My copy of a Study of Drowning by Ava Reid
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A Study in Drowning Review: Is This YA Fantasy Standalone Worth the Read?

I recently finished reading A Study in Drowning by Ava Reid, and I must say it left a lasting impression on me. A #1 New York Times bestseller and Ava Reid’s impressive YA debut, this dark academic fantasy combines elements of Gothic mystery, historical fantasy, and a big helping of romance.

Critics and fans alike praise Reid’s book for diving deep into themes like grief, gender, and folklore. The novel has also received positive recognition for its eloquent prose and immersive, atmospheric storytelling. With 27,000+ ratings on Goodreads, the book has definitely got a fanbase.

But does it live up to the hype? It was one of my first reads of 2024, and so here is my honest A Study in Drowning review.

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My copy of a Study of Drowning by Ava Reid

Overview

A Study in Drowning

Read if you like:

  • Dark academia

  • Shorter reads

  • Standalone fantasy novels

  • Beautiful prose

  • Academic rivals to lovers

Skip if you don’t like:

  • More spartan world-building

  • Lead MC who comes across as a little juvenille (despite being 18)

  • Lots of similies. (Like, lots.)

  • Plot holes

What is a Study in Drowning About?

The story follows Effy Sayre, a young woman who is captivated by fairy tales and haunted by visions of the Fairy King. When she discovers a contest to redesign the late famous author Emrys Myrddin’s estate, she feels it’s her destiny to enter. His stories have always been her favorite, and she knows them backwards and forwards. To her surprise and elation, she gets accepted. But things turn out to be much more challenging – and dangerous – than she expects.

Upon arriving at Hiraeth Manor, Effy faces a daunting task at a dilapated estate half-eaten by the sea. Ianto, Myddin’s son, is welcoming, and yet Effy feels there is something unsettling about him.

Then there’s Preston Héloury, a stodgy young literature scholar whom we discover is bent on proving Emrys Myrddin a fraud. Their rivalry intensifies as they strive to uncover the truth behind Myrddin’s legacy.

However, they soon find themselves facing both mortal and magical adversaries, and their discoveries might just lead to their undoing.

Themes and Motifs

In “A Study in Drowning,” I was immediately drawn to the dark academic ambiance. The story takes place on a dreary seaside cliff, with a crumbling and moody vibe surrounding the setting. It definitely gave me that haunting gothic atmosphere that kept me intrigued throughout my reading experience.

The setting of the story, Hiraeth Manor, is described with an eerie atmosphere that adds to the mystery of the novel. I appreciated how Reid wove themes of grief, gender, and folklore into a complex plot, all while keeping it an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

A Study touches upon some noteworthy themes, one of them being institutional sexism. In this world, women are not allowed to attend literature university, and for that matter, Effy is the only woman accepted into the architecture program.

The romance between Effy and Preston in A Study in Drowning is a slow burn and very tastefully done. I liked that their relationship started as an academic rivalry, but it was one-sided; from the beginning, Effy was more apprehensive of Preston than he was of her. Their dynamic evolved in a natural way, which made the story even more enjoyable for me.

Last but not least, the story also encapsulates the idea that “you should never meet your heroes.”

World-Building

While I appreciated the immersive writing and the intriguing characters of A Study in Drowning, I felt that the world-building aspect left me craving more. The setting appeared quite similar to Earth, with familiar technology and terms, such as cars and publishing companies, which was a bit… odd.

I was expecting more depth regarding the ‘sleepers’ and their potential magical abilities, as well as details on the conflict between the two sides of the island. But Reid kind of leaves us hanging.

And so, although the story was engaging in many ways, it almost felt like it should have been an offshoot or prequel to a longer, more elaborate series. For this reason, world-building was the weaker part of the book for me, and I wished for a bit more exploration and uniqueness in this aspect.

But who knows, maybe she’ll write a sequel.

Plot

The plot is definitely engaging and kept me turning the pages. I read the entire book in about three settings. The ending was satisfying overall, but it could have used improvement. Further to the lack of world-building I discussed earlier, there were a few niggling plot holes that remained unexplained by the end of the book.

I can take a plot hole or two, and they weren’t enough to majorly detract from my enjoyment of the book, but they were unnecessary and I felt the author could have done more to fill them in.

Characters

Effy, the main protagonist and an architecture student, is relatable with her anxiety and aspirations of attending literature college having to settle for the architecture program. Her anxiety and struggles with mental health make her out to be an unreliable narrator, and you wonder how much of what she depicts is reality or the unsettling manifestations of her trauma.

But her development throughout the story is heartwarming. However, she does come across as a bit juvenile for her age – almost irritatingly so at times. But overall she was a likable character.

Preston, a literature student as well as her rival and love interest, also plays an important role. His academic nature and level-headed attitude make him a likable character from the beginning. I appreciated how the main characters complemented each other in their journey to unveil the mysteries of Hiraeth Manor and Myrddin’s legacy.

Their dynamic and growth truly make the novel an engaging read, and I found myself rooting for Effy and Preston as they navigated the challenges and dark forces that threatened them.

The third main character in the book is Myrddin’s son, Ianto. Although he isn’t as well-developed as Effy and Preston, he is still very well-written. Ianto has a secret agenda that has the two students on edge.

Writing Style

One of the standout aspects of this was the writing style itself, which I absolutely loved. Ava Reid has a way with words, showcasing her talent through enchanting phrases, apt comparisons, and unforgettable lines peppered throughout the book. Reading it felt like diving headfirst into an atmospheric world, where every detail and description pulls you deeper into the story.

She does love her similies though. (Almost too many.)

Final Thoughts & Rating

Wrapping up, I would rate “A Study in Drowning” a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars. For me, it served as the perfect palate-cleansing read in between heavier tomes and was one of the best standalones I’ve read this year.

As someone who loves mysterious plots and well-developed characters, I felt this book had plenty to offer, though it did take some time for me to get into it completely. On the other hand, certain aspects, such as Effy’s occasional silly behavior, felt a bit off-putting.

Overall, A Study in Drowning has a lot going for it, including a spooky atmosphere and thought-provoking themes. It may have its quirks, but if you’re looking for something a little different and enjoy books that lean into darker themes, this might be the perfect choice for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does A Study in Drowning have a happy ending?

Well, I won’t spoil the ending for you! But don’t worry, the ending is satisfying.

Is there a romantic subplot in A Study in Drowning?

Yes, there is a romantic subplot in A Study in Drowning between Effy, the main character, and Preston Héloury, a young literature scholar. It is a true rivals-to-lovers trope but their relationship adds an extra layer of depth to the story.

What content warnings should readers be aware of?

Check the content warnings but there are mentions of sexual harassment, and dark, unsettling scenes. It is marketed as a teen book but I would recommend it to more mature young adults of 17+.

Is A Study in Drowning part of a series or a standalone novel?

It is a standalone novel, though it almost feels like it could have been the start of a series. If Ava were to write more about this world, I’m sure many fans would be eager to read it!

What age group is this book for?

It’s marketed as Young Adult, but I would say it’s more for older teens. There are mature themes and depictions, including (relatively tame) sexual content, characters that smoke cigarettes, and dark themes.

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