A Study in Drowning Review: Magical Realism and a Thesis on a Mysterious Author

October 16, 2023 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 5 stars, Books, Reviews

A Study in Drowning Review: Magical Realism and a Thesis on a Mysterious AuthorA Study in Drowning by Ava Reid
Published by HarperTeen, Penguin Australia on September 19, 2023
Source: Publisher, Edelweiss
Genres: Magical Realism, Young Adult
Publisher | Booktopia
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Effy Sayre has always believed in fairy tales. She’s had no choice. Since childhood, she’s been haunted by visions of the Fairy King. She’s found solace only in the pages of Angharad - author Emrys Myrddin’s beloved epic about a mortal girl who falls in love with the Fairy King, and then destroys him.

Effy’s tattered, dog-eared copy is all that’s keeping her afloat through her stifling first term at Llyr’s prestigious architecture college. So when Myrddin’s family announces a contest to design the late author’s house, Effy feels certain this is her destiny.

But Hiraeth Manor is an impossible task: a musty, decrepit estate on the brink of crumbling into a hungry sea. And when Effy arrives, she finds she isn’t the only one who’s made a temporary home there. Preston Héloury, a stodgy young literature scholar, is studying Myrddin’s papers and is determined to prove her favorite author is a fraud.

As the two rival students investigate the reclusive author’s legacy, piecing together clues through his letters, books, and diaries, they discover that the house’s foundation isn’t the only thing that can’t be trusted. There are dark forces, both mortal and magical, conspiring against them - and the truth may bring them both to ruin.

Not quite dark academia, not quite fantasy mystery, A Study in Drowning is one of those books that is difficult to define. If I were to call it anything, I would go with a magical realism that fosters the love of books and literature.

Through Effy’s perspective, we see the female architecture student accept a task out of town, to visit the late home of her favourite author (now deceased). Effy has read the pages of Angharad over and over throughout her life, and she’s excited to uncover the mystery surrounding his life.

There’s more to her eagerness to accepting the task however, which underpins a lot of her character. In the book’s setting, females are relegated to being home makers, and unable to study literature. It also explores the sexualisation of females who simply ‘exist’ in a man’s environment, and the many unwanted sexual advances that they’ll no doubt receive. Although we don’t see anything happen in detail, it’s very much at the top of Effy’s mind and how she navigates through the world.

The truth was very costly at times. How terrible, to navigate the world without a study to comfort you.

Effy meets Preston, a smug, literature student who is also from another region. The two join forces to investigate whether Myrddin was the true author of the book for Preston’s thesis. Against the university’s guidelines, Preston encourages Effy to become a co-author. I really enjoyed the interactions that she had with Preston, and although first guarded, they grow to respect each other’s viewpoints and what they have to contribute in their investigation. It’s simple to cast another aside simply for being different or having conflicting interests, but the relationship they had with each other was built upon mutual respect.

A Study in Drowning centres on their investigation of the author and his manor, including trying to find answers from the author’s moody son, Iantho. There’s also a magical realism aspect as Effy is heavily medicated to avoid strange visions. It takes a few mysteries and inconsistencies that are highlighted and then weaves the mystery and intrigue to the end.

As a lifelong reader, A Study in Drowning captures the wonder, magic and home that one can find within a book. You know that feeling when you read a few pages of a book, only to realise that someone else has had those same few thoughts in your head? Sometimes a well placed verse or paragraph can be the difference between feeling isolated, and understood.

Tackling magical realism, gender equality, sexual abuse upon a fantasy literature setting, A Study in Drowning is a well written fantasy that I very much enjoyed. I loved the haunting atmosphere and the complex exploration of multiple themes that melded together to make a magical story.

Rating: 5 out of 5

I received a review copy from Edelweiss and HarperTeen in exchange for an honest review.

Trigger warning: sexual abuse (off-page)

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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Tiktok@happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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