The Deep-Sea Duke

When Hugo and Ada travel to their friend Dorian’s planet for the holidays, Hugo is anxious about being accepted by Dorian’s powerful family. But when they arrive on Hydrox, there are more pressing things to worry about, as the planet has become a temporary home for refugee butterflies. Displaced from their home by climate change, the butterflies have been offered sanctuary by Dorian’s parents, but they’re quickly running out of space. Meanwhile, beneath the seas, a strange creature is wreaking all kinds of havoc … Can Hugo, Dorian and Ada step in before the crisis gets out of control?

Barrington Stoke
cover design: Helen Crawford-White

You all know how much I love the extra-readable YA from Barrington Stoke (and everything else they publish, but anyway…) so I’m always excited when I get the chance to review one of their titles. I was especially excited to see The Deep Sea Duke arrive, as The Starlight Watchmaker introduced some utterly amazing characters and I wanted to join them in another adventure. I also got a chance to follow up with the author, Lauren James:

When I interviewed you for TeenLibrarian around the publication of The Starlight Watchmaker, you mentioned that you had plans to write a sequel on Dorian’s planet because there was still a lot more story to tell about Dorian and Hugo’s relationship. I’ve loved to see that come true (and was really pleased to see my favourite character, Ada, still plays a large part – pun intended). Is the final version much different to what you had planned 18 months ago?

Not much, really! I’ve always had a really clear vision for these books, and one of the joys of writing short novellas (each book is around 20,000 words long) is that the edits tend to be quite low-key. Not much changes, unlike my novels, which are torn to bits before I’m through with them. But I’ve always been able to see exactly where Hugo and Dorian’s story is going, and it’s so nice to see it come together. 

There is a definite focus on climate change (and the causes) in this novella, did you find yourself doing a lot of research before (or during) the world building?

I’m very interested in climate politics in general, so a lot of the content in the book was stuff I was already aware of. I read a lot of newsletters about climate change, and reading articles helped me establish what I wanted to say with the novella.

What is your main piece of advice for a teen concerned about climate change, and how they can do anything about it?

So many of the climate fiction books I read focus on the effect that individuals can have on the planet, with the message that we all need to be more responsible, greener consumers. I wanted to look at how industry and businesses are causing pollution, to make it clear to my young, scared readers that it’s not their responsibility to fix climate change. No amount of careful consumption can fix an industry-wide problem.

However, there are some things people can do to help! My biggest tips are: 

  • Vote in all political elections you are able to, and make sure your representatives are aware that your vote is based on their climate policy views
  • Replace garden lawns with wildflower meadows
  • Switch to LED lightbulbs
  • Don’t fly – and pay for carbon offsetting for any flights you are required to take
  • Make sure your savings and pensions schemes are not invested in companies contributing to climate change. Ask your company to divest from their harmful default options
  • Avoid eating beef, and transition to dairy alternatives
  • Buy in-season food, grown locally (avoiding hot-house produce grown out of season)
  • Change to a renewable energy utility supplier
  • Buy electric cars – but only once your current car is absolutely unable to be fixed. Keep current cars on the road for as long as possible, to keep manufacturing emissions low
  • Install solar panels or solar roof tiles
  • Air dry clothing instead of tumble drying
  • Avoid disposable, cheap fashion and invest in long-term, quality pieces that can be worn for many years

And, of course, plant trees wherever you can. They truly are the lungs of our planet. Depleted forests, savannahs, peatlands, mangroves and wetlands have the ability to grow back quickly, but we need to give them the opportunity to do that. 

How did the Climate Fiction Writers League come about?

The idea was inspired by a similar writing collective, the Women Writers Suffrage League, formed in 1908 by activists, who said, “A body of writers working for a common cause cannot fail to influence public opinion.” They encouraged professional writers to create work about the suffrage movement working to give women the vote. These books were written and published before women got the vote – when they had no idea whether their activism would be successful. 

The comparison between the suffragettes and modern Extinction Rebellion activists is something I’d been thinking about a lot while writing my own climate fiction novel – it’s one of the big questions of our time, I think. Is political protest enough for something as urgent as the climate crisis? Should activists be taking direct action, similar to those taken by the suffragettes? 

I’ve been trying to answer that question for myself while writing my novel, and the Women Writers Suffrage League was mentioned in some non-fiction about the suffragettes. Immediately, I wanted to join a similar movement for climate fiction writers – but I couldn’t find any when I googled it. In fact, I couldn’t really find any comprehensive resources about climate fiction at all. It seemed like something that would be really useful to a lot of people, so I decided to set one up. 

The group has really taken on its own life beyond what I ever imagined, with over 100 authors on board now, and lots of essays and interviews to read: https://climatefictionwritersleague.substack.com/ 

I will always ask: what are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I just read an early copy of A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers, which is a really lovely far-future look at a world where humans have worked to stop climate change – and succeeded! I think there’s a desperate need for futures which aren’t dystopian, to encourage people to keep trying to save the planet and not give up – and this does that really well. I also really enjoyed Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell, a nice space opera romance.

What are you working on at the moment?

My next novel continues the climate change theme with Green Rising, set in a future where teenagers can grow plants, and use it to rewild the planet. I’m also working on the novel adaptation of my internet murder mystery An Unauthorised Fan Treatise, which I posted online at https://gottiewrites.wordpress.com/ So lots of stuff in the pipeline!

Huge thanks to Lauren for her wonderful answers and to Barrington Stoke for sending me a review copy. The Deep Sea Duke is out now!

Lauren James is the twice Carnegie-nominated British author of many Young Adult novels, including The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe and The Quiet at the End of the World. She is also a Creative Writing lecturer, freelance editor, screenwriter, and the founder of the Climate Fiction Writers League. Her upcoming release is Green Rising, a climate change thriller.

Her books have sold over a hundred thousand copies worldwide, been translated into five languages and shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and STEAM Children’s Book Award.

Her other novels include The Next Together series, the dyslexia-friendly novella series The Watchmaker and the Duke and serialised online novel An Unauthorised Fan Treatise.

She was born in 1992, and has a Masters degree from the University of Nottingham, UK, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and many of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. She sold the rights to her first novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university.

Her writing has been described as ‘gripping romantic sci-fi’ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘a strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water’ by Entertainment Weekly. The Last Beginning was named one of the best LGBT-inclusive works for young adults by the Independent.

Lauren lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient.  She has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, Den of Geek, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2021. She teaches creative writing for Coventry University, WriteMentor, and Writing West Midlands, providing creative writing courses to children through the Spark Young Writers programme.

About Caroline Fielding

Chartered School Librarian, CILIP YLG London Chair, Bea-keeper

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