Book Review

A Song Below Water

A Song Below Water

  • Author: Bethany C. Morrow
  • Genre: YA Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
  • Publication Date: June 2, 2020
  • Publisher: Tor Teen

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Tavia is already at odds with the world, forced to keep her siren identity under wraps in a society that wants to keep her kind under lock and key. Never mind she’s also stuck in Portland, Oregon, a city with only a handful of black folk and even fewer of those with magical powers. At least she has her bestie Effie by her side as they tackle high school drama, family secrets, and unrequited crushes.

But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation; the girls’ favorite Internet fashion icon reveals she’s also a siren, and the news rips through their community. Tensions escalate when Effie starts being haunted by demons from her past, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police stop. No secret seems safe anymore—soon Portland won’t be either.

Rather than being the kind of book that hooked me from the first page, this was the kind of story that grew on me the more I read. The story has 2 POVs, with Tavia and Effie each facing their own struggles — Effie trying to navigate her complicated family history and finding her place in the world, and Tavia is dealing with her own family issues as well as trying to control her magical powers.

Fantasy has a way of mirroring issues in the world. As an urban fantasy, this was especially timely since it not only addresses the Black Lives Matter movement, but adds a new layer: magic. The qualities and even lives of sirens are valued lower than any other magical (or non-magical) population. Only sirens have a silencing collar created just for them, and the power they have is viewed only as a danger:

“Sirens, they say, and anyone listening knows it’s a dirty word. Danger, they report, and they’re talking about the danger she posed, never the danger we face.”

When a local woman is murdered, and it comes to the attention of the media that she *might* be a siren, she starts making headlines and suddenly everyone knows her name, and many think she deserve what she got:

“Now the consensus is clear: the world is better off when we’re silent, and if the system skews toward making that happen — if Rhoda Taylor’s just another in a long line of victims whose pain or death seem justified by her identity … Well. Everybody’s safer for it.”

I loved the characters, how the story developed, the way things are revealed little by little throughout the book, and especially how it mirrors our own sociopolitical climate (but with magic). A routine traffic stop brings these issues to the front for Tavia:

“Maybe he’s forgotten the gun beneath his fingers is a deadly weapon, but I won’t. Not when (siren or not) Rhoda Taylor reminds all of us how real the threat of harm really is. Not when every Black person knows, cops face no consequences when they decide to pull the trigger.”

This is absolutely an amazing story, and I strongly urge everyone to read it. It’s definitely the best example of an urban fantasy that I’ve read, and it addresses important issues in a way I haven’t seen in this genre before. So just trust me when I say to read this one. It’s worth it.

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