Arec Rain's Reviews > Sirena

Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli
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's review
Dec 10, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, historical, mythology, romance, young-adult, favorites

This was another Greek mythology story that completely captured my heart. I was iffy about this one when I started it because it is written in present tense, first person. I loathe reading first person, and present tense just sounds so awkward that I don’t even attempt to read anything written as such. However, from page one, I was hooked.

The story is narrated by one of the 50 mytholgical mermaids, Sirena. She lives with ten of her sisters on an island where they are protected and guided by three guardian birds. The sole purpose of Sirena’s and her sister’s existence is to somehow make human males fall in love them so that the mermaids can become immortal like their ancestors. They live simple lives, dressing up in starfish and pearls and singing to lure ships towards their island where their ship will wreck on the reef just offshore. What makes Sirena different than her sisters, however, is her conscience. Whereas her sisters are only concerned with becoming immortal, Sirena actually cares about the welfare of the men whose lives they put in danger.

When the story begins, Sirena is preening herself before singing to lure not one, but three ships to her sister’s island. The men on the ships fall under their spell and two of the three ships crash upon the reef. Most of the men die because they do not know how to swim. While the ones who know how to swim make it safely to shore, the mermaids try to save as many of the others as they can. Only eleven men initially survive. They eventually die because of lack of resources on the island, but not before they beat one of Sirena’s sisters, Cecilia, to death for trying to save a drowning sailor.

Shortly after, Sirena runs away to the island of Lemnos to escape the life she has been subjected to. There, she tries to help heal Philoctetes who has been bitten by a serpent sent by Hera. From there, their relationship blossoms and they come to love each other despite their differences, including Sirena’s newly acquired immortality. Eventually however, Odysseus comes to obtain Hercules bow and arrows from Philoctetes so that the Greeks can win the Trojan War. The book ends with Philoctetes leaving with Odysseus, leaving Sirena on the deserted island of Lemnos.

This book completely crushed my heart. All in all, the book was actually pretty graphic for what I thought was an independent reader novel. Whenever Cecilia is killed by the sailors, Napoli gruesomely describes the mermaid’s smashed in face. Sirena makes multiple references to their beautiful breasts. While Napoli had enough decently to leave out any sex scenes, it is blatantly alluded to.

The majority of the novel is Sirena and Philoctetes bonding and building their relationship. Napoli takes us through the two learning about each other, bantering playfully, and falling in love. Only to rip them apart. It was so anticlimactic and soul-crushing, I almost started crashing.

All in all, it was a great novel. Despite being written in first person, it was expertly written. I love the simplicity of Sirena’s thinking. It is clear that she lacks any education beyond her island world. Reading about Sirena and Philoctete’s developing relationship was enchanting.

Definitely worth the heart break at the end.

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