Tell Me More: No single story in sea mythology has fascinated me as deeply as that of the selkie. Ireland is rife with tales of seal women emerging from the waves and ensnaring the hearts of men for centuries, but make no mistake: there are almost never any happy endings. The selkie woman is an unpredictable creature, and it is only through deception that a man can keep her. If she finds her skin, she will return to the sea without another thought for the man or any children she might have. Margo Lanagan takes these legends and breathes life into them in the stunning Brides of Rollrock Island.
Each of the stories in this book is peculiar, and the average YA reader may not find it easy to follow the weaving writing styles that Lanagan employs. If you want to know more about the titular brides, you have to work for every observation, every tiny bubble of information scattered throughout the various conversations in each chapter. It will be frustrating, and I would not be surprised if readers gave up and just tried to read the last chapter to figure everything out. But if they stick with it? A tale unlike any other will reward them for their patience and trust in Lanagan's ability.
The novel opens with a a group of boys observing the "witch" Misskaella along the seashore. It's not clear if they really think she has supernatural powers or if they are simply repeating town gossip. Within the first few paragraphs, Lanagan sets up an "us-versus-them" mentality among the island's inhabitants, but the reader is never pressured into choosing sides. Indeed, the novel relies on the use of varying perspectives to flesh out the entire story and allow the reader to make their own conclusions.
As I was familiar with the selkie stories of the Orkney Islands before reading this book, I didn't have to do as much work to understand the hints Lanagan drops about Misskaella's true nature. She isn't the main focus of the story, but she does influence everything that happens, and I appreciated having such an unpredictable and intelligent female presence in the story.
It is the women who shine in Rollrock--they are far more dynamic and alive than the men. While on the surface, it seems as though the men of Rollrock are taking advantage of Misskaella and the selkies, the tables are turned very quickly. Every man grows to fear their wives' return to the sea. Their young sons are torn between love for their ethereal mothers and respect for their fathers' wishes. The Brides of Rollrock Island is a love letter to women in all forms, and it speaks to the myriad ways in which women are still overlooked in many parts of the world.
The Final Say: Margo Lanagan has written a fantastic, lush and utterly enchanting novel that deserves to be recognized alongside Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber and Jeanette Winterson's The Passion.
Tell Me More:The quality that has always drawn me into any sort of fantastical, supern...moreYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Tell Me More: The quality that has always drawn me into any sort of fantastical, supernatural story is the tenuous balance between life and death. Creatures such as vampires, werewolves, mermaids--they are Other, and yet their existence and the human belief in them reflect on humanity itself. They represent, among other things, what we like to think of as our baser instincts and their coiled violence is both the most appealing and revolting thing about them. In Monstrous Beauty, Elizabeth Fama draws on the connection between human nature and the otherworldly creatures that fascinate us to write a story of grief and hope in the midst of death.
Fama's prose may not be the familiar, easy first-person narrative that YA readers are used to, but it is the kind of writing that rewards patience and subsequent rereadings. In the last six months, I have reread Monstrous Beauty twice and each time, I find myself surprised by the depth of the sentences. The best stories have an unmistakable melody about them, one that flows naturally between the words, and this story absolutely achieves that. The third-person POV also provides distance, which helps to keep the reader from being swayed one way or the other between the characters. Alternating chapters keep the reader on their toes, and the pacing worked with the mood of the story to keep it interesting. Objectivity is important, because the story never goes where you think it will, and it never loses that element of surprise.
Likewise, the characters aren't flashy, but they are rich in nuances. I never knew if I was making a good decision to side with Syrenka, appropriately enough--after all, she is a dangerous mermaid. You will feel afraid of her, and I loved that I couldn't predict what she would do next. I never knew if Ezra was truly who he said he was, and that intrigued me far more than if he had been the usual charming YA hero. The only character I thought might have been "safe" was Hester, and even then, it was only because she and I were both trying to find answers to our questions. The relationships never dive into insta-love territory, which was a welcome change. Monstrous Beauty makes you think while you read, which may not make it a popular book, but certainly an excellent one.
