The Trench by Steve Alten

The TrenchThe second book in Steve Alten’s Meg series, The Trench, is good fun, but it is not what I expected it to be. The prehistoric Great White Shark, the Megalodon, is an antagonist in this book, but it is not the antagonist like it was in the first book. Did that take away from my enjoyment of it? The jury is still out on that one. I’ll explain more below.

I was excited to read this book after finishing the first one, as it kind of set me off on a Meg kick. I did watch The Meg, by the way. It was just okay. I loved the shark, and it had some creepy moments, but I don’t think the producers, director, and actor got Jonas right, and that was a big deal to me. I just didn’t care about him; it didn’t matter to me whether he lived or died, and I wasn’t rooting for him like I have been in the books. This story needs a hero the audience cares about. The books have one. This book has two.

Plot Synopsis (Spoiler-Free)

Angel, the female offspring of the Megalodon in the first book, is living in an aquarium in the Tanaka Institute. People from all over the world pay money to come see her and watch her feed. Outgrowing her tank, she wants free.

Jonas Taylor is now married to Terry Tanaka (now Tanaka-Taylor), and their marriage is on the fritz because Jonas can’t move past the events of the previous novel, including his first encounter with a Megalodon in the Mariana Trench that left him responsible for the deaths of two scientists before the events of the first novel. To put it simply, he is obsessed with the Meg.

Jonas has been having vivid nightmares about piloting a submersible into the Mariana Trench and being killed along with his wife, Terry, by a Megalodon. His nightmares start to come to fruition when Terry accompanies Benedict Singer (the businessman who bailed out the Tanaka Institute when they came into financial troubles due to legal cases from the deaths of the first novel) into the trench, and Angel escapes captivity.

Review

Aptly titled The Trench, this book is much deeper than the first book. I’m punny, right? No? Let’s move on.

Strengths

1. Characterization – What’s interesting is I listed characterization as a weakness of the first book. In this book, it is definitely a strength. While I commented on the fact that we don’t learn much more about Jonas than we do in the first third of the first book, in this book, Jonas grows a lot. He is incredibly flawed, and he risks everything to set his life right. What’s more is he is upstanding; he’s so dang likeable, it is hard not to root for him. He rebuffs advances of a beautiful woman he admits he is attracted to remain loyal to his wife, he comes to terms with and admits how messed up he truly is, and he sees the escaped Meg as his responsibility, his problem to fix.

Terry takes on a major role in this novel; I would say she is the protagonist for roughly half of the book. The book is called The Trench, after all. While the title could be figurative for Jonas, making a statement on the past that haunts him, it is literal for Terry, as she spends the novel actually in the trench. Quickly realizing that things are not as they seem aboard the Benthos, she is forced into survival mode. She experiences the power of fear and is able to empathize with her husband, Jonas, and regret how she acted toward him. Terry survives guilt, physical abuse, emotional manipulation and abuse, a rape attempt, and more while in the trench. She realizes that she is going to have to depend on herself to escape the trench alive. In doing so, she finds strength, cunningness, and endurability she did not know was within her.

Something I truly admired was how Alten was able to make Jonas and Terry’s relationship grow and change without the two of them together. When they reunite at the end of the book, their marriage has a new lease, and I was able to see and appreciate how far they both have come to be better partners for one another. Had Terry or Jonas died, or if they did not end back up together, it would have sank the book for me. Sank — look, I did it again.

As I mentioned above, the major antagonist of The Trench is not the Meg. It is two human characters: Benedict and Celeste Singer. They are thoroughly developed and thoroughly interesting, if not disturbing. Their histories contribute to who they are and what they do. Benedict is the antagonist for Terry while Celeste is the antagonist for Jonas. Both characters play with the protagonists mentally and emotionally. I loved hating them during my read. Despite not liking these characters, I actually found myself feeling for Celeste at a scene near the end of the book when she reveals that she has discovered Benedict, who she has been sleeping with since the age of 14, is the man who murdered her mother, and in a shocking twist, she discovers he is actually her father. That’s disgusting. It was satisfying watch her set up Benedict’s death.

My soft feelings for Celeste did not last long, and it was equally satisfying reading the scene of her death at the hands of Jonas via the Megalodon.

