A Study in Drowning is a dark, emotional and important gothic fantasy

A Study in Drowning. Image courtesy HarperTeen
A Study in Drowning. Image courtesy HarperTeen /

Ava Reid’s latest novel is A Study in Drowning, a gothic fantasy that follows Effy, the only female student in the architecture college at her school. But what she really dreams of is studying literature. Unfortunately, the school doesn’t allow girls to be literature students.

To say Effy is an outcast would be an understatement. She has never fit in. Her mother doesn’t really care for her. Her advisor sexually assaulted her. And her fellow students don’t respect her and think she “slept” with her advisor.

Only one thing can possibly save her. There is a contest to design the house of Effy’s favorite author. Emrys Myrddin is Effy’s idol. When she felt out of place throughout her life, she escaped into his book, Angharad.

With school being a less-than-safe place for her, she wants to win this contest, and luckily, she does! But as you might imagine, the house and its inhabitants are not at all what Effy expected. A fellow student, Preston Héloury, is also there. He’s studying Myrddin’s legacy (Myrddin died a few months before). He is annoying and condescending and Effy does not like him one bit (at least not yet).

A Study in Drowning is a must-read gothic fantasy mystery

There is also Myrddin’s son who is not at all what he seems. One minute he’s welcoming Effy and the next he’s threatening her.

But as Effy and Preston discover more about the house, about Myrddin’s life, about the woman in Myrddin’s life, and about the book he wrote, the more they find that there is more going on here than they could have ever imagined.

And oh, did I mention that Effy believes she is being followed by the Fairy King, the main antagonist from Angharad? She has medication she specifically takes so she doesn’t see him. She’s been led to believe that he’s not actually there.

To say I liked this book would be the understatement of the century. I loved it. Effy has so many characteristics that are either me now or were me when I was in school. I felt deeply connected to her, and while she goes through some dark stuff, it was enthralling to follow her on this journey.

I have also had the experience (too many times) of having an idol turn out to be the complete opposite of what you thought they were and that definitely happens to Effy throughout the book. Although in a much more fantastical way.  Myrddin turns out to be a bit of a fraud (no spoilers). But Effy takes that knowledge and doesn’t hide it. She shines a light on it and discovers something even more amazing in return.

I also really enjoyed all of the Effy and Preston scenes together. While they have some wonderful banter, they are also so soft together. Effy can’t really be soft and safe with anyone else and it was such a relief to see her have that with Preston.

As for the adventure and mystery they are looking to uncover, it’s so imaginative, dark, and twisty. It explores the patriarchy, the power men can have over women, and the way they can completely erase them from their own work. Ava Reid does a stellar job of weaving this message into a fascinating fantasy and tying in the Fairy King and Angharad into it all.

And Effy is the driving force behind it all. This girl who no one expects much from. She is the one who brings the truth to light. It’s spectacular. I can already tell Effy will be a character I’ll think about very often.

The way water and the danger of it is also threaded throughout the book gives the story some much-needed urgency. The water is rising. Another “drowning” is coming, and if Effy and Preston don’t find evidence and get out of the estate fast enough, it could all be lost. As someone who is obsessed with water and the calmness and danger of it, this really appealed to me.

If you’ve loved Ava Reid’s past work, are a fantasy fan, or love a gothic mystery, please read A Study in Drowning. Don’t just put it on your TBR to get to in a couple of months. Move it to the top. You won’t be disappointed!

A Study in Drowning by Ava Read is available now in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.

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