Part of that excellence stems from the themes. This is not a paranormal story so much as a tale based solidly in history and family. Hester's job in a historical reenactment village ties her to both the community and her own family history. She isn't a lost soul looking for where she belongs, and there is a whole host of people that help ground her in the town. The ambiance is brilliantly set with little insights into the history and character of Hester's home, and it shifts the focus from mermaids to humanity. There is a warmth to the story that comforts the reader during the horrifying revelations that later occur, and I loved that Fama was willing to take a chance writing this kind of story.
Love-as-sacrifice also comes into play, and while I won't be talking about this particular theme as much for fear of spoiling it, suffice to say that the way Hester grows into that idea is absolutely stunning. Because there is a real growth, a change that comes over the characters as they move through the story, and I loved being able to reread the book and pinpoint where that growth began. The foreshadowing is present, but never overt, and it gives readers a puzzle to unlock. As the reader is led towards the shocking climax, Fama never lets the story threads fall to pieces, and holding such a tightly woven plot together is a challenge. Hester's fear of falling in love never feels contrived to fit the story, and the reasons behind that fear are revealed in a masterfully written denouement which may bring tears to readers' eyes.
The Final Say: Elizabeth Fama achieves an outstanding feat in Monstrous Beauty, with characters that never feel worn in and a plot that will surprise and startle even the most worldly readers.
Initial thoughts: 2 for 2 with your 2012 books, Jackson Pearce. You are quickly becoming one of my favourite authors AAAAAAAAND I think I would read an...moreInitial thoughts: 2 for 2 with your 2012 books, Jackson Pearce. You are quickly becoming one of my favourite authors AAAAAAAAND I think I would read anything you wrote, including but not limited to a reinterpretation of the phone book.
Release Date: September 4, 2012 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 304 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: Human beings are funny things. Hand us a mystery, we'll not only preoccupy ourselves with solving it, but as frustration builds, we'll also come up with myriad explanations for all the things we cannot understand. The vastness of the ocean is one particular mystery that has enthralled people for centuries, and even as we make our marks on planets in the galaxy, knowing what lurks in the depths of the sea is still a challenge. Likewise, the human mind never quite lets us in all the time, and it can even turn on us as quickly as a storm can develop in open sea. Jackson Pearce's new novel Fathomless is a brilliant study of identity and memory through characters that are tied to the water in ways they can't comprehend.
Upon beginning this story, I was struck with the poignancy of the title Pearce chose. The word is lyrical, reminiscent of sea shanties and old tales, and yet it always seemed to hide something more. Celia and Lo's story is much the same: both girls are aware of their lives, and they can locate themselves through what they do, but there is something deeper that neither of them feel comfortable poking at. Neither of them are comfortable with their identities. Celia is tired of being a triplet, simply "Anne and Jane's sister," and Lo struggles with the memory of a name, Naida, and what it means for her own identity as Lo. It's a confusing and discomfiting experience for both girls, as adolescence always is. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Pearce used a third-person POV in the prologue--which introduces Lo--because it sets up the distance between Lo and the human race, of which she is no longer a part. While the rest of the story alternates between Celia and Lo's point-of-views, the prose remains beautifully written.
One of the most interesting themes of the novel is centered around how memory gives us our identity. Celia has the ability to see anyone's past, but her own father loses his memories because of Alzheimer's. She can't help him get those memories back, and so his identity as her father is lost as well. Lo's memories as Naida quickly force her to choose who she will be, because they cannot both exist in the same body. Celia would do anything to help her father remember, but she can't--Naida pushes Lo to kill a boy to get Naida's soul back. Memories set up a powerful dynamic between the girls and make them decide once and for all what they are willing to do to be who they want to be. Can you grow without knowing what came before? Can you be different without knowing how you've changed? Is giving up the past for a new future the right thing to do?
