I have perfectly curated my Instagram feed to solely feature artists that create book (and Star Wars) fan art. It’s glorious. I love seeing how people bring my favorite characters to life, and I indulge in each unique style and expression. I share this because this is how I discovered The Descent of the Drowned by Ana Lal Din. She posted @adamar.art‘s portraits of the main characters in advance of her debut novel’s release date. I caught a glimpse of Roma and Leviathan and was done for. Now I’m here to tell you months later to read this book and support new authors and your friendly fan art creators.
Magic has been leeched from the land and a drought rages against a colonized Indo-Persian civilization ruled by a tyrannical leader known only by his title: the Firawn. A ruthless caste system keeps people in order while religion keeps them fearful. Roma was abandoned and raised as a Lamiadasis, a slave that serves the goddess Lamia. She dreads the day when she will be called to honor the gods and serve a male patron with her body. Leviathan is the bastard son of the Firawn and has been honed into a violent weapon to serve his father’s interests. He tries to keep the darkness at bay and takes risks to help his mother’s ostracised people in the clans. As Roma begins to question her place and purpose in the world, Leviathan grows reckless in an attempt to avenge his mother’s death. Paths become tangled as their choices begin to usher in the beginnings of opposition and unrest under the Firawn’s rule.
Photo Credit: Ana / @adamar.art
If you already think you know how this story goes, I assure you – you don’t. The Descent of the Drowned shocked me senseless, and I loved every gut-wrenching moment. Lal Din’s debut novel trailblazes its own unique path. The story features mature content and I’ll note trigger warnings for slavery, rape, human trafficking, abuse, suicide, and self-harm. While nothing is detailed in explicit terms, these instances are present and affect our main characters. In most stories, I find authors shove these happenings to the background, but Lal Din brings them to the forefront to make powerful statements about inequality. I found the story to be extremely detailed, especially in terms of people’s appearances. Some may consider these details extraneous but I see it as another way Lal Din draws you into the world. She wants all your senses engaged as she paints a picture – and she continues to share art on her Instagram.
There are a lot of themes that can be examined in Descent, but by far my favorite was the consequences of actions. Every decision made by Roma and Leviathan left a wake, causing unintended ripples that reverberated across the lake of their social circle. And the resulting actions are…brutal. As the reader, you see everything through Roma and Levi’s eyes, and it makes the consequences that much more difficult to bear. The cause and effect is so profound I actually dropped my jaw in surprise several times when reading. The thing is, Lal Din didn’t shy away from the aftermath of her character’s decisions. Again, I find that most stories have outcomes that are muddled or pushed aside but here it’s shoved in your face and asks “how are you going to deal with it?” It was refreshing to see characters really struggle, to see them be selfish and scared knowing that their choices aren’t always easy or right.
The world feels so much bigger than what I got to see. A lot is hinted at but not revealed…at least not yet. My worldview was very limited as Roma is confined to a sacred compound and the surrounding city. And while Levi does travel quite a bit, it’s never really about where he is and more about what he is doing. I also barely scratched the surface of the elusive magic the Firawn is so desperate to harness. But Descent is setting the stage for something bigger. Lal Din planted several seeds that have the potential to blossom throughout the series. I have no doubt she has something exciting in-store.
Lal Din crafted The Descent of the Drowned’s dark themes with care and shed light on complicated human experiences. It is a uniquely daring and compelling story, and it’s flying too low on the radar for my liking. The book absolutely deserves a spot on your TBR, so I hope you’ll pick it up and expose yourself to this captivating debut.
Rating: The Descent of the Drowned – 8.0/10