REVIEW: A Study in Drowning by Ava Reid

A Study in Drowning is, in their own words, Ava Reid’s first foray into true romance – and YA. It is their third novel after The Wolf and the Woodsman and Juniper and Thorn (read our review here). Like their two first books, A Study in Drowning is heavily influenced by folklore, stories and an investigation into the role women are given and can claim for themselves in a patriarchal society. There is off-the-page sexual abuse and a nuanced discussion of the trauma survivors face, especially when the person involved is in a position of power – so be aware of that going in if that is something you have difficulty with.

cover of A Study in Drowning by Ava ReidThe story is centred around Effy, an architecture student struggling to make it through her university courses after rumours of sleeping with a professor spread. Instead, she flees into the worlds of her favourite poet, Emrys Myrddin, especially the poem Angharad. When she has the opportunity to enter a contest to re-design his estate, Hiraeth Manor, she jumps at the chance – and to everyone’s (and most of all, her own) surprise, Effy wins. At the remote estate the boundaries between what is real and what isn’t blur as she is pulled between the Faerie King, Myrddin’s brash son Ianto and the young scholar Preston – who is determined to unmask Myrddin as a fraud. And perhaps, just perhaps, Effy can find justice not just for herself and her own story, but another woman wronged by a man too…

I loved how atmospheric and evocative A Study in Drowning is. The weather, Hiraeth Manor, the poetry all come to life so strongly through the writing and I could almost taste the rough sea air. It worked really well to draw out the disconnect between what was real and what wasn’t, the blurring of those boundaries of reality. I appreciated how, in this instance, it wasn’t something rooted in mental issues, but something deeper, something both uncanny and misogynistic. It made the relationships between the characters all the more frustrating to witness – in some ways like a train wreck you cannot look away from. As information comes to light and secrets unravel, the reader learns parts of the story and is able to piece details together that aren’t necessarily satisfying in themselves, but lead to a very satisfying conclusion.

Effy and Preston had a lovely rivals-to-lovers relationship, growing organically from instinctual dislike to curiosity to… something more. It was central to the story without overpowering their character arcs or the plot as a whole. I also really appreciated how each of the major characters was deeply flawed and inherently self-centred, motivated by their own selfish desires more than anything else. The greater good makes little difference in A Study in Drowning. In that sense, it is well suited for a grimdark audience, even if its core audience is perhaps younger and more female than those who tend to read our content. This is an interesting study in morality and how to make the greater needs of the truth play out in your personal favour. A book that has its weaknesses – it does lose tension in parts and perhaps drags a bit in the middle – but truly sticks the landing and had me scream in glee at its conclusion.

Read A Study in Drowning by Ava Reid

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Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out

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