As easy as it would be to focus on the paranormal aspects of this novel, I think that would do it an injustice. Disney's version of The Little Mermaid is sanitized for children, and Pearce's choice to base the story more on Hans Christian Andersen's tale was a wise one. It asks the same questions without diluting the consequences of the mermaid's choice, and it ties into Fathomless' themes of transformation and identity. Like the titular mermaid, Lo wants to know more than what she is expected to believe. She goes in search of knowledge, of memory, and she makes choices that aren't always wise. But I absolutely loved the development of her character, and I think it works better than Celia's own journey, which was more connected to the love story. The relationship between Jude and Celia was the weakest part of the story, in my opinion, and I think it would have benefited with a bit more time spent on that development. I do believe that the core of Fathomless was the connection between Celia and Lo, and it succeeds with aplomb.
The Final Say: Jackson Pearce brings some tough questions to her third fairytale retelling, and the result is a nuanced, passionate story of the choices we make and the connections we forge in our need for identity. Fathomless is one of her strongest novels to date. (less)
Tell Me More: In the year or so since I've been blogging, I've read and reviewed more novels about mermaids than I've read in my entire life. They've always fascinated me, but I've only been able to really savour the richness of their mythology in the last few months. Ethereal and mysterious as they are, it can be difficult to push through the haze and find a story worth telling. Sarah Porter did it once with Lost Voices, and she succeeds again, brilliantly, with Waking Storms.
For quite a while, I caught myself referring to this book as Waking Voices, which was a great connection that my brain drew on its own. Luce is certainly waking up to the loneliness of her existence, and she begins to own her voice and her actions. Despite losing the chance to grow up physically, she learns to grow emotionally--she takes the risk of loving someone besides herself, and she learns to deal with the consequences of her actions in the previous book.
Curiously enough, many readers are bothered by how quickly the relationship between Luce and Dorian develops, but I believe this is one instance where the "insta-love" can be pardoned, at least for this book. It's important to remember that Luce is 14 years old, and will never have the chance to grow up. She certainly makes leaps and strides in emotional growth, but at heart, she is still a child. She encounters emotions and situations that even adults would be hesitant to experience, and she does her best with what she knows. Those of us past adolescence know how heightened everything becomes, from the slightest insult to the greatest joys. I never excused Luce for her actions, but I can very much understand where they come from, and I appreciated Sarah Porter's dedication to letting Luce's characterization expand even as it remains realistic.
... I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves Combing the white hair of the waves blown back When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
Likewise, the plot is one that unfolds slowly and steadily. Luce's decision to split from her tribe of mermaids was a brave one, and her journey is just as compelling. Early in the story, a beautiful poem by T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is mentioned, and unconscious or not, the story runs parallel to the poem. The last line is particularly chilling to consider in reference to Waking Storms: Luce is surrounded at all sides by human beings who are cruel, reckless and selfish. The very race with whom she wishes to co-exist wants to destroy her. Her tribe has morphed into something she cannot fathom. Sarah Porter's prose is gut-wrenchingly beautiful, even when it is heavy with sadness.
There will be time, there will be time To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; There will be time to murder and create, And time for all the works and days of hands That lift and drop a question on your plate; Time for you and time for me, And time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea.
Time and the loss of it is a theme that lies quite heavily on the story. The mermaids' time seems to be ending, and Luce and Dorian's relationship is slave to lost time as well. There are mistakes and risks in looking back at the past, and Luce and the mermaids are trapped by their instinct to seek revenge for those experiences. It's a time for change for each and every character in this book, and that is a truly powerful and creative dynamic to add to the story.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
Luce is the eye of the storm in this trilogy, despite her wish to live a quiet and peaceful life. Like J. Alfred Prufrock, Luce is searching for something she can't quite name, because of fear and anger and loss. After reading Waking Storms, it's very obvious that she will have to make some awful choices to get her wish, and she will have to face the things she can't forgive herself for doing. The Luce that readers will find at the end of this installment is vastly different from the damaged young girl inLost Voices. She grows into a girl who will be worthy of the battles she has to fight in the next book, whether it's against her tribe, Dorian or herself. Her inner strength will carry her through, despite the temptation to take the easy road. I look forward to seeing her grow into a formidable and truly beautiful person.
