Booklist Reviews

Decades before Cassandra Leung was born, the world flooded and countries and continents separated, leaving everything covered in water and forcing a new way of life upon all who came after. Cas was raised as a Reckoner trainer, destined to bond with a Reckoner (a genetically modified sea monster) named Durga, whom she will lead in battle against pirates that are part and parcel of life on the sea. But their first time out, Durga is killed and Cas kidnapped by a pirate queen for her skills with the monsters, even though she should have sunk to the bottom of the NeoPacific. Under the threat of certain death, she must train a new Reckoner, named Bao, to defend the pirates against anyone they consider an enemy. She might gain friends, or she might die trying. This is a solid, well-crafted, new adventure story with an interesting, unusual hook. Cas is a tough heroine worth rooting for, and the sea monsters themselves, not the most common of beasts, are sure to pull interest. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

ForeWord Magazine Reviews

17-year-old Cassandra Leung has worked her entire life to become a Reckoner trainer, one of those entrusted with managing the “ruthless killing machines” used in her world to protect boats as they navigate pirate-infested waters. The Reckoners are genetically engineered beasts, or sea monsters, whose care and maintenance have become something of a family business for the Leungs. But, just as Cas takes on her first solo mission, the pirate queen Santa Elena captures her, spiriting her back to her boat. For the pirate queen has other plans for Casâ€"namely, fighting Reckoners with Reckoners. She wants Cas to help raise a genetically engineered “pup” and teach the monster to fight for the pirates, threatening that Cas’s blood will be spilled next if she refuses.

The Abyss Surrounds Us is richly drawn, a science-fiction universe with its own set of laws and customs. A strong and fierce narrator, Cas struggles to find her own identity even as she battles for survival. Emily Skrutskie’s work asks how one young woman might redefine herself when new challenges push her to her limits.

© 2016 Foreword Magazine, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Kirkus Reviews

The world's geopolitical balance rests on a genetically modified sea monster and his 17 1/2-year-old trainer. Can she resist the adrenaline rush of a pirate's life to keep the world aright? In Skrutskie's debut, swelling seas and a one-world government rearrange national boundaries. Pirates, quite a few who are born on sovereign flotillas, are the new world threat. The governments hire businesses like the one owned by Cassandra Leung's mom, which create genetically modified sea monsters called Reckoners to destroy the pirates and their vessels. Cassandra, like her dad, trains the aquatic escorts. On her first voyage, her first Reckoner, a terrapoid—a half-turtle, half-marine iguana hybrid "the size of a football field" and named Durga—is killed while trying to protect her assigned ship from the attack of the pirate leader Santa Elena. Cassandra hesitates too long in killing herself, per her dad's instruction in order to keep the proprietary secrets, and Santa Elen a captures her. Somehow, the pirate leader secures her own marine escort and coerces Cassandra to rear the creature. Even as the author offers pure speculative fiction, she also gives readers a terrifically believable heroine with Cassandra, who makes some all-too-human decisions to survive. Most fascinatingly, the author creates a multicultural world led by two women of color—Asian-American Cassandra and ethnically ambiguous Santa Elena—who are larger than life without resorting to stereotypes. Personal and cultural complexities distinguish this fresh and fascinating look at a lawless future. (Science fiction. 14 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2015 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

PW Annex Reviews

Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Leung has been preparing her whole life to train Reckoners, genetically altered beasts raised to defend the Southern Republic of California's fleet against pirate vessels. Cas's first mission to guard the cruise ship Nereid sounds easy enough, but it quickly turns into a disaster. Her Reckoner, "a big dumb turtle four times the weight of a blue whale," dies, leaving their ship vulnerable, and Cas is taken captive on the pirate ship Minnow. While onboard, she is forced to raise a stolen Reckoner to do the pirates' bidding while learning how to survive among corrupt crewmembers and the merciless captain, Santa Elena. In her debut novel, Skrutskie creates an intriguing fantasy world full of floating cities, ruthless monsters, betrayals, and unlikely friendships. Her dynamic characters come from a slew of ethnic backgrounds, further contributing to a rich landscape. Cas's descent into pirate life is as unexpected as it is full of action, and her journey to find her place on the ship should keep readers riveted. Ages 12–up. Agent: Thao Le, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Feb.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2016 PWxyz LLC

School Library Connection

Cassandra Leung is on her first voyage as a Reckoner trainer. She and her Reckoner, Durga, are on their own escorting a ship. Along their voyage, the ship is looted by pirates. Those who resist are killed and Cas is taken prisoner. Upon her release, she finds a Reckoner pup that needs hatching and training. In addition to caring for the new pup, she finds herself entwined with Swift, the pirate girl who captured her. The story details the struggles that Cas encounters and focuses on the relationship between herself and Swift. It is a good example of the Stockholm syndrome and how a captive can identify with her captors yet maintain a semblance of self. This is a unique dystopian setting and the story is easy to read, but it does drag in some places.