2. Megalodon – Although the Meg took a side seat and seemed like somewhat of an afterthought in this book, the scenes with the Meg were interesting and fun to read. Like a good horror sequel, the kill count was higher in this book than in the first. The whale killings grew old after the first couple (Count how many times you read the word “agony” in these scenes), and the human killings were not as beautifully written as they were in the first book, but they were interesting, and in the human victims’ short time in the book, I actually felt for them and was disturbed by their deaths. Major ones that come to mind are a boy named Kevin who tried to warn his sister about the Meg and later fell overboard and was killed by the Meg himself, a grandmother who was attending her granddaughter’s ship wedding and was killed by the Meg when she ship sank, and a kayaker who flipped her kayak to take underwater pictures of whales only for the kayak to be flipped back around by her husband who found the top half of her gone.

There was a really intense scene where two other kayakers attempt to escape the Meg, and the Meg busts through the bridge they are running and brings a restaurant into the sea. I really wanted those two characters to live for some reason. It felt great when they escaped, but what a ride.

3. Foreshadowing the Ending – I think the ending was really well done. Jonas has nightmares of going into the Mariana Trench, finding Terry, and then being killed with her by the Meg. He had these nightmares before Terry even went into the trench. Piece by piece, the nightmare comes to fruition: Terry enters the trench, the deep sea submersible is loaded on Jonas’ ship, the Meg goes to the trench to mate, and Jonas realizes he has to take the submersible into the trench to save Terry. It is like his fate is determined and there is nothing he can do to stop it.

As Terry and he are escaping, Jonas sees the white glow of the Meg coming from below him. A Kronosaurus attacks their submersible, and Angel chomps onto the Kronosaurus. Angel eyes Jonas and Terry in the submersible and lets them go, descending back into the trench with her kill.

I like this because life is not predetermined. Jonas is able to see that his fear is just that. Plus, it would have really sucked if Jonas and Terry took me 400+ pages through the novel only to die here.

Weaknesses

1. Kronosauruses – Am I pluralizing that word correctly? Anyway, what the heck are they doing in this book? Sure, I guess they are interesting, but the book was interesting without them. The Meg is enough. I picked up the book because of the Meg. I think their addition takes the series into a weak area, because if they exist, what else does? If we have all of these prehistoric predatory creatures, why call the series Meg? They take the focus off of the Meg, who already feels like an afterthought because of  the strong human antagonists and story.

2. Plot Jumping – The book jumped between characters: Jonas, Terry, the Meg, and victims of the Meg. The first book did this to show us the Meg’s kills, and I am fine with the technique because it shows us more, but it was annoying in this book. I felt like two stories were going on simultaneously: Jonas’s and Terry’s, and when one got exciting, the book would jump to the other story. I wanted to find out what happened next, and I was forced to read through something I was less invested in before finding out what happened. Where I would have kept reading in a sitting if the storyline continued, because it shifted, I had “stopping places” to put the book down, and I did. This book took me longer to get through as a result.

3.  Obvious “Developments” – Alten had a character reveal a fact to Jonas and subsequently me, the reader, after it was already obvious to me. I knew that Celeste was after the coordinates from Jonas’s early voyage to the Mariana Trench because of how many times she asked for them. I didn’t need to be told by a CIA agent that that was what Celeste was after. I also knew Heath had been killed because there were cameras. Terry finding the body was not shocking to me. I get the feeling these “reveals” were meant to be shocking, and they just weren’t. The reveals made me feel like I was being spoon fed, and I just rolled my eyes and muttered, “I got it.”

Final Thoughts

I know I was hard on the book toward the end of this review, but I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t read it again, but I am willing to continue on to the next book in the series because of my affinity for Jonas and Terry. With its strong characterization, this book made me truly care for these characters, and I want to find out what happens next for them.

As I wrote above, the book was not bad, but it was not what I wanted or expected. I would have preferred a lot more of the Megalodon in this book, and I hope we get less of other prehistoric creatures in future installments. However, I have an inkling the Kronosauruses are just the beginning of where Alten is going in a random, uncalled for divergence from the Megalodon in this series. If I’m right, I will be sad.

Oh, one more thing! I commented on my review of the first book that it would be a good read for reluctant readers because of its fast-paced plot and that it is appropriate for younger readers (primarily high school readers). I would not recommend this sequel to younger readers. There is sex and language in this book. It didn’t turn me off as an adult reader, but it would be remiss of me to not bring it up since I pushed the first book for adolescents.

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