Book Review: The Mermaid by Christina Henry

From the author of Lost Boy comes a historical fairy tale about a mermaid who leaves the sea for love and later finds herself in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum as the real Fiji mermaid. However, leaving the museum may be harder than leaving the sea ever was.

Once there was a mermaid who longed to know of more than her ocean home and her people. One day a fisherman trapped her in his net but couldn’t bear to keep her. But his eyes were lonely and caught her more surely than the net, and so she evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore. The mermaid, Amelia, became his wife, and they lived on a cliff above the ocean for ever so many years, until one day the fisherman rowed out to sea and did not return.

P. T. Barnum was looking for marvelous attractions for his American Museum, and he’d heard a rumor of a mermaid who lived on a cliff by the sea. He wanted to make his fortune, and an attraction like Amelia was just the ticket.

Amelia agreed to play the mermaid for Barnum, and she believes she can leave any time she likes. But Barnum has never given up a money-making scheme in his life, and he’s determined to hold on to his mermaid.

You guys. I LOVED this book.

I was blown away by the story itself, as well as by the gorgeous writing and the passion that comes through on every page.

She loved him almost as much as she loved the sea, and so they were well matched, for he loved the sea almost as much as he loved her. He’d never thought any person could draw him more than the ocean, but the crashing waves were there in her eyes and the salt of the spray was in her skin and there, too, was something in her that the sea could never give. The ocean could never love him back, but Amelia did.

In The Mermaid, we first meet Amelia as a beautiful, wild being of the sea. After being freed from a net by the kind fisherman who finds her, she can’t stop thinking about the look in his eyes, and finds herself leaving the sea to find him. Once reunited, Amelia and Jack fall deeply in love — and while she leaves his seaside shack to swim in the ocean at night, she sees him as her heart and her home… until the day he goes out fishing and doesn’t return.

For ten long years, Amelia watches the sea, mourning yet refusing to believe that her beloved will never return to her. Meanwhile, far off in New York, rumor has reached the ears of P. T. Barnum and his associate Levi Lyman about a beautiful woman in coastal Maine, whom the locals believe to be a mermaid. Barnum dispatches Levi to find her and bring her back to New York, dreaming of the riches that will pour into his pockets once he puts the mermaid on display in his American Museum.

Amelia has other ideas, though. At a time when women defer to men on all matters, Amelia refuses to become any man’s belonging. She sets her own terms and makes the rules for how, when, and how often she’ll be on display. She yearns to travel the world and knows she needs money to do this, which is why she agrees to Levi and Barnum’s plans in the first place — but once she arrives in New York, she begins to realize how difficult it will be to fit into the world of humans and to survive in a crowded, dirty city full of people who see her as a curiosity, or even worse, as an abomination.

“A bird in a cage still knows it’s in a cage, even if the bars are made of gold,” Amelia said softly.

The Mermaid tells a beautiful story of a woman’s strength, while highlighting the devastating circumstances of woman who lack all power in the world. We see friendship, loyalty, and love, as well as greed and disdain and cruelty. Amelia herself is a marvelous character, intelligent and passionate and determined to stand her ground. The magical elements are lovely — mermaids here are not the objectified versions as seen in drawings and sailors’ tattoos, but beings who are indisputably other, not half-fish, half-woman, but people who are wholly something beyond human understanding or definition.

The ocean was a violent place, yes, but it was violence without malice. When a shark ate a sea lion, it did not hate the sea lion. It only wanted to live.

Author Christina Henry draws on the historical record — Barnum really did have an exhibit called the “Feejee Mermaid”, although it was a grotesque fake, not a live woman swimming in a tank of sea water before a mesmerized public — and then builds a story of wonder and magic and love.

I couldn’t help thinking about The Greatest Showman whenever Barnum and wife Charity and the museum appear, although Barnum’s portrayal in The Mermaid is not at all admiring or sympathetic — he’s a greedy con artist looking for the next big attraction, a lousy husband and father, and overall a cold-hearted, scheming man. Still, reading this book made me itch to watch the movie again… and I will, soon.

I really, really loved this book and will want to read it again before too long. Meanwhile, I look forward to reading more by Christina Henry. Earlier this year, I read her newest novel, The Girl in Red, and (big surprise) loved that as well. Time to go back and read her earlier books too!

Click on the image to read my review of this amazing book!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Mermaid
Author: Christina Henry
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: June 19, 2019
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Shelf Control #148: Ingo by Helen Dunmore

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.png

Title: Ingo
Author: Helen Dunmore
Published: 2008
Length: 336 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

I wish I was away in Ingo, Far across the sea, Sailing over the deepest waters, Where love nor care can trouble me…

Sapphire’s father mysteriously vanishes into the waves off the Cornwall coast where her family has always lived. She misses him terribly, and she longs to hear his spellbinding tales about the Mer, who live in the underwater kingdom of Ingo. Perhaps that is why she imagines herself being pulled like a magnet toward the sea. But when her brother, Conor, starts disappearing for hours on end, Sapphy starts to believe she might not be the only one who hears the call of the ocean.

