Review: Beneath Cruel Fathoms by Anela Deen

Title: Beneath Cruel Fathoms

Author: Anela Deen

Series: The Bitter Sea Trilogy (Book 1)

Page Length: 386

Publication Date: May 2019

Publisher: Fine Fables Press

Synopsis: After a violent storm destroys her ship, Isaura Johansdottir knows better than to hope she’ll be rescued from Eisland’s vast Failock Sea. Adrift and alone, her plans to start over lost, it’s a tragic conclusion after the disastrous end of her marriage—until she’s saved by Leonel, one of the merfolk, a creature long believed extinct. In repayment for her life, Leonel enlists her help to investigate the Failock’s mysterious and deadly plague of squalls. But when Isaura discovers Eisland’s ruthless new Lord commands the storms, her life will be in more danger on land than it ever was at sea.

As guardian of the Fathoms, Leonel must find the cause of unnatural storms ravaging the tidal currents and destroying the sea life. There are rumors of dark magic stirring in the Orom Abyss, the resting place of old, vanquished gods who tried to submerge the land millennia ago. Yet without proof, no one in King Ægir’s court will listen to him. And if it’s discovered he broke the Blue Laws to save a shipwrecked landweller, he might not survive the consequences.

As storms spread, Leonel and Isaura uncover secrets as forbidden as the bond that grows between them. Betrayal lurks in the restless sea, and when ancient powers lay siege to Eisland’s coast, the truth may be drowned along with everything else.

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LINKS: Goodreads | Amazon

My Review:

First, I need to profusely thank Miranda Reads for introducing me to this fabulous story. I read her review of Beneath Cruel Fathoms and immediately went to find the book. I was lucky to get a copy on Booksirens, and it quickly became one of my favorite novels this year.

You know when you find a story that reaches out and pulls you in? That immerses you into a fantastical world that you never want to leave? A story whose characters are so life-like that you wish you really knew them? A love story that makes all others pale and seem frivolous?


I loved this story! Like deeply loved it on so many different levels that I don’t even know where to begin when discussing it. I fell in love with the characters, the setting, the references to Norse mythology, Isaura’s wonderful family, and the mysterious events that propel the plot.

I’ll start with the characters.

Well-developed, unique and complex, all of the characters in the story are defined and interesting. The deep and profound familial love that Isaura experiences stand in stark contrast to the abusive and neglectful relationships Leonel endures with his parents and siblings. The sibling relationship between Isaura and Jurek is the perfect combination of light-hearted teasing and fiercely loyal protection. I love how Jurek calls Isaura his “heart-sister.” What a beautiful way to express how he feels!

Isaura’s loving father is noble, kind, and wholly supportive of his family. Her aunt is intelligent and perceptive and treats Isaura like a daughter. In a sentence, their love is unconditional, and their acceptance of others, including Leonel, is touching.

Leonel has insecurities and feels weak. He can’t live up to the expectations of his demanding, unforgiving, and ungrateful parents. Of course, they are gods and he is not, so that puts him at a big disadvantage. The horrific abuse, humiliation, and neglect he receives at the hands of his parents and half-sisters is deplorable and very much skews his sense of worth. He sees goodness in others but fails to see any good qualities in himself. He thirsts for acceptance and love and finds it in Isaura who shows Leonel what it feels like to be respected, admired, and loved.

Leonel’s character is developed unbelievably well. His awe-struck wonder when he goes to town with Isaura, his interest and confusion about things we take for granted like buttons, beds, fire, and dancing adds a depth to his character that is often missing in mer-literature. Leonel has to adapt to this new world, and with the help of Isaura, he realizes that there is much he likes about the human world even as the sea calls to him.

Isaura’s character is as deeply developed as Leonel. She, too, craves acceptance and feels as if she has failed. Both Isaura and Leonel vilify themselves over what they perceive to be failures, but what they don’t see is how others have failed them. Leonel’s family fails him over and over again with their physical and emotional abuse, and Isaura’s husband failed her when she needed him most. Leonel and Isaura’s internal conflicts present interesting commentaries on the societal demands put upon men and women and how the failure to live up to those expectations can lead to one’s feelings of inadequacy.

This brings us to the romance!

When Leonel and Isaura first meet, they both feel broken, but their connection and complex feeling for each other strengthens their respective sense of self-worth. They help each other redefine what it means to be “whole.” The depth of the relationship between Isaura and Leonel is profound and deeply romantic. Like swoon-worthy romantic:

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He moved so fast she barely registered a single step before he hauled her into his arms. Her feet left the ground…his kiss was gentle. It was giving, not taking. It cherished her. Treasure, he called her in his language, and she sensed the true meaning in his tight embrace. He would never let her go. Neither would she. “I have missed you,” he said softly. “Everyday.”

Deen put into words what it means to love and to feel loved in such a lyrical and beautiful way that I actually slowed down my reading so that I could soak up every word. Here is another swoon-worthy piece:

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Here is strength…Here is integrity and compassion. Here is honesty, here are the smiles no one but she could coax from him. Leonel kept his expression unguarded, ignoring the anxious fear that whispered he showed too much. He let her see his admiration. He let his fingertips weave the truth into her skin.

And then there’s the setting!

The way in which Deen twined the human world and Leonel’s world under the sea is absolutely masterful! From the descriptive imagery and beautiful sensory language to the variety of ways in which Leonel communicates with different sea creatures to the cave in which he finds peace and solace, Leonel’s world is as vivid as Isaura’s home on land.

In addition to the richly developed setting and characters, there is a mysterious plot that ties Leonel’s world to Isaura’s. Corrupt and power-hungry antagonists on land and in the sea threaten everything this couple holds dear, and they have to work together to figure out how to defeat them. The events that unfold are unique and suspenseful!

I can’t recommend this story enough. It was an absolute treat to read, and I can’t wait for the second book in The Bitter Sea Trilogy!

My Rating:

If I could give it more, I would! THIS IS MY FAVORITE READ OF 2020!!

Favorite Parts:

There is so much I like about this novel, I don’t know where to start. So, I’ll begin where I usually do when there is a fabulous romance:

  • The love story. Isaura and Leonel forever!!!
  • The unbelievable imagery and sensory details.
  • The strong messages about love, hope, and self-worth.

Favorite Lines:

“We aren’t defined only by our failures and sorrows. I’m starting to believe we’re an assortment. A few big events, but countless smaller details. Little joys that carry us through the days, even when those days are hard. I want to know yours.”

“A gift, even a temporary one, is treasured all the more because it cannot be kept.”

“Shame was the worst kind of thief. It stole everything away right before her eyes, and she’d made no attempt to stop it.”


I recommend this to anyone and everyone! However, readers who enjoy romantic fantasy will adore this beautiful and interesting story!

32 thoughts on “Review: Beneath Cruel Fathoms by Anela Deen

  1. omg I need this NOW!! Fabulous review love, adored the quotes, and also am going to look for this on booksirens ASAP because I now need this in my life! I am trash for a good SHIP and this one looks utterly swoonnn 😉

    1. Thanks so much! Don’t you just love the author’s writing style? This book is everything!! And if you like a good SHIP, you’ll definitely love Leonel and Isaura. I can’t wait to hear what you think of it!! 🙂

  2. The quotes about the romance – sa-woon! This sounds like it’d be my thing. I had a phase last year where I was just adding merfolk/pirate/general sea books to my TBR after “To Kill a Kingdom”. Thanks for putting this on my radar!

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