See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.
(Contains some minor spoilers.)
Violet White spends her days in a dreamy, tranquil haze: reading books in the sun, relaxing on the beach by her home, or exploring the old mansion that has been left to her family since her grandmother died. Sure, her parents have used the last of their family fortune to run off to Europe to pursue their art, leaving her with a brother who can’t seem to stand her and a house that’s slowly falling apart. In fact, money is so tight she’s resorted to renting out the guest house in her back garden. Which leads River West to her door, and into her life. With his charming smile, easy nature, and striking good looks Violet is powerless to resist him.
But something strange is happening in the sleepy town of Echo. Children are in the graveyard at night, hunting the Devil with stakes, Violet’s friend Sunshine sees a monster eating human flesh in a cave in the woods, and the town drunk suddenly slits his throat in the town centre. This horror couldn’t possibly be linked with River, but as mystery surrounds him and his lies build up without him caring whether Violet knows or not, she finds herself doubting him. Is he evil? Does he care? And, to make maters worse, does she care? Violet’s grandmother used to warn her about the Devil, but she never thought she might be holding his hand, sleeping next to him, or kissing him. She knows she should listen to her grandmother’s teaching but she can’t help herself – because despite everything Violet is falling for River.
It’s clear that Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is going to be a book that you will either love or hate. It has elements that will seriously frustrate some readers, like the slower pace, the what some have called ‘insta-love’ romance, or the deceitfulness and arrogance of the character River. Other readers, however, will love it. I am one of the latter. With it’s gothic atmosphere and slower pace which added to the feel of the book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But that’s not to say it’s without any problems.
What April Genevieve Tuchoke does best is the timeless feel to the town of Echo and Violet’s mansion. The novel uses almost lyrical descriptions and feels like it could be set in almost any decade from the 1930s onwards, with classic movies in the park and comments on art running throughout. This is also used with the character of Violet, who wears her dead grandmother’s clothes and love to read and paint. There is also a strong gothic tone, especially in the scene with the children in the graveyard armed with stakes to fight off the Devil, which was delightfully creepy. This book has also been accused of using the dreaded ‘insta-love’ trope, but I disagree – there is no ‘insta-love’ in this book. What there is is the intense, unpredictable, and sometimes scary attraction or first love that teenagers often experience at least once. There is no declarations of love, no talk of fate, no promises of being together forever and ever. Violet falls for River, even as she knows it’s a bad idea, because people can’t help who they fall for, especially when you’re a teenager and not only are your hormones going crazy, but you have little to no experience about what love actually is. I believe everyone has fallen for someone who is bad for them at least once, and this book perfectly captures the feeling of fierce passion mixed with helplessness, fear, and slight self loathing.
I only have two reservations with Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Firstly, considering it mentions the Devil in the title, and the official blurb emphasises the idea that River may actually be the Devil, this book had very little religious overtones. The idea of the Devil was barely used at all, the only real mention is with the kids who freak out in the graveyard. I was hoping for a book that looked into the idea of religion and had an actual Christian devil, instead of an ambiguous paranormal creature who is still pretty much a mystery by the end of the book. The other problem was the portray and subtle slut shaming of Violet’s friend Sunshine. Sunshine is a character who embraces her sexuality – she loves flirting with boys, enjoys drawing attention to her body, and choices to act in a way she thinks boys will notice and enjoy. I personally have no problem with this. Women enjoy sex as much as men and should feel no shame in this, however they decide to show this sexuality, and had she been left alone, Sunshine would have been a perfectly fine character. However, compared to the virginal Violet, who’s narrative subtly condemns her attitude by comparing them both, and Sunshine association with Luke, Violet’s brother, who is sexist, messes around with several girls at once and treats Violet like crap, Sunshine is portrayed as a slut. This word is only ever uttered by the villain in this book, but his accusations are never challenged. What’s worse, after the trauma of having her parents being tricked into unknowingly nearly killing her, Sunshine changes – she stops flirting, becomes more serious and begins reading, like Violet. It’s often that people who have a near death experience decide to change their life for the better, but this is just another way of showing that Sunshine was in the wrong and needed to change. The slut shaming in this book is not obvious, and is similar to the problems that are common in real life, so it may have even been unintentional, but it is there and this is a problem.
These problems aside, I am very interested to see where the next book goes, and hope the sequel keeps the amazing writing and ambience.
On a slightly unrelated note, I keep thinking that the title of this book is Between the Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean, I song I really enjoy by a gothic metal band called Nightwish.