Now Reading
Book Review: A Letter To The Luminous Deep by Sylvie Cathrall

Book Review: A Letter To The Luminous Deep by Sylvie Cathrall

If you loved Heather Fawcett’s Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries and you’re looking for another cosy, light academia fantasy novel, then A Letter To The Luminous Deep should be right at the top of your Spring reading list. A charming epistolary novel told entirely through letters, Sylvie Cathrall’s debut centres around the pen pal romance between two scholars and the unravelling mystery of their disappearance.

Set in an underwater world, the novel opens with a letter written by the curiously named E. Cidnosin. The recipient is Henerey Clel, a revered scholar E. has never met but who shares her intellectual fascination with marine life. As E. and Henerey bond over their mutual interests and quiet demeanours, the awkwardness of their early letters gives way to a genuine friendship that soon blossoms into something deeper still. But E. and Henerey’s flourishing relationship is destined to end in disaster.

Running parallel to E.’s and Henerey’s letters is a series of correspondence between E.’s sister Sophy and Henerey’s brother Vyerin. They’re both mourning the loss of their siblings after E. and Henerey disappeared in a sudden and devastating seaquake. Exchanging their siblings’ letters and gaining a greater insight into their sweet kinship, Sophy and Vyerin begin to form a bigger picture of the events that transpired in the lead up to the seaquake. As more and more mysteries of the deep unravel, it leads them to discover something that will shake not just their own lives but the wider community of scholars too.

Can’t believe E. started this whole thing by sending him a letter out of the blue. He loved that, I’m sure. He also loved her – even surer.

When it comes to epistolary novels, it’s always unusual to spend so much time in a character’s head but never actually meet them on the page. Whilst Sophy’s and Vyerin’s letters take place in the present, as they reflect on their siblings’ relationship and what led them to meet on that fateful day, E.’s and Henerey’s letters materialise from beyond the grave, which gives them a greater poignancy. With a less accomplished writer, this restrictive letter format could distance readers from the characters, but the letters are written with such openness and sincerity that you feel as if you know the characters’ hearts, as well as their minds. And what lovely hearts and thoughtful minds they have.

A Letter to the Luminous Deep definitely shares the magical academia feel of Emily Wilde but when it comes to the actual storyline, this is a book that’s quite unlike any other. The characters are charmingly quirky and it’s full of atmospheric oceanic world-building and heartening found family. Yet what makes the novel such a treasure is its gentle tone. It’s a quiet kind of story – one without violence, without trauma, without tortured angst. Even though half the story revolves around two people who’ve lost their respective siblings in an inexplicable accident, there’s very little melancholy or sorrow. Instead, the characters display a good-natured humour in the face of their loss, and the love they have for their siblings shines like the luminescence under the sea.

See Also

This is a book that was made for anyone who enjoys a slow-burn story with a romance of manners and a mystery at its heart. Combine that with the captivating underwater setting and this is a novel you won’t forget in a hurry – nor will you want to.


A Letter To The Luminous Deep is published by Orbit on 25 April 2024

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.