Cover Image: I am the Sea

I am the Sea

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Member Reviews

I feel this book was slightly eclipsed by another lighthouse book that came out earlier in 2021 and ended up reading it much later than the publication date. Whereas that book looked back on a mysterious incident on a lighthouse, this novel puts us at the centre of the action and felt very gothic and claustrophobic. Set in 1870 at the beautifully named Ripsaw Reef Lighthouse, a keeper has disappeared in strange circumstances and a young trainee is sent to replace him. James Meakes knows nothing about what’s happened, but we do find out that the other keepers were seen, on the day in question, roping him to the bars outside. Spencer died lashed to those railings, having been picked apart by birds. A gruesome end for anyone. The atmosphere is set for us as James peers at the lighthouse across the sea, even though it’s close enough to see, it feels inaccessible and isolated from others. People have told him tales of how treacherous the sea is, the gale force winds and the lashing waves reaching the walls of the tower. It seems almost impossible and an affront to the ocean that it was built and withstands the squall outside. 

James feels on edge with Bartholomew and Adamson, the other keepers. They weirdly seem to keep out of his way as if he’s not there. It seems that Spencer is not the only keeper who has come to a grisly end out here, so James must be alert. Then odd writing starts to appear inside and on the walls. Is there a fourth person out here? The creepy and suspenseful atmosphere continues to build. The language makes the book feel Victorian and does slow the narration down a little, but the twists and turns of the story kept me hooked and I was constantly wondering whether Meakes is really in such strange tale or has the fear and isolation turned his mind. This is a sinister tale with such descriptive passages I really felt like I was there.
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I Am The Sea is a gothic, psychological mystery set in 1870 about a young lighthouse keeper who arrives at Ripshaw Reef Lighthouse for a 6 month trainee placement where all is not as it seems.  Beautifully descriptive the reader feels the isolation experienced by the protagonist.  A sinister, compelling and well written tale but a little over technical in parts.  Overall 3.5 stars.  Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the advance copy.
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Phew, what a crazy ride this book was! If you have had any ill-conceived romantic notions about the life of a lighthouse keeper, then this book will soon set you straight. It started innocently enough: young James Meakes arrives at the remote Ripsaw Reef Lighthouse to commence his six months term as trainee lighthouse keeper under the supervision of Principle Bartholomew and Assistant Keeper Adamson. On the same day, the body of another lighthouse keeper, Spencer, is taken away from the island for autopsy, as he has passed away in suspicious circumstances, a fact that will come to haunt James during his traineeship. Straight away, we learn of James’ fascination with the lighthouse and life within it, which he shares freely with the reader. I can never resist books about lighthouses, so was most intrigued to hear details of its construction and workings, as well as the regimented lives and power structure of the men living in its confines.

It soon becomes obvious that all is not well in the lighthouse. Assistant keeper Adamson never exchanges a civil word with the head keeper, and also gives James a hard time, playing multiple pranks on him as he is starting out in his apprenticeship. James becomes convinced that Adamson has a dark past and that he may pose a danger to him, especially once he discovers eerie writings on walls and in hidden cupboards, as well as a message in a bottle warning him of danger. Did the unlucky assistant keeper Spencer write these as a warning prior to his death? And whilst James is able to district himself with the strict routine of his work, things start going wrong when an inspector arrives from the mainland and upsets the delicate balance ...

Stanley sure knows how to set a scene. Whilst the lighthouse initially presented a fascinating and interesting backdrop of fine engineering and workmanship, it soon took on a sinister countenance as the weather closed in and young James began to suspect that all was not well in its confines. The claustrophobia slowly increased until it had dispelled the last vestiges of any romantic or cosy notions I may ever have entertained about life in a lighthouse. But like the birds attracted to its beacon and crashing against its solid walls to their certain death, I was equally compelled to read on, even as the atmosphere became decidedly sinister and eerie. Stanley’s writing, which initially progressed in an orderly, almost scientific fashion reflecting young James’ fascination with his new home and detailed descriptions of the lighthouse, became more frantic and disjointed as James becomes fearful for his own life.

I am impressed by the way the author pledges the lighthouse itself as a character in the story, from solid foundation to dangerous foe, as if it had turned against the men manning it. Such a deliciously claustrophobic atmosphere is something I always seek out but not often find in novels, and it was masterfully crafted here. From early on, in the back of my mind, a suspicion was growing, ultimately consuming me throughout the reading experience. And despite several misdirections and my hope to be proven wrong, I found that in the end my worst fears were confirmed in an action packed finale so dramatic and horrific that it will probably stay in my mind forever, whenever I lay eyes on a lighthouse. Some imagery would befit a Hitchcock movie, such as the scores of birds committing suicide by throwing themselves against the lighthouse windows attracted by the light. Others are a stark contrast in their beauty, such as the aurora borealis as glimpsed from the top of the tower. And some are made from your worst nightmares, not to be described here because I am not about to spoil the experience for you by giving too much away.

