Review of A Study in Drowning, by Ava Reid

A Study in Drowning

by Ava Reid
read by Saskia Maarleveld

HarperTeen, 2023. 10 hours, 32 minutes.
Review written May 13, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

This is another eaudiobook I checked out because it was very popular at Fairfax County Library — and one of the best results of that curiosity. I loved the heroine, Effy Sayre, a first-year university student in another world somewhat like ours in the 1950s or so. Effy was put into the school of Architecture even though her scores were high enough for the school of Literature, and literature is where her heart is — because no woman has ever been admitted to the school of Literature.

But when a chance comes from the estate of her favorite author Emrys Myrddin to redesign his family’s home, Effy jumps at the chance, and to her surprise, wins the competition. Effy loves Myrddin’s work so much, she can quote from all of his books, but especially his masterpiece, Angharad. The book is about a girl who loves the Fairy King and is taken as his wife, but who gradually realizes his cruelty — and is his undoing.

The book means a lot to Effy because all her life, she’s been plagued by visions of the Fairy King. Her mother never believed her and took her to a doctor who prescribed pink pills to make the visions go away. But Effy clung to the story of a girl who also saw the Fairy King and ended up triumphing over him.

But when she arrives to the far south coast of the country, things are not at all as she expected. The house she’s supposed to remodel is falling apart with decay, and the nearby sea is finding its way in. She’s greeted by Myrddin’s son, who has some very strange moments, and she never sees the author’s wife. And she begins seeing the Fairy King even when she’s taken her pills.

It turns out there’s a literature student also working at Myrddin’s estate, trying to access his letters and papers to write a scholarly paper about him. He’s pompous and stuffy. But when Effy learns he’s not even sure Emrys Myrddin actually wrote the Angharad, that seems a bridge too far.

But… things happen. This book continues on with a bit of a mystery and a big climactic scene full of danger. Ava Reid did an amazing job with the atmosphere of this book. The house is so decayed, so remote, so sinister, so close to the angry sea, and you get the feeling that the Fairy King might be real. And if so, he’s dangerous.

I do feel like I should mention when a novel for Teens has a sex scene. This has one, with a little bit of description. I did think the romance was beautifully done, with kindness and gentleness toward someone who’d formerly been abused.

Now, there were what felt to me like some big coincidences that allowed them to find crucial documents. And I can’t really believe that papers could have managed to stay intact in a metal box underwater. But those are quibbles. Overall, this wonderful book had me enthralled throughout and wanting to find more rote tasks to do so I could keep on listening. A truly wonderful book about a girl whose salvation has always been books — learning to stand up for herself in real life, despite all those who want to use her.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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