Book Review: Fathomless by Jackson Pearce
I can’t write about Fathomless and express what I thought and felt reading this book without including SPOILERS — so consider this fair warning! This review will include plot spoilers, including the major twist that readers discover toward the end. If you don’t want to know, stop reading now! Seriously, final notice!
Are you still here?
Sure you don’t want to look away?
Really, really sure?
Fathomless looks like a mermaid story, right? I mean, look at the cover. That’s a mermaid. Absolutely, without doubt.
Except the girls/creatures in Fathomless aren’t actually mermaids, or at least not the fairy tale and Disney versions of mermaids. For starters — no tails. Not at all. They have legs and feet, just like when they were human. And that’s a key point as well. You know how Ariel is the daughter of King Triton? No mermaid royalty here — these girls were once human, but have somehow been transformed into creatures who live in the ocean, happily swimming with their sisters all day long and bit by bit forgetting their previous lives.
Our main mermaid girl is Lo, who lives under the sea (not in a pineapple…) off the coast of Georgia. She still yearns vaguely for the lights of the human world, but grows more and more content with her underwater life with each passing day. She knows that she was once someone else and had a different name, but can’t remember those details any longer. She and her “sisters” share the belief that they were brought to live in the ocean by an angel, and that someday, when they’ve turned into one of the beautiful but vacant old ones, they’ll leave the ocean and become angels themselves.
There’s another path that the ocean girls believe in, even thought they’ve never seen it happen: Legend says that an ocean girl (sorry, I have a hard time calling them mermaids) can regain a human soul and a human life by getting a human boy to fall in love with her — and then drowning him. At that point, she takes his soul and can go back to living on land as a regular girl again. Okay, yeah, she’ll also have murdered someone to get there, but why quibble?
Celia is our main human point of view. She’s one of triplets — her sisters Jane and Anne are identical, and Celia is the odd girl out. All three have powers of sight: Through touch, Celia can read someone’s past, Jane reads the present, and Anne sees the future. The sisters live in a small Georgia beach town in their prep school dorm, supported by a distant uncle after their mother’s death and their elderly father’s descent into the fog of Alzheimer’s.
Celia and Lo collide one night when guitar-playing cute boy Jude falls off a pier into the ocean. Lo pulls him from the sea, Celia performs CPR, and Jude comes back to life. He falls for Celia, but he remembers hearing a song while he was being rescued — and Celia doesn’t sing. Celia and Jude form a relationship, but at the same time, Celia is drawn back to the beach to seek out the mysterious girl she saw disappear back into the ocean.
Lo is able to leave the water, but each step on land is torture for her, leaving her in agony and with bleeding feet. As Celia and Lo begin to know one another, Celia touches Lo and is able to see her past as a human. As Celia uncovers Lo’s history, Lo begins to remember her life as Naida, a normal human girl with a home and a family. Lo and Naida are presented as two separate personalities struggling for dominance; sometimes we see Lo’s perspective on life in the ocean, and sometimes we get Naida, who considers herself a prisoner and yearns to be free.
So far, so good. In fact, I liked Fathomless quite a bit for about the first 2/3 of the book. And then it took a twist that more or less ruined it for me.
To backtrack a bit, according to Goodreads, Fathomless is book #3 in author Jackson Pearce’s Fairytale Retellings series. I’ve read the previous two books, Sisters Red and Sweetly, although it’s been a few years since then and I’d forgotten a lot of the details. I remembered the vague plot outlines, and remembered that I’d found the books enjoyable, but didn’t remember much more than that.
So… I picked up Fathomless while under the impression that the author had written a series of separate novels, with a common theme of being inspired by different fairy tales. And then 2/3 of the way through Fathomless, I was smacked in the head by how wrong I was. All three of these novels are connected, and let me just say: Weird.
All of a sudden, in the middle of a book about quasi-mermaid-creatures, there are werewolves. Yup. Werewolves. Apparently, werewolves steal girls away and stick them in the ocean as some sort of incubator — and when the girls are done, they come back out of the ocean and join the werewolf pack. Or something. Sisters Red was about a Buffy-ish werewolf slayer fighting hordes of evil monsters. In Sweetly, as I’d completely forgotten until reading a synopsis last night, a Hansel and Gretel retelling ends up having werewolves behind the town’s evil secret as well. And now, here they are again, finding twins, killing one outright and biting the other, then putting her into the sea to cook or stew or whatever it is they’re doing down there. Supposedly, it has to be twins – something about sharing the soul, blah blah blah. To be honest, my eyes had started to glaze over at this point in the story so the twin rationale kind of escaped me. Or was just ridiculous to begin with. One of the two.
I liked the story of Celia and Jude well enough, although the two other triplets, Anne and Jane, seemed a bit amorphous to me. We learn about some of their habits, but their inner workings are a little vague and seem altogether too inconsistent for me to ever to get a true sense of who they are, what they want, and what role Celia plays in their lives. But their story, as interwoven with the story of Lo/Naida and the ocean girls, gets lost somewhere along the way, and the entire thing just falls apart by the end.
The werewolf twist comes out of nowhere and makes no sense. I was kind of enjoying the twist on the Little Mermaid fairy tale up to that point, and found some of the descriptions of the ocean world to be quite lovely. But the entire plot just falls apart when the werewolf element is introduced — at which point, I realized that the pieces that seemed to promise an interesting take on a traditional tale, such as the mermaids being formerly human girls, were all for nothing. If the author is trying to build an entire world in this series, then the connection needs to be stronger to make it work, rather than randomly introducing werewolves into a mermaid story. Better yet, in my opinion, would have been creating these stories as stand-alone fairy tale retellings that provide unique takes on traditional tales, without trying to force a big-picture framework onto them.
I see that book #4 in the Fairytale Retellings series will be published this fall. Called Cold Spell, it’s a retelling of The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson. Which would be great… except I’m guessing there will be werewolves.
No thanks. I think I’m done with this series.