Terrifyingly good new writer. Manages to combine real world marine biology with mythical/fantastical creatures, making vampir and sirens as believable as rocks and molluscs. The descriptions are vibrant, with detailed passages alternating with fast, one sentence paragraphs. You could read this book simply as an adventure, with two main threads taking turns to get you hooked, plenty of mystery and unpredictability, with an intelligent backstory of war, massacre. But it is MUCH more than that, as it's really a study of human nature, sex, relationships, psychology. Yet its reflections are always grounded, thoughts on gender differences and animal VS humanity, science versus spirituality are contained, we get different viewpoints; the book is eco-aware but wants to explore, ask questions rather than preach or moralise. Every character is sympathetic, even the unfaithful young wife at the start. The diverse cast contains so many relationships, tensions, motivations, from inter-specific homosexuality to father-young son and the young understudy turning away from his ageing teacher. Everyone is flawed, it all gets messy but it's never one-sided and there's often comedy to alleviate the darker moments such as childhood bereavment and miscarriage. And the Santiago character is genius, so many of the ideas come from him but he's also self-aware of his own excesses and ageing perversion.
Not just for fantasy fans then - it will appeal to devotees of Mieville (and the late, great Michael G. Coney!) but its marine travels and dynamic, descriptive prose put it (almost) on a par with Conrad and Hemingway, which isn't bad for a debut. Support the new authors and independent publishers! And roll on next year for the next book coming out on Macmillan where everyone will hear about it. Forget "The Beach", this is "The Reef"!