All in all, I AM THE SEA is one of those dark, claustrophobic and highly atmospheric books that comes around only rarely. Written in the first person, it will make you question everything, from the reliability of the narrator to the unravelling of the mind as the isolation takes its toll. And whilst the fascinating facts about the engineering of the lighthouse and the regimen controlling the lives of its keepers was most interesting, the lighthouse and the surrounding hostile sea soon became an evil force that made me shiver. Or was the evil within its walls? Culminating in an action packed, violent and vicious finale, this is a book that should be on your must-read list if you love an eerie, claustrophobic setting and characters who all have something to hide. Cleverly crafted, this book really got under my skin and its images will haunt me for some time to come. Highly recommended.
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‘I am the sea’ is a masterful manipulation of narrative voice to depict the protagonist’s increasingly fractured state of mind. Stanley’s presentation of breakdown and psychosis is compelling and horrifying. The reader is drawn inexorably into the awful revelation of novice lighthouse keeper James Meakes’ descent into delusion and catastrophic violence. Terse and terrifying.
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Lighthouses have always fascinated me, but there is a dark, creepy quality to them that I felt Matt did manage to depict very well.
It had me gripped
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James Meakes is  sent to Ricksaw Reef. He is a young trainee lighthouse keeper & this is his first posting. He is to replace another crewman who has died. From the start James finds it difficult to adjust to. The principal keeper is devoted to his work but not sociable. The second in command & James's room mate is a rude bully & resents having to teach him. When the weather is bad the lighthouse seems as isolated as the moon. The noises & shadows unsettle James & makes him wonder if they are alone. 

This is a wonderful setting & the author creates a spooky but believable atmosphere of menace, However Matt Stanley seems incapable of using one word when he can usually use five- three of which are obscure! As the book continues these become even more scattered. I can see that the author intended to reflect James's state of mind but it is not a pleasure to read. I did get to the end but was left with the conclusion that the best thing about this book was its cover- it really is beautiful! Thanks to Netgalley & the publisher for letting me read & review this book.
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Liked this overall. Decent premise and execution. It doesn't have the polish of a more experienced author, but it's still well done. Fans of gothic and historical fiction will probably like this most.

Thanks very much for the free review copy!!
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A claustrophobic standoff between a small cast of sinister characters stuck inside a dreary and godforsaken lighthouse located off the harsh and windswept Scottish coast and where fear, suspicion and madness seem to lurk at every corner. 
An unforgettable journey at the end of nowhere, very suspenseful and as twisty and devious as the unpredictable and frightening natural furies battering that bleak and desolate beacon totally lost at sea. 

A gorgeously crafted descent into hell to be enjoyed without any moderation whatsoever!

Many thanks to Netgalley and Legend Press for this terrific ARC.
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I loved the setting and atmosphere of this. I am a sucker for lighthouses and I know one person in particular that I cannot wait to tell because she is similarly a sucker for lighthouses. Ultimately, the story didn't wow me. I thought its modern classics approach was clever and the structure and tension built nicely. But ultimately I wasn't wowed by the characters and felt that it dragged on a little too long. A solid read that I enjoyed but wasn't my favorite of the year.
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I'm afraid this wasn't for me. There's nothing wrong with it and it has been well researched but I couldn't get into it,  sorry.
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I Am the Sea is an interesting story about a guy who starts a job at a lighthouse.  The lighthouse does not have a good history and there have been several accidents and deaths over the years, not to mention he will be working with two very odd men.  Right off the bat, it is wordy so you are either going to get used to it, skim it over, or realize this one is not for you.  I enjoyed the atmosphere, the lighthouse is spooky and the writing style makes it feel claustrophobic at times.  Really great sensory writing.  The plot is unique, however,  I am not sure if I grasped the ending or not, I was skimming a bit, and may have passed over something important.  Anyway, it is a really good book and has a great eye-catching cover.
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Atmospheric but needlessly wordy - I had to stop and look up words which drew me out of the reading experience. Loved the way the lighthouse and environment was described but didn't particularly care for the characters.
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This novel is set in 1870 and tells the story of James Meakes, who is the new apprentice lighthouseman on the bleak and remote Ripshaw Reef. Here he joins Principal Principal Bartholomew and Assistant Keeper Adamson, to replace a lighthouse keeper, Spencer, who died in somewhat mysterious circumstances. 

In fact, the novel opens gloomily and somewhat presciently with Meakes on the mainland looking at the lighthouse through a telescope, and at Spencer’s corpse which “has been tied to the balcony railing for five days, enshrouded in a bed-sheet cerement”, awaiting collection by the same boat which is taking Meakes out to his new workplace and home. 

Utterly cut off from the outside world and battered by storms, the lighthouse starts to close in on its three inhabitants. Meakes soon comes to regard himself and his companions as "three mortal men with the seeds of weakness, dissipation and destruction in their souls". Bartholomew has become institutionalised, and doesn’t want to leave the lighthouse; “He can’t tolerate life on land,” declares Adamson (who may himself be on the run for murder). 

Meakes retreats into his journal, and his own thoughts and suspicions. "There is little comfort in proximity”, Meakes confides. “I would like to talk to the other two, but they are rocks unto themselves, each surrounded by his own whirlpools, eddies and hidden reefs. To approach either one is to risk a wreck."

The novel is told in the first person, and – following the trope of the ‘unreliable narrator’ – we the reader soon wonder if we can trust what Meakes is telling us of events as they unfold. After all, he takes “morphia. Just a half a minim. Just to fend things off." 

Carved into the walls and furniture, Meakes find mysterious messages like “Lord, deliver me from this windowless pit” – have they been left by the previous lighthouseman, Spencer, who he’s here to replace?
Meakes starts to see a strange figure, “a very sickly looking boy: pale, emaciated and perhaps a little palsied. His hair fell across his forehead in a damp lick and his dark eyes were ringed with shadow. He was wearing a curious grey suit and seemed entirely unperturbed. My first thought: he looked as if he had just been disinterred.” The boy tells Meakes, “I’ve been here as long as you, James … I’ve been waiting for you. I am always with you. You know that.” The boy suggests dark and terrible courses of action to Meakes, who comes to despise “that poisonous imp, that moribund homunculus". Meakes also sees a strange, owl-like figure, and surmises that "There is some connection, some strange affinity, between owl and boy. One is the harbinger of the other."

When a lighthouse commissioner arrives, he informs James that his paternal uncle, Mr Fowler, who runs an asylum and has helped James get this new position, has been brutally murdered; yet his letter of recommendation for James was, seemingly, written after his death…how?

The commissoner suddenly disappears while walking on the metal parapet outside the lighthouse lantern: was it a tragic accident, did he just fall? Or was it something more sinister, of human agency or even supernatural doing?

Principal Bartholomew is then injured in an accident, and dies as he’s being transported from the lighthouse to the safety of a ship. Another boat is shipwrecked, and James and Adamson rescue survivors – who soon start to meet mysterious and terrible deaths. 

Before long, only James and Adamson are left alive. Adamson tells James, "You’re just another working part of it [the lighthouse]: another cog, another valve, another door or window." As the fog of madness descends, James thinks of himself as "A prisoner in the tower … But I do not feel like a prisoner. Rather, I see myself Ulysses, Diomedes or Pyrrhus expectant in the wooden horse." 

The wild, ungovernable elements outside the lighthouse are nothing compared to the terrifying events which unfold within, as expertly related in this gripping novel, best read in one sitting to let the atmosphere and creeping sense of dread slowly envelop you.


Thanks to Legend Press, NetGalley and the author for an advance copy in exchange of an honest review.
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If I ever have imprints from constantly sitting on the edge of my seat, it’ll be from this book.
James Meakes, a well-educated young man, is starting as an apprentice lighthouse keeper at Ripsaw Lighthouse. Together with Principal Bartholomew and Apprentice Adamson he is to man the lighthouse until he is called away to his next assignment. But as lonesome as the post seems to be at first sight, as onerous the tasks of servicing the great machinery is, as mind-numbingly the routine is, there is something else here. Something lurking, something not obscured or drowned out by the boom of the waves and something quite beyond the inherent dangers of such a place.
The narrative style has touches of Poe, of Stevenson and the oft quoted Shakespeare.
This is a slow creep of gooseflesh, turning into a full-pelt steam train of terror - all very cleverly engineered.
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Thanks to NetGalley and Legend Press for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.
The premise and concept of this book initially really intrigued me. Three men secluded in a lighthouse with an unusually high number of accidents, disappearances, and deaths and how they dealt with this isolation – a great gothic and spooky mystery! Stanley was able to illustrate this well.
Although I understood that the descriptive writing style was a part of the narrator’s character (James Meakes) and often showed his state of mind, certain descriptive sections regarding philosophy or literature were quite wordy (just don’t think this was for me) and I sometimes struggled with the quite technical terminology regarding the lighthouse itself which lost my attention and concentration on the book. 
Although there is some suspense and the lighthouse is shrouded in mystery for a good portion of the book, I wasn’t pulled into the story and wished it had been more thrilling in that aspect. I do like that over time we uncover more about James Meakes and the minor characters to a degree. It is very much character-driven and I too felt the lighthouse and weather also became characters of sorts which I think was my favourite thing I took from the novel.
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A decent story, and the world is built well, but the overly florid language gets in the way. I have never looked up so many words when reading a novel. At first I found this fascinating but as it continued, it wore on me, and in the end the story and characters were not enough to overcome what I found frustrating.
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This is easily one of the best books I've read this year.   Mr. Stanley writes in a gothic horror, Henry Jamesian style appropriate to both his timeframe and physical setting that is done so well and so artfully that it's a pleasure to savor every word.  He is a master of creating atmosphere and mood, particularly the heightened tension of the primary characters.  But that's not all he does -- he succeeds in depicting the unraveling of the first person narrator in a way that utterly astounding.  Slowly he peels back the layers, one by one, until virtual Armageddon has and continues to unfold before you.  I read this book at the same time as The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles,  and I am the Sea squarely stood side by side with it in terms of complexity, depth and its beautiful command of the English language.   Sorry for all the superlatives, but this book really is that good.  And many thanks to Legend Press for my ARC.
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A lighthouse build on a piece of rock is the only secure element in the middle of a harsh sea. She is a breathing creature pounding at the door, at the windows and at every piece of mortar, banging again and again; nature defying man's build.
Inside, the keepers hold on to vast rules and rituals to ensure that man will win. 

