By Author / Illustrator
David Fickling Books
Paperback / softback
It was always at sundown they were seen. In that twilight hour, when the walls between the worlds grew thin, strange things might slip through the cracks. Sometimes then, so the stories went, enchanted islands would appear in the empty ocean to the west of Wildsea.
When Utterly Dark was a baby, she was washed up on the shores of the Autumn Isles and taken in by the Watcher of Wildsea. But everything changes when her guardian suddenly drowns. Now who will keep the Watch, and make sure Wildsea stays safe from the strange forces teeming in the deep ocean around them?
A magical new story from the bestselling and prize-winning author of Mortal Engines.
Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep, from the imagination of Philip Reeve, is a story of the old magic that flows through land and sea. Utterly is an orphan, washed up as a baby on the island shore of Wildsea, part of the Autumn Isles, somewhere off the coast of England. Reeve serves up a cast of characters, from the kindly cosseting Mr and Mrs Scraevling who look after Utterly, the sea-witch sent mad by her grief and greed, Aish who understands the magic of the land, to scornful Uncle Will, so well educated in the ways of science but who meddles with magic he doesn't understand.
Windswept Wildsea is conjured up by atmospheric descriptions of the land, the superstitions of the inhabitants, and the unpredictable sea. For readers who enjoy character-led stories, this is a treat. Utterly, is searching to understand her own history and to find a place where she truly belongs. She has curiosity and bravery in abundance as she learns more about the Hidden Islands, the terrifying Gorm and why a Watcher is always needed at Sundown Watch.
I enjoyed this immersive story as it delivered its secrets and mystery at paced intervals, maintaining my interest. I also liked the structure of the plot, it seemed to reach its climax but actually that wasn't the end of the story, quite yet. Suitable for 10yrs +.
288 pages / Reviewed by Jan Blagden
Suggested Reading Age 9+
Phillip Reeve creates a mythical, magical atmosphere in his telling of the life of Utterly Dark, a foundling baby discovered on the shores of the remote island of Wildsea. Surrounded by monsters of the sea and guarded by trolls and sea witches. Wildsea is no ordinary place to live. A strong sense of place allows the reader to be transported to the rocky coastlines and rugged hills of Wildsea and it is almost possible to taste the salty sea spray and to hear the thunderous crashing of waves. When Utterly's guardian, Andrewe Dark, is lost to the ocean, Utterly takes it upon herself to adopt the role of the island's Watcher.
From her observation tower, Utterly conscientiously scans the horizon for glimpses of the Hidden Lands and signs of the approaching Gorm. Utterly's commitment to her role as Watcher results in her questioning the truth behind her uncle's death and, in doing so, she begins to pries secrets from the clutches of the sea. Utterly's uncle and Andrewe's brother Will reluctantly leaves his no-nonsense life in London after Andrewe's death. Will has no time for little girls with heads full of fantasies and is determined to thwart all legends, whimsical tales and horrific imaginings with his love of hard, scientific facts. The island, however has other ideas.
Secrets and stories are central to this riveting read. Nothing and no one is quite who we (or indeed they) think they are. Whilst mysteries may be solved and secrets brought to light, inner strengths, familial ties and the power of belief all bubble to the surface like flotsam.
Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep will sweep you away. Its language and rhythm will hold you in its grasp and the characters will enchant, endear and enthrall you. Like the waves upon the shore, the story is a times gentle and at others powerful and explosive. The pace will keep you turning pages. There is dark and there is light and some younger readers may find the themes of death, loss and suggested suicide to be heavy going. However, it is a sense of love and belonging that crashes through the story like waves upon the rocks and Utterly is an inspiring hero who has drive, determination and a lot of daring. An unusual and gripping read.
288 pages / Reviewed by Jo Clarke, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 9+
Found on the shore of the Autumn Island, a baby is taken to Sundown Watch into the home and care of the Watcher of Wildsea, Andrew Darke, whose job is to keep the islands safe from the Gorm and the dangers of the sea. Named Utterly by her rescuer, her life changes when her guardian suddenly drowns, leaving Utterly to fill the role of Watcher until his successor, his brother, returns home. However, when Will Darke returns to the island, he refuses to do his duty as Watcher and denies the very things a Watcher is supposed to be watching for. Worse still, he sets out to prove that these traditions are nothing more than old wives tales and unleashes the strange forces of the deep.
Philip Reeve conjures the most magical and captivating worlds with his writing and he has outdone himself in Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep. This is a stunning book in so many ways and has already won hearts and imaginations in my class. A cast of wonderfully curious characters inhabit Autumn Island, which is so richly and powerfully described. Reeve has captured both the beauty and the danger of the sea in its many moods, making an evocative, poetic read on places. The folklore and traditions of the island are skilfully built and Utterly's wholehearted belief in them and conviction that the Watcher’s role is essential seems completely natural.
The story offers a challenging, satisfying read with moments of great tension and peril which keep readers on the edge of their seat whilst also providing plenty to reflect on. Utterly engaging!
288 pages / Reviewed by Sue Wilsher
Suggested Reading Age 11+