A Study in Drowning Book Review
There's nothing like the feeling of finally receiving one of your most-anticipated reads of the year. I've had my eye on Ava Reid's YA debut, A Study in Drowning for a while. Getting a copy in my hands was the highlight of my September.
Genre: YA Historical Fantasy / Romantasy
Category: Cozy Read
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Rating: 4/5 Stars
Plot: 4/5 stars
Characters: 4/5 stars
World: 4/5 stars
“It began as all things did: a girl on the shore, terrified and desirous.”
Effy Sayre loves fairytales, particularly Angharad, the highly celebrated epic romantic tragedy written by Emrys Myrddin. It is one of her sole comforts in a 1950s-inspired world that can be cruel to women. As the only woman in the Llyr's architecture program, you can imagine what she regularly goes through.
“How terrible, to navigate the world without a story to comfort you.”
An opportunity for a new escape––and to prove herself––presents itself when the late Myrddin's family hosts a contest to redesign the author's estate.
Upon arrival at Hiraeth Manor, Effy finds a decrepit cliffside mansion on the verge of crumbling into the sea below. She also discovers Preston, a literary scholar who's on a mission to prove that her favorite author is no genius, merely a fraud. Naturally, she wants to prove him wrong, too. As the two explore the manor and investigate Myrddin's life, they encounter secrets and dark forces that threaten more than their academic standpoints.
While parts of the plot were predictable, there are times when the reader, like Effy, questions what's real and what isn't. I highly enjoyed watching the mystery unfold. And this book has a LOT to say about institutionalized sexism, misogyny, erasure, mental health, and the double-edged swords women have dealt with for eons.
“I was a woman when it was convenient to blame me, and a girl when they wanted to use me.”
Effy's challenges navigating male-dominated environments, and the mental health issues that stem from them, make her a very relatable character (especially for those of us who struggle with anxiety, self-doubt, etc.).
“That was the cruelest irony: the more you did to save yourself, the less you became a person worth saving.”
They also make her strong, but not in the way that YA FMCs are strong these days. She is a survivor, but not necessarily a fighter. She's a soft, bookish girl who escapes her harsh reality through her favorite stories. And that's okay; it was actually refreshing. Parts of her story resonated, and I found myself feeling sorry for and protective over her as I awaited her victory.
Preston quickly worked his way into my heart. I might have even liked him more than Effy, but that could be the slight crush I've developed. But who can blame me? He's tall, intelligent, quotes poetry, encourages and takes care of Effy while also challenging her, and can be adorably awkward.
“You don’t have to take up a sword. Survival is bravery, too.”
Their rivals-to-lovers story was adorable to watch. At times it reminded me of beloved stories like Pride and Prejudice and The Cruel Prince. Part of me felt the confession of love came a too soon after meeting, but they did go through a lot together in a short period, and I was cheering for them and satisfied with their ending.
The supporting cast––from the author's mercurial son and reclusive widow to the rival author––were interesting and mysterious. My only complaint here is that I wish there had been more of the Fairy King. While he haunted the background of most of the story, I wanted more interactions and depth.
My favorite part of this book was the atmosphere and gothic vibes. The crumbling seaside manor, dreary weather, stunning imagery, academic mystery, cultural backdrop, folkloric and paranormal aspects, and the blurry line between fantasy and reality provided a haunting tone that is perfect for fall reading.
All of this was amplified by the song list included in the preorder incentives. Several readers used it to compile reading playlists on Spotify; here's one. I would highly recommend listening to it while reading this book.
Unfortunately, there were some interesting aspects of the world that I wish had been explored more. I was sad to see so much potential left untouched, falling to the wayside.
A Study in Drowning is a solid YA debut by Reid. The feminist themes, bookish characters, and vividly haunting atmosphere were an intoxicating mix that I had so much fun cozying up with. It isn't quite perfect; there are things I would have liked more of. But I still loved this book; it's one of my favorite reads of the year. I would highly recommend it to fans of:
dark academia stories
gothic atmosphere and imagery
mental health journeys
silently strong women
Thanks for checking out another Coffee, Book, and Candle review! If you're read this book, or read it later, I would love to hear your thoughts! To strike up a conversation or keep an eye out for future posts, follow us on bookstagram or Twitter/X.