In a novel full of longing, mystery, and magic, Helen Dunmore takes us to a new world that has the power both to captivate and to destroy.

How and when I got it:

I bought it at some point — no idea when or where.

Why I want to read it:

You never know what you’ll find when you do a bookshelf purge! As I pulled books off my over-crowded shelves, to be donated for the next library sale, this is one of the forgotten gems that suddenly appeared! I vaguely recall picking up a copy years ago. I’m sure the cover must have caught my eye, and I freely admit that I’m a sucker for a good mermaid story! I thought this was a stand-alone when I bought it (and maybe it was at the time), but I see on  Goodreads that it’s actually the first in a five-book series. I’d still like to give it a try one of these days, although it’ll have to be something truly special if I’m going to be interested enough to continue past the first book.

Have you read Ingo, or anything else by this author? I’d love to hear reactions from anyone who’s actually read this book!

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Book Review: Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves.

But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

 

Mermaids are real. They are dangerous. And they are very, very hungry.

I really loved the 2015  novella Rolling in the Deep (review), so I was thrilled when I learned that a full-length novel was to follow. I was also a little nervous — the novella was so perfectly constructed and so utterly disturbing. Could the novel live up to the promise of the novella?

The answer is a resounding yes.

Into the Drowning Deep picks up seven years later, when the tragic loss of the Atargatis is remembered as a personal devastation by some, and derided as a hoax by many others. Imagine Network, responsible for the first voyage, is determined to redeem its less-than-respectable reputation and commissions a huge, elaborate research vessel to go back out to he Mariana Trench and find proof that the events shown on the found footage from the Atargatis were real. The new ship, the Melusine, is filled with top scientists and researchers in fields of oceanography, oceanographic acoustics, marine biology, organic chemistry, and more. It’s also staffed by Imagine’s corporate henchman and the network’s quirky/geeky/adorable TV personality, who’s there to record everything that happens for the sake of the inevitable documentary to follow up on the voyage.

My first thought as I read about the Melusine’s voyage: Are these people nuts? Everyone from the Atargatis died, brutally, eaten by sea creatures with big sharp teeth and a hunter’s instinct for tracking down prey. Why on earth would sane people intentionally choose to go back there?

Well. Science. Vengeance. Money. Fame.

The mystery of the creatures caught on film on the Atargatis is simply too alluring to resist. The scientists all dream of prize-worthy glory, seeing the new voyage as a chance to prove the existence of an unknown species, to find something truly new and introduce it to the world. And there are those with personal stakes as well, including Tory, the scientist whose sister Anne perished seven years earlier and who has been chasing her sister’s shadow for all the years since.

Let’s just say that pretty much what we knew would happen, happens. Yes, the mermaids attack again — but this time the people are at least a little more prepared than the first time around, and although the bloody mayhem is intense and brutal, there’s also progress in understanding more about the nature of the creatures — what they are, how they function, and even the rudiments of how they communicate. It’s all quite brilliant — bloodily so.

I love Mira Grant’s writing. She manages to create interesting characters — some to root for, some to despise — and then throw them into situations that challenge them, threaten them, and cause them to either rise to the occasion or be consumed by their own worst character flaws. And yes, “consumed” is an appropriate word, since bad decisions quickly lead to becoming mermaid chow.

One (of many) brilliant aspects of this book is that it’s set just slightly forward into the future, but not by much. The action takes place in 2022, and the author paints a picture of a world already feeling the ugly effects of climate change. The changing ocean temperatures and resulting changes in the ocean ecosystem directly influence what happens in Into the Drowning Deep. It’s not preachy, just presented as inevitable result of the direction we’re heading in now. Definitely provides food for thought, and should make us all pause… and worry.

While the ending was rich and satisfying and edge-of-the-seat suspenseful, I think the door is open for the story to continue… and I really hope it does. I want more! I want to see what happens next with the characters left alive at the end of the story (definitely fewer than there were at the start!), and how the world chooses to deal with the mermaids now that their existence is proven beyond doubt.

Reading this book gave me chills, in all the best ways. A few tidbits for your reading pleasure:

Had they looked, they might not have seen anything. Daryl was inexperienced compared to Gregory, and more, he was letting his nerves get the better of him; he was seeing danger in every corner, and allowing it to blind him to the danger that was actually lurking. He would have seen the smooth sweep of the hull, the fruit of human labor and innovation, intended to protect them from the dangerous waters. He would have seen how high up he was, and how far the mermaids would need to climb, and felt this rendered him safe, somehow. Protected, sheltered, like a small fