Book Review: Mary: Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow

Title: Mary : Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow

Written by: Kate Cunningham

Cover designed by: Rachel Lawston

Published by: Reading Riddle

Mary : Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow by Kate Cunningham

This multi-viewpoint, plot driven, YA novel is set in a dystopian post-pandemic world. Kate in her acknowledgements explains she wrote the first draft of Mary: Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow before Covid but completed her edits during the lockdowns.

This topical novel portrays a realistic insight into human nature. It is about a young girl known as Mary who has lived her whole life in a laboratory where everything was white. She has been kept alone apart from the testers who take samples from her dressed in full hazmat gear. The rest of society is run by five distinct groups.

“The five wealthiest men of the time of the plague had hidden away in their bunkers, then swooped in to take control as the old order crumbled, floundered and failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation until it was too late.”

Extract from page 34 of Mary: Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow by Kate Cunningham.

The five are:

  • Howner who ran the power supply
  • Charris who managed transport and medical supplies
  • Wuchenoge who organised security
  • Dansy who was head of housing.
  • Girin who controlled the orphan child-labour workforce who lived in the child bank.

The majority of the people live in poverty and many find themselves in situations where the only way for them to survive is to sell off a child to the child bank to live with the orphans. These children spend the rest of their lives working off their debt for being housed and fed.

Vander is one of the children from the child bank and was recently given the job as a tester in the Charris facility with responsibility for taking the samples from Mary. He feels sorry for her. He has lived through the Red Plague and seen the choices families had to make to survive. His feelings about her captivity and the desire to make a connection with someone leads him to release Mary. His actions trigger events that spiral out of control and change countless lives. Mary must decide what price to put on her new found freedom.

Each chapter is relatively short making it a hard novel to put down. At first I found it a little disconcerting as there is no one character the reader can identify with as we jump in and out of everybody’s head. Also a lot of, seemingly at first, main characters die. However, this multi-viewpoint approach did not put me off and I believe most YA readers will cope with this style of writing and will enjoy the novel for the intriguing and compelling plot, that lingers in your mind long after the book is finished.

There is a strong desire to know how it is going to end. Kate has plotted some brilliant twists and turns that keeps you guessing until the end. I think Mary: Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow would make an excellent movie.

You can buy copies of Mary: Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow by Kate Cunningham through all bookshops, large or small, and all the usual outlets online. Kate also has a free short story, linked to Mary, which is available through the newsletter on her website:

You can find out more about Kate Cunningham and her books on her website:, on Twitter @reading_riddle, on Instagram @reading_riddle, on Facebook: and on TikTok: @readingriddle.

I have previously interviewed Kate Cunningham about her writing process for Mary: Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow as part of her blog tour. You can see the interview here: Blog Tour – Mary : Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow by Kate Cunningham.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Anne Cater from Random Things Through My Letterbox for sending me a review copy of the book to review on my blog.

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