The Final Say: While Lost Voices is captivating and enthralling, Waking Storms is powerful in the raw pain and uncertainty it displays. Sarah Porter raises the stakes, not only for Luce, but for every single character, with writing that is more melodic than a song.
Release Date:July 4, 2011 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Age Group: Young Adult Page...moreYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: July 4, 2011 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 304 Format: Hardcover Source: Finished copy received from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for review
What happens to the girls nobody sees—the ones who are ignored, mistreated, hidden away? The girls nobody hears when they cry for help?
Fourteen-year-old Luce is one of those lost girls. After her father vanishes in a storm at sea, she is stuck in a grim, gray Alaskan fishing village with her alcoholic uncle. When her uncle crosses an unspeakable line, Luce reaches the depths of despair. Abandoned on the cliffs near her home, she expects to die when she tumbles to the icy, churning waves below. Instead, she undergoes an astonishing transformation and becomes a mermaid.
A tribe of mermaids finds Luce and welcomes her in—all of them, like her, lost girls who surrendered their humanity in the darkest moments of their lives. The mermaids are beautiful, free, and ageless, and Luce is thrilled with her new life until she discovers the catch: they feel an uncontrollable desire to drown seafarers, using their enchanted voices to lure ships into the rocks.
Luce’s own talent at singing captures the attention of the tribe’s queen, the fierce and elegant Catarina, and Luce soon finds herself pressured to join in committing mass murder. Luce’s struggle to retain her inner humanity puts her at odds with her friends; even worse, Catarina seems to regard Luce as a potential rival. But the appearance of a devious new mermaid brings a real threat to Catarina’s leadership and endangers the very existence of the tribe. Can Luce find the courage to challenge the newcomer, even at the risk of becoming rejected and alone once again?
Lost Voices is a captivating and wildly original tale about finding a voice, the healing power of friendship, and the strength it takes to forgive.
Discovery:Lost Voices is the first mermaid book I've read in years, thanks to all the buzz on book blogs and Goodreads. [Full disclosure: I am writing this review after having read the second book, Waking Voices, so many of the themes I noticed are more fully fleshed out in WV. ]
+ Luce. The fourteen-year-old protagonist of this novel isn't a Katniss or a Gemma Doyle or even a Bella. She's just a girl looking for a home and the cabin she inhabits with her uncle is a trap in itself. It's clear from the first page that she never belonged on land.
There are a lot of things I loved about this novel, but Luce herself was a big part of it. Her tentative and vibrant voice carried the story. There were times when I had to put the book down because my heart would ache with sympathy and concern for her, and the rest of the mermaids. None of us were wise at 14. But Luce will never age, never grow up, never have a real future full of changes. It is a terrifying fate that was handed to her, and while she might seem fragile and easily broken at first, she becomes a force to reckon with. Her story is inspiring as it is terrible.
+ Themes. Popular culture is familiar with the image of the carefree, beautiful mermaid. None of them asked for their fate, and their story challenges the reader to reconsider what justice really means. Is justice served when the mermaids sing to kill? Do they have the right to take revenge on innocent humans for their crimes? And is music truly beautiful when it commits acts of violence? The mermaids were victims, but the reader learns to consider all sides of the story.
Honestly, Lost Voices is not an easy book to read. The story is emotionally wrenching, and the characters are so very alive that it almost makes you want to look for them in the ocean. But it is a story that needed to be told, and told well. T.S. Eliot writes in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock": I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each/I do not think that they will sing to me. In Lost Voices, the melodies are haunting and flow through every word. It is up to the reader to decipher the true nature of those words and see the beauty beneath it all.
Recommendations: When I am asked to recommend a mermaid novel, this is always the first to come to mind, and rightly so. Lost Voices draws deep into the reader's soul and captures them in its unending song.
