I'm probably not the right public for romance, and it's too bad: I have to admit that there were a few moments during which I wanted this story to go just a little faster (surely a reader who has more love, no pun intended, for romance in general, would have enjoyed those more). However, I still found The Deep End of the Sea a fascinating read. Because to me, its real focus is not romance: it's abuse, and how to conquer the fears it plants into a person—told through the tale of Medusa.
Bonus points, anyway, for: no insta-love; love that develops from a long friendship; no stinkin' triangle (Poseidon doesn't count, he's a creep and Medusa doesn't consider him as an acceptable alternative even once); love is great suppot, but not the miracle solution to every problem (Medusa has to literally and figuratively stand on her own two feet through her own willpower).
The author has taken a few liberties with some of the Greek myths here, but I think they work. After all, those deities were never depicted as perfect, far from it: they had all the merits and flaws human beings could have; in many ways, they were just as humans as those who worshipped them; and as such, I wasn't surprised to see them portrayed here in slightly different colours than the ones I was used to. I could probably choose to be a nitpicker, but... I don't want to.
Anyway, back to what really gripped me. This story deserves to be read not to get a shot of romance, but to think about what abuse (more specifically rape) entails. It addresses a lot of the crap usually heard: that the victim "deserved it", that she was "looking for it". It covered the way abusers will act, and even convince themselves that they're not at fault, that what they did was genuine, that their victim was rightfully theirs, and should be forever. Twisted, insane love to the power of ten. Hateful thoughts from the punisher towards the person who was abused twice, once by her rapist, then by the one she served and thought would help her. Guilt-tripping the victim, making her feel like the one at fault. And, last but not least, the victim herself locking her life into abuse of her own, because she hasn't come to terms with what she went through. Even two thousand years of isolation can't delete such a trial from one's mind: deep inside, Medusa hadn't faced her fears yet.
This story calls bullshit on all of this, and doesn't use romance as an excuse to awful behaviours, the way too many books do in my opinion. No, it's not okay to force yourself on a woman (or on anyone, as a general rule) just because she's pretty, just because one thinks he's in love with her. It's never okay. Poseidon has no right to claim Medusa as his own. Nobody should make decisions for her. She didn't deserve what happened to her, but justice being served is only the first step on a much more important road, that of finding herself again, learning to let go of the pain, to allow herself to love: a victim no more, but a strong person who refuses to be shamed any longer, especially when the ones pointing the finger are the ones who should shut up the most. (Medusa being turned into a monster, blaming herself—and being blamed by others—for the deaths she caused in that form, was quite an accurate manner, in my opinion, to reflect how way too often, victims are driven to consider themselves guilty, to see themselves as "monsters" of sorts.)
Replace Medusa's story with that of countless people who've been harrassed, abused, raped, then blamed for it. And there you have it.
Also, while there were of course some really hateful figures in this story, I appreciated how support was shown, and not necessarily where it was expected. Hermes, of course, is an obvious support to Medusa; we get that from the blurb, and the narrative confirms it. But really, would you expect Hades to care? Well, yes, the Lord of the Underworld does. Not only that, but he's seriously spot-on, and I couldn't put it better:
"Niece," he stresses, mimicking her formality, "this isn’t the first time you’ve overstepped your bounds by punishing innocents; this one just so happens to be the last remaining victim. If you even try to spew that victim blaming crap again, I’ll take you down to the Underworld with me for a spell. Maybe then you can understand what true justice entails."
Support didn't come only from other women, it also came from men. It wasn't a one-sided, "women support women and men stand up for men" story, thus placing the real focus far abovesuch differences, at a purely human level.
Although I do have a couple of minor quibbles, they never became a problem, so I'm willing to ignore them, and keep stressing how positive and beautiful this novel was (all the more when I compare it to other stories I've read, full of so-called "romantic" yet actually creepy behaviours that scream impending abuse to me).