  Just as the storm is raging outside, the same applies in the keepers' mind: a tempest is gathering momentum and and a combination of raging elements propels our protagonist in a downward fall, losing touch with reality and crafting its own to be able to cope with his own history.

 This whole tale is being told in beautiful prose and takes the reader into the peculiar lives of 19th century lighthouse keepers. The minute detail of the workings of such a feat of construction was very intriguing and the language used is reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe. I would recommend to read this gothic tale during a stormy weekend, feet up and a nicely filled snifter within reach.

 This is the second book that I've read this year that has a lighthouse as a setting. However, it is completely different from The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex. It is another era, another focus and a completely different style, yet both are perfect!

 A sincere thanks to Legend Press, NetGalley and the author for an advance copy in exchange of an honest review.
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Stanley offers gothic suspense tale perfect for a rainy day or foreboding night.  In elegant prose, Stanley spins a highly atmospheric tale that captures the untamed nature of life by the sea.  I found the descriptions of the living quarters and daily life in a lighthouse to be the most interesting aspect of the book, particularly as they helped ground the more fanciful elements of the tale.  If you are looking for a chilling read for a stormy day, I recommend 'I am the Sea'
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“I will grant you that it may be perilous but this is why we are here. We impose efficiency and order upon the deep” 

James is a newly appointed apprentice at the Ripsaw Reef Lighthouse, located on a rock 20 miles off the coast in the middle of the raging sea and often isolated for entire weeks. The novel opens with a gruesome sight: the corpse of the previous assistant deceased in mysterious circumstances, tied to the railings in a white shroud and half eaten by gulls. At the lighthouse, haunted by the sinister sounds of the mechanisms, of the howling winds and waves breaking against the wall, we meet a bizarre keeper often absorbed in strange experiments and a morose assistant with a dark past. Soon mysterious writings appear on walls, a fourth person seem to lurk in the shadows and one corpse emerges at the reef … this is only the start of a gripping, atmospheric psychological thriller. As James investigates, the author gradually lets us in on the secrets of the lighthouse and engages us in a chilling, unnerving game of cat and mouse that kept me on my toes till the last page. 

This fine piece of lighthouse gothic is superbly crafted. In James (the first-person narrator) the author recreates the voice of an educated nineteenth-century young man – at times I actually  felt as if I was reading Poe. James is well versed in letters (the assistant mocks him by calling him poet), and often draws on his vast knowledge of literature – ventriloquizing Homer, Defoe, Shakespeare, Coleridge – to find imagery and metaphors that describe nature, feelings and situations. The result is stunning, rendering James’ reasoning and ratiocinations, at times crystal clear and at times convoluted, and the paranoia reigning at the lighthouse. The sea is majestic and elemental, rendered with painterly precision and memorable strokes. The literary quotes, often very recognizable, are part of an intriguing game of appropriation and intertextuality, and I actually had fun identifying the sources and the echoes. 

We learn that the lighthouse, with its strict routine and rules, is a pale attempt to bring order onto the primordial chaos of the stormy sea, but in this stunning piece of psychological fiction it holds the mirror to what lurks beneath reason. A hypnotic literary thriller, a subtle piece of postmodern fiction and, above all, a testament to the affective, transformative power of literature. 

4.5

My thanks to Legend Press and NetGalley for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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