We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep by Andrew Kelly Stewart
When she was a small child, Remy was rescued from death by a chaplain who oversees the monks on a submarine called Leviathan. They carry the world’s last nuclear missile and their mission is to wait, protecting the missile, until God tells them it’s time to deploy it against the wicked Earth on judgement day.
Remy’s job is to sing in the choir of eunuchs, a crucial role that keeps up morale. Her voice will remain high because she’s a girl (a secret that only the chaplain knows), so she is not in danger of being pulled out of the choir and sent to work in the engine room where the nuclear reactor is. That’s a dangerous job that soon leads to a wasting illness and eventual death. But as Remy hears her best friend’s voice begin to change, she worries about his fate and begins to question all she’s been told about the world.
We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep (2021), Andrew Kelly Stewart’s debut novella, is a lovely, haunting, and gripping story about a vulnerable girl who is having a crisis of faith as she desperately tries to save the life of her best friend while keeping her own identity hidden. Remy, who knows no life outside this cult on a submarine, and has had no opportunity to learn any other ways of thinking, is someone the reader can immediately sympathize with. I cared about Remy, felt her confusion and desperation, and wanted to see her escape.
Remy’s plight takes place in an alternate 1986 after the Cuban Missile Crisis went a different way. Stewart’s setting, a dark, cramped, submerged submarine carrying the world’s last nuclear warhead, is chilling. There are regular subtle reminders, such as the human teeth that the crew use as currency, that this is a dangerous place to live. The fact that the threat is unseen and poorly understood makes it all the more spooky. There’s a sense that the invisible radiation is all around, warping the crew in strange ways. The only ray of light is the beautiful sacred music that Remy and the choristers produce.
We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep is an odd and unsettling little story that, according to an interview I read at Tor.com (who published it) was inspired by the Branch Davidian massacre (which Stewart witnessed from afar), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, A Canticle for Leibowitz, the Cold War, and a dose of Percocet. Yeah… that sounds about right.
It will not surprise me to see We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep on next year’s awards lists. I listened to Tantor Audio’s version which was narrated by Mia Ellis. Other than mispronouncing the word “victuals,” she gives a lovely performance that I recommend.
This sounds so lovely (and terrifying).