Release Date: May 1, 2012 Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 384 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from author/publisher
Tell Me More: Over the last six months, mermaid novels have multiplied, quickly being touted as the new "angels" of YA. After all, the ocean is the last great frontier, and no one knows exactly what is to be found in its deepest corners. Zoraida Cordova's debut novel The ViciousDeep is a crackingly honest story about a boy who discovers just how many secrets can lie under the waves.
There is no one like Tristan Hart. At once irreverent and introverted, passionate and shy, he is just one of the story's many enigmas. His narration is well-paced, his voice unmistakable and vibrant. Zoraida's characterization sold me on this boy who is, quite literally, in the middle of two worlds and made me worry and cheer for him. I am hesitant to label him as a "jock," even though he heads the swim team, because he doesn't seem like he cares enough about it. But neither could he be termed an "outcast"--his moments of arrogance will have you rolling your eyes more than once. The complex nature of his character kept me interested even in chapters where I could pick out the next few plot twists.
Speaking of plot, the initial exposition was a bit tedious and unevenly paced. You aren't given enough time to let Tristan's world sink in before some major changes start to happen, and if you're a fast reader like me, it's double whiplash. Once the plot hits its stride, however, it steadily builds to the climax with lots of great scenes between Tristan and his family and friends. I appreciated how Zoraida took the time to give each of her characters both shining and rusty moments--it helps to solidify their voice in my mind, especially Layla. She took shape almost immediately in my head and I loved that she was confident and comfortable speaking her mind. She could have easily been overshadowed by Tristan, but I got the sense that they are each other's halves in a way. There's something each of them need to be a whole person and they haven't quite realized what it is yet.
Lastly, the mythology that Zoraida creates in The Vicious Deep is remarkable, because it is at once familiar and novel enough to turn heads. I loved the structure and clarity of hierarchy that is displayed. When a story's background is thought out well, it becomes invisible to the reader. It wasn't easy picking out things that could have been improved, backstory-wise, and that's something to be lauded.
The Final Say: The Vicious Deep will draw readers into a realm of skin-prickling mystery and brilliant characterization--I dare anyone not to find something to like in this thrilling new YA series.(less)
Tell Me More: If you're at all familiar with this blog, then you know that my reactions to paranormal novels can go one of two ways: either I find many themes to criticize, or I love it unconditionally. Mermaids, not surprisingly, tend to be the combo breakers. My own fascination for the sea and its mysteries tends to colour my opinions in ways I don't always see. Of Poseidon, while remaining a novel I enjoyed, does have some areas worth poking a finger into and seeing what comes out.
The scope of the novel is rather ambitious for a debut author, and I must commend Anna Banks for daring to rewrite mythology and fantasy to lay the foundations for her story. There aren't many holes in the plot, and what holes exist seem to be questions that will be answered in the succeeding novels. Speaking of succeeding novels, I had no idea this was supposed to be a series when I read it, and the ending did catch me by surprise. I had fully set myself up for a standalone novel, and I will admit to moments of frustration near the end when it didn't look like things were going to be wrapped up. If I had known there would be a second and third book, I might have been a little more forgiving toward some characters and plotlines.
That said, what Banks offers in this first installment is more solid than many debut novels. There's no dancing around the big reveal of Emma's ancestry, and though the way it plays out is a bit predictable for someone who has read so many paranormal novels, it is still fun to watch unfold. The entire story is extremely enjoyable and its lighthearted nature makes it an easy read as well. Banks is particularly gifted with zippy dialogue, which won't come as a surprise to anyone who follows her on social media. I get the sense that there is a lot of Anna in Of Poseidon, from the laugh-out-loud humour to the sentiments and frustrations that Emma expresses. That extra nudge of author personality adds to the spirit of the novel in many ways. Despite the paranormal/fantastical nature of the story, it has a human heart and a very human joy, one that will please readers of all ages.
The Final Say: Surprising me with a knock-out mermaid story, Of Poseidon carries itself with grace and humour. Anna Banks is an author to watch and laugh with, as she merrily swims along.(less)