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The Sunken City by Emma V.R. Noyes

“You deserve someone who won’t try to change you. Who won’t try to shape you into the mold he desires. You deserve someone who will love every part of you – the good, the dark, the angry, the broken. Who sees your shadow self, and loves that self all the more.”

Lukas, aka my future baby daddy

It’s February 27, which means I, a tax accountant at a Big 4 accounting firm, am about half-way through the first busy season of 2022. This means 60-80 hour work weeks looking at excel all day and trying not to pull my hair out by the naturally blond roots that are showing like crazy at this point.

I love books that truly allow me to escape to another world already, but from January through April 15, it becomes imperative for me to escape in my free time. Sunken City was able to offer me this release to another world and I loved every second it.

What I loved about this book:

1. Just from a technical standpoint, this book was very, very well written. It really is no wonder it was written by someone with a literature degree. The details are very imaginative and easy to follow throughout the entire book.

2. The incredible worldbuilding is so meticulous and thought-out. The details and time that Emma V.R. Noyes put into this really shines not just with the background and legends, but with some of the spectacular features of the underwater world.

Growing up on a ship, raised by her pseudo-Uncle, Omar, Amare believes her parents died at sea as normal human beings. She has goals of becoming the captain of the ship one day, and hates magic like any other pirate that ever lived.

The Sinking and the Sunken City: She goes overboard and wakes up in an underwater world, where she is told she went through a transition called “Sinking”. Sinking is when a human moves from life above water to life below; essentially having to give up one for the other because no one can live below and above water.

As we come to find out, her transition started with the visions she got when she touched a conch shell that was in a hidden treasure chest she found. She went from “normal”, to wanting to swim a lot, to drinking ocean water, to hearing voices in the ocean, to now living under water.

In the underwater world, her father is apparently the king of the Sunken City, one of ten kingdoms underwater, which makes her a princess.

The only familiar thing in this world: magic is strictly forbidden everywhere except in Skullhaven, where all the witches, also known as the mchawi, were sent. Think of this as similar to what Britain did by sending “convicts” to Australia in the 1700s and 1800s.  

Her father tells her how her mother is no longer alive, but was a very powerful mchawi, one of the last good ones. He tells her how her mother turned him from a landwalker to a sereia (water folk) when she thought he would die in the ocean. When they thought Amare had. He details how her mother was murdered by bloodthirsty mchawi in the “tunnels” of the castle in the Sunken City, which are now blocked and inaccessible. He further details to her how her mother gave him an amulet imbed with the power to turn a human into a sereia, called a dragstone. However, this is not how Amare sunk though. No one is sure how that happened.

Legend of Maoke, The Fallen Witch, and the prophecy: After settling in, Amare learns someone by the name of Maoke is after her, and that there is a secret prophecy that involves Amare. The theories go that Maoke is the servant of the Fallen Witch, the first witch who denounced Skullhaven and struck out on her own.

The Fallen Witch, whose name was Tectixa, was one of the strongest mchawi in Skullhaven who became queen of the magic folk. After becoming queen, she started to pay attention to the other half of the world (the people born on land rather than of the sea, “landwalkers” as they’re called). “She hated what she saw – violence, war, slavery, poverty. After several years of watching the humans tear each other apart, she made a decision: landwalkers were a poison upon the Earth, and the only way to wipe that poison away was to get rid of them entirely.”

Well, the other mchawi were not game with this. So, while the strength of Tectixa’s powers prevented the mchawi from killing her entirely, they did manage to lock her in a cavern far beneath the bottom of the ocean. HMMMMM, kinda sounds like that damn conch shell, huh?

The theory of Maoke is she was also especially gifted, but also selfish. It is thought that she gathered a crew of men and women who worshipped Tectixa and they set out to pirate villages and passing vessels for offerings to present to Tectixa in exchange for great power, if they ever managed to find her. The nightmares told to all sereia children are that the more Maoke stole, the more gruesome and monstrous-looking she became.

On top of all of this, apparently there is also a prophecy that started with the lost princess releasing Tectixa and her army. This first part of the prophecy was accomplished when Amare touched the conch shell. The final part of the prophecy: she needs to find a ring and a tiara. Once these are found and Tectixa is released fully, her goals will be realized: an ocean only world (no landwalkers) that she is in charge of.

So, with all of the above, what do I have to leave you with? In the words of the great Penelope Douglas, “The role of the villain is only determined by who’s telling the story”.

3. From a details perspective, here are some of the little things I loved about the worldbuilding:

  • The sereia measure time differently, AG instead of AD; after the gash
  • The water is thinned inside their corridors, which allows them to walk as though on land instead of swim but still provides their gills with enough water to comfortably breathe
  • Oh yeah, they have gills
  • The people also have webs between their fingers
  • The sereia are incredibly diverse, coming in all colors, patterns, and shapes possible.
  • “Some of the drinks, I learn, affect not just your sense of taste. Some cause you to see luminescent ribbons of light. Some peal within your ears like delicate glass bells. Some even conjure poems that only you can see – purple and blue letters the curl at the edges of your vision before disappearing altogether.”
  • There are ancient shapeshifting demons called ilimu after her, who look like nightmarish reptilian beast.
  • An explosive fight with a skeleton bonewalker takes place!
  • References to other gods and underwater creatures like Poseidon and the Loch Ness monster!

4. The characters are fantastic!

Amare is super resourceful and is truly a little badass, especially with her daggers she keeps on her at all times.

All her life, she has lived with this “darkness” inside her that she attempts to bury as deep as she can. Every decision she makes is in an attempt to gain freedom from the restraints she grew up with (never being allowed off the ship or into any situation that may harm her) as well as the internal demons she battles.

Even when her mchawi powers surface, Amare denies being mchawi because she has long grown up, both on the ship and in the Sunken City, being told witches are evil and magic is bad. And if that’s not a larger lesson in why feminism is important to talk about, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS!

I can’t wait to see how her magic evolves and she learns to love her shadows.

Finn is a mystery to me. As the right-hand man to her father and the person responsible for her safety, I am torn on his true intentions through the entire book. Is he good? Is he bad? Is he just misguided?

Shoa is Amare’s first and best friend in the Sunken City. This girl has zero filter but is super nice! I am so hyped for her by the end of this book and wish the best for her moving forward. She will become a little badass herself, I can just tell. Oh, and she’s a lesbian, or at least bi-sexual, which is actually talked about instead of acting as a checkbox(!) and adds to the diversity factor of this book!

Uncle Omar was first mate to Amare’s father when he was captain. He is very protective of Amare and doesn’t really let her go anywhere or do anything. Is this because he’s hiding something? Is he trying to keep her from ascending to the throne? Does he believe her father to be a bad man?

Lukas, ugh, why do I always get attached to the bad boy? Lukas is Finn’s older brother who is ex-military and embraces magic, and we aren’t supposed to know if he is good or bad, just that he is the polar opposite of Finn.

Something dark inside him speaks to Amare when they meet and every time they communicate after that. She assumes it’s a warning of danger, but is it really? He appreciates and understands the darkness within her and doesn’t try to hide his own. He loves that she can defend herself and her smart mouth. He’s got to be the love interest in the end!

Oh God, he calls her love. That’s a personal knee-weakening term for me and I love it coming out of his mouth!

“Your smile. Your eyes. The way you stood over me and basked in your victory after you knocked me onto my ass. Under the moonlight, with shadows dancing at your feet, I thought…I thought you might be the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen.”

YES!! Love the guy that loves when you can best him!!!


Maoke is an alpha-female! She is exactly what Amare wanted to become when she was a landwalker. Do I believe her that the rumors spread about her are false and she is actually a decent being, albeit a pirate? YES, YES I DO! I would trust this woman with my life at this point! She just feels genuine and like the womanly-figure that Amare has needed her whole life.

“To switch on your magic, you must first access the darkest part of yourself. Everyone has a shadow self, Amare. Anger. Sadness. Greed. Rage. The pieces of yourself you wish weren’t there, but are. Most try to fight or ignore it. Push it as far down within themselves as they can. Anything but accept it. Me – I did the opposite. I faced the part of myself that terrified me the most, and I accepted its existence. Eventually, I even became friends with it.”

5. This revolving theme of everyone has a bit of hero and a bit of monster in them. The main theme of learning to accept and love the dark parts of yourself resonates so much with me. This is something I have struggled with all my life and have recently came to the same conclusion on. It’s nice to felt seen.

Going into book 2 of this trilogy, here are my thoughts:

  • Her dad is definitely bad
  • Finn may be bad or he may be misguided by his loyalty to her dad. I kind of have a feeling he will come around, but will still do his bidding far longer than he should.
  • Her mom was murdered by her dad/his people, not turned on by the mchawi
  • Her mom may or may not be the Fallen Witch, and that is why the Fallen Witch wants to get to her
  • Uncle Omar knew more than he let on and that is why she was trained but kept safe at all times
  • She will end up with Lukas and all will be explained later
  • Maoke will die, but as a good and redeemed person
  • Shoa and Amare will stay on the Winter Rose, Amare may become captain while Shoa is the healer/oracle aboard, effectively blending all of the parts of her life: pirate, sereia, and mchawi!

Thank you to BookSirens and the publisher for the chance to read this book. The reviews reflected here are my own.

5 embrace-your-darkness stars!!!

3 thoughts on “The Sunken City by Emma V.R. Noyes”

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