Penny lives in Sparrow. Her mum reads tea leaves and Penny’s have always shown her the same thing: she will fall for a boy who finds himself shipwrecked at Sparrow. It’s been three years since her dad disappeared and since her mother withdrew from the world. Mrs Alba bakes cakes to help people:
“Her tiny forgetful cakes are intended to make you forget the worst thing that’s ever happened to you.”
But Mrs Alba’s cakes are only one reason Sparrow is famous. Sparrow is a town haunted by three women they drowned for witchcraft. Every year, during Swan Season, the spirits of Marguerite, Aurora and Hazel Swan rise from the sea they were drowned in and inhabit the bodies of three of the town’s girls, luring men to their deaths in the water.
Swan Season brings tourists who revel in the season, but for the locals it is a curse. The teens of Sparrow see in the start of the season with a beach party. They joke around dragging each other into the water. Penny resists this. She hates any part of the celebrations at the start of the season. When one of her classmates drags her into the sea, a stranger (Bo) comes to her aid, and the locals share the legend. Penny is scared of the Swan season and doesn’t understand why the others aren’t:
“Everyone believes they’re immune until they’re not”
The Swan season officially starts with a singing coming from the sea. Once it stops, all the sisters have found a body to inhabit. This year is the fastest it has ever happened. Penny, Bo, Heath and Rose find the first body. They sound the “death bell”, used during the season to signal to the town that a body has been found. Penny is hiding something from the others though: she can see the sisters, the “white, spectral image” of them, “like a memory … wavy and unsettled” in the bodies they are occupying.
Marguerite has her sights set on Bo, but Penny finds herself falling for him and she is determined to save him from a watery death. Their relationship builds slowly; Penny does not trust easily and she has a lot of issues. The more I discovered about Penny, the more curious I became. She’s a very complicated and interesting character. Bo is also interesting. His story is revealed to us more slowly, as are the secrets he is hiding.
Revenge is a big theme in this book: the sisters were drowned as revenge for attracting the men of Sparrow, and now they seek revenge on the people of the town for their deaths:
“This town was built on revenge…And it’s never made anything better or right.”
The Wicked Deep moves between the present time telling the story of the Swan Season in Penny’s time, and moves back to tell us about the Swan sisters and eventually what happened to Penny’s dad too. What happened to the sisters is awful, and parts of their present-day story are also quite emotional.
This book will give you real shivers. It’s a creepy story, and you read on wanting to know more, whilst still expecting a rational explanation for what is happening. I absolutely loved The Wicked Deep and would recommend it to everyone, but it would be particularly perfect for fans of Alice Hoffman’s work.