It’s 2532 and it hasn’t stopped raining for five hundred years. In the slowly drowning city of Coconino, Arizona, Jin and her younger sister Thara are barely able to keep a roof over their heads. Their parents are dead, and all that the girls have left is their late father’s inn. If they can’t come up with enough cash soon, Jin will be conscripted into the Navy and Thara will end up in an orphanage. When Bhili, a corsair with a personality like a hurricane, lands on their doorstep, everything changes. Jin and Thara, along with two newly minted Coast Guards, Jin’s ex-boyfriend Taim and his bestie Saanvi, set off on a quest to recover the lost gold of a Vegas casino, Treasure Island.
Things take a turn for the worse when the wicked pirate Silva takes over their ship and Bhili vanishes. Silva wants that Treasure Island gold as much as Jin does, but will do whatever it takes to get it, including kill. Jin can resist and die trying to escape or join forces with Silva and maybe make it back to the surface alive. The only things standing in their way are greed, ego, and deadly sea monsters. In Into the Sunken City, debut author Dinesh Thiru turns Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island into something you’ve never seen before.
First off, this book is a whole lotta fun. Thiru keeps up a breakneck pace all the way through, never letting Jin catch her breath. Characters are double, triple, quadruple-crossed. Characters die painful deaths. Characters make big, bad decisions with terrible consequences. It’s everything you love about young adult action/adventure novels. The big traditional publishing houses don’t often give us science fiction or dystopias anymore, so it was nice to have both and with a diverse cast to boot.
If you’re a person who likes romance with your adventure, this should satisfy. Sparks fly between Jin and her on-again, off-again boyfriend Taim. You can’t help but root for those two cute kids. Outside our teenage lovebirds, the rest of the cast is equally as entertaining. Thara is wise beyond her years, Silva is as manipulative as he is cruel, and Bhili is as chaotic as a bag of angry cats. Watching them all collide was a riot.
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Into the Sunken City
As well-developed as the world is when zoomed in to just what Jin interacts with, the further out you go the weaker the whole thing becomes. By the end of the book, I had a million questions about how the world functioned. Now, I don’t need to know everything about a fictional world, nor do I think authors owe readers answers to all of our questions. But we do need to have enough of an understanding for the story to make sense. All I know about Thiru’s world is that it’s a dystopia wracked by a man-made climate crisis. Clearly, things still function, but how much and in what ways I have no idea. The whole premise is that Jin needs to earn enough to escape conscription to the Navy, which will force her younger sister into an orphanage and then into the Navy herself. We know that the death rate is high in the Navy, but what the Navy actually does beyond encountering sea monsters and (poorly) running checkpoints is left largely unexplained.
On a personal note, I wish this book had been written from Thara’s perspective. Take out or reduce the romance and beef up the adventure and you’d have a crackling YA novel that is exactly what younger teens are desperate for. We need way more YA with 14 and 15 year old protagonists, and this felt like a missed opportunity. Similarly, it was an odd choice to me to frame Thara as the kiddie little sister even though she’s 14, i.e. the same age as many YA readers. Thara is treated by Jin as a fairly helpless character who needs her constant protection, treatment Thara vehemently disagrees with. However, Thiru reduces her to a secondary character who spends most of her time away from the action and being held hostage off screen. Jin, meanwhile, is out of school, running a business, and functionally, if not developmentally, an adult. Many younger teen readers are going to relate more to Thara than Jin, so this narrative choice effectively makes them outsiders to their own marketing category.
Dinesh Thiru’s Into the Sunken City is a little too predictable and the worldbuilding is surface-level, but at least it’s a wild ride. The original book, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, is a classic piece of children’s literature for a reason. Thiru does a good job reimagining it into something fresh. The 18th century-set story holds up surprisingly well by being ported 800 years into the future with the characters race- and genderbent. I love a good pirate adventure story, and if nothing else, I enjoyed the heck out of myself.