Book Review #39: The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton (2020)

Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Devil and the Dark Water
Author: Stuart Turton
Published: 2020 (Sourcebooks Landmark)
Pages: 463 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Historical, Thriller, Suspense, Supernatural
CW: murder, violence, sexual references, rape, crime, supernatural, torture
Link Here

My borrowed copy of The Devil and the Dark Water underneath my Christmas tree

I hope you all had and are continuing to have a wonderful Holiday! I hope you’re all doing something you enjoy or celebrating either by yourself or surrounded by your loved ones. This Christmas looked a little different for me because of the pandemic, but I’m glad I chose plans that made me and the people around me more safe. I was still gifted some fantastic new books I cannot wait to talk about on this blog. Plus I got a lot of reading done, and it may not seem like it since its been a while since I posted my last review. But my next read took extra time, because it was over 460 pages long. This week I finished the newly released The Devil and the Dark Water by English author Stuart Turton. This is his second novel. The first I read earlier this year, The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. I remember really enjoying The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle once I got past my confusion and the dense slowness of the story in the beginning. And remarkably enough, I felt similar reading The Devil and the Dark Water.

The weak shouldn’t have to fear the powerful, and the powerful shouldn’t simply be allowed to take what they wanted without consequence. Power should be a burden, not a shield. It should be used to everybody’s betterment, not merely for the person who wielded it” – Stuart Turton, The Devil and the Dark Water

The Devil and the Dark Water has a spooky title which matches a spooky tale. Taking place in 1634, a fleet of Dutch United East India Company ships leave the trading post of Batavia (which I had to look up is somewhere in now Jakarta, Indonesia) to go to Amsterdam, a grueling 8-month journey at sea. On this particular ship, the Saardam, is a cast of characters, but the story mainly focuses on prisoner Sammy Pipps, a charming and famous detective Sherlock Holmes-type character, and his loyal and intelligent but physically massive bodyguard, Lieutenant Arent Hayes. Also included is the cruel and wealthy merchant Governor General Jan Haan, and his clever, healer wife who hates him, Sara Wessel. When an old demon who goes by ‘Old Tom’ threatens the safety of the Saardam and its passengers/crew by way of scare tactics and unholy warning signs, Arent and Sara begins to investigate in order to save the crew on board from destruction. This story is part mystery and part suspenseful thriller. The story is filed with deadly human superstition, and leaves the reader guessing at how supernatural the culprit may or may not be.

‘Courage isn’t an absence of fear’, cried out Sara. ‘It’s the light we find when fear is all there is. You’re needed now, so find your courage‘” – Stuart Turton, The Devil and the Dark Water

As I mentioned a little before, I encountered the same feelings I did as reading his first novel. It took me a bit to get into this one, the beginning was slow and the number of pages makes this a daunting read if you’re not used to reading long novels (like me… I admit it). But once I got into the story, I really enjoyed it! The mystery was well-constructed and thought out, and I did not even guess the big twist. Turton does a wonderful job setting the scene, and immersing the reader into the gritty setting with his lengthy descriptions. Honestly, I kept thinking the story felt like the Pirates of the Caribbean Disney movie franchise meets Sherlock Holmes. But, I do not have a lot of experience reading about this particular time in history.

‘Most men would say this isn’t women’s work’…
My father was one of them’, admitted Arent, ‘He taught me that women were frail creatures purposely crippled by God that men might prove their virtue by protecting. Sounded right enough until I went to war and saw men pleading for their lives while women swung hoes at the knights trying to take their land’, his tone hardened, ‘Strong is strong and weak is weak, and it doesn’t matter if you wear breeches or skirts if you’re the latter. Life will hammer you flat’” – Stuart Turton, The Devil and the Dark Water

Turton admits in an amusing afterward called ‘An Apology to History. And Boats‘ that all the facts and technology may not be historically accurate to the time, but he did research. He just took liberty on certain parts. I also thought it was interesting that he did not want this book to fit into the historical fiction genre but instead cited, “This is historical fiction where the history is the fiction“. He took what he wanted from this time period, and ran with his own story. For me, I don’t mind at all, especially if the author is being completely honest about it. If you’re going to be really bothered by inaccurate historical facts to this time period, do not read this book. But nothing is terribly blatant unless you’re a history buff who is an expert on 1600s Dutch trade (which I am definitely not, by the way).

Guilt was like dirt. It got under the skin and didn’t come clean. It made people second guess everything that was done, find fault where there was none and imagine mistakes that weren’t made. Soon enough, worries were worming out of them, growing fat on their doubt” – Stuart Turton, The Devil and the Dark Water

Why should you read this book? If you like mysteries taking place in the 1600s that are full of gory action along with slow-burning suspense and lengthy scene descriptions, this is the book for you. Despite the harsh negatives I talked about previously, I gave this one 4-stars mostly due to the quality of the story, and how the mystery masterfully wrapped up in the end. Definitely pay attention to the ‘CWs’ I list near the top of this review, the themes are heavy and touch upon a lot of serious issues for women at the time.

I give this one a 4 out of 5!


How do I rate these books?? Click here to find out.

2 thoughts on “Book Review #39: The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton (2020)

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