the content creators whom Buckley borrowed from to write his book. But there’s nothing new under the sun, so I went with it. Once I realized that the cover lied to me through its gorgeous teeth, I started having fun. I had fun up until the roof plot hole, and then I had fun again.

Whoa! Pump them brakes, partner… What roof plot hole?

Well, I’m glad you asked. You see, it is made quite obvious that the Alpha don’t like stuff over them. They’re from the big blue sea, and there’s no roof on the ocean, so roofs make them nervous. The bad boy prince character is even a bit claustrophobic because of it. Lyric’s mother (that’s the main character, by the way, and this next sentence is a tiny spoiler for a reveal in the first 15% of the book but…) is even mentioned as having had to acclimate to living indoors.


*catches breath… proceeds*

I don’t understand how such a strong, independent people as the Alpha, who are stuck in their ways to a fault, decided they were just going to ignore their comfort level to live in a human-made tent city. It couldn’t have been the weather. They’re from the ocean. Trust me, it doesn’t get much wetter and colder than the goddamn ocean.

In summation: I gave this an overall three-star rating because it was easy to read, and the author made some strong choices when dealing with who lives and who dies in his book. I dig that. Will I read the next one? Probably. I’m invested in the story now, so why not. I didn’t hate this one. I simply hope the author tries a bit harder with the original material in the next one, or, at the very least, doesn’t make his borrowing so obvious.

Final Judgment: That cover is the literary equivalent of the Push-Up Bra.