- Grades 7-9 - Maria J. Sexton - Additional Selection

School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 9 Up—Life on the sea is anything but relaxing and safe. Pirates will attack and pillage any unprotected ship they come across. Ships must be ever vigilant to protect their passengers and cargo. To ensure the safety of those traveling by the sea, genetically engineered sea monsters are trained and tasked with protecting the ships. Cassandra Leung is a Reckoner trainer, a trainer of these creatures. Her family has been in this business for years, and Cassandra cannot wait to take her beloved sea monster on their first solo mission. However, her dreams of success are dashed by Santa Elena, a pirate leader with her own agenda. Santa Elena has acquired her own creature and expects Cassandra to train it for evil instead of good. Her sea monster destroyed and Cassandra a captive, the girl must find a way to survive and protect her heritage. Choosing sides becomes more difficult as she becomes deeply engrossed in the pirate lifestyle and develops a kinship and interest in one of the pirates. On whose side will she end up? Skrutskie adeptly creates a fantastical world of ruthless pirates; lovable, deadly creatures; and dynamic characters. Readers will be constantly changing their opinions on which side they're rooting for. VERDICT Sci-fi and adventure fans will enjoy this quick read and escape into a new world.—Jessica Strefling, US Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit Library

[Page 105]. (c) Copyright 2016 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 9 Up—Life on the sea is anything but relaxing and safe. Pirates will attack and pillage any unprotected ship they come across. Ships must be ever vigilant to protect their passengers and cargo. To ensure the safety of those traveling by the sea, genetically engineered sea monsters are trained and tasked with protecting the ships. Cassandra Leung is a Reckoner trainer, a trainer of these creatures. Her family has been in this business for years, and Cassandra cannot wait to take her beloved sea monster on their first solo mission. However, her dreams of success are dashed by Santa Elena, a pirate leader with her own agenda. Santa Elena has acquired her own creature and expects Cassandra to train it for evil instead of good. Her sea monster destroyed and Cassandra a captive, the girl must find a way to survive and protect her heritage. Choosing sides becomes more difficult as she becomes deeply engrossed in the pirate lifestyle and develops a kinship and interest in one of the pirates. On whose side will she end up? Skrutskie adeptly creates a fantastical world of ruthless pirates; lovable, deadly creatures; and dynamic characters. Readers will be constantly changing their opinions on which side they're rooting for. VERDICT Sci-fi and adventure fans will enjoy this quick read and escape into a new world.—Jessica Strefling, US Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit Library

[Page 105]. (c) Copyright 2016 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Voice of Youth Advocates Reviews

Cassandra Leung's parents breed and train Reckoners, genetically engineered sea monsters that grow to the size of the ships they are bonded to in order to protect them from pirates. Cas was raised at the lab in the Southern Republic of California, working with her own Reckoners and waiting for the day when she could be a full-time trainer. Her parents finally green light her first solo trip. She will ride the cruise ship Nereid across the NeoPacific Ocean with Durga at her side in what promises to be an uneventful voyage. Then, Durga falls sick, the pirate ship Minnow attacks, and too soon, Durga and the Nereid are lost. Cas is taken prisoner on captain Santa Elena's Minnow and ordered to train a baby Reckoner that the pirates illegally possess. Caught in a moral web of questions while falling for one of her captors, Cas struggles between what is right and what she needs to do to survive Cas's continuous lack of anger considering she is held against her will is frustrating at times, as is her unconcern about her family considering their close relationship. The best parts of this book are the amazing descriptions of the Reckoners, their personalities, and their training, which make the reader believe the beasts could actually exist. Combined with a hero who grows throughout her time on the pirate ship and struggles with what she was raised to believe, this futuristic novel is a true pleasure to read.—Deena VivianiCassandra Leung has been training genetically engineered sea monsters to fight pirates her entire life. On her first solo mission, Cass is captured by pirates and forced to train a beast of their own. If she succeeds, life in the NeoPacific will never be the same, but if she does not, it is her life that will be taken. The author paints an exciting tale of friendship, pirates, and adventure. Young adult fans of fantasy will not be able to put this book down. 4Q, 4P.—Maia Raynor, Teen Reviewer 5Q 3P J S Copyright 2011 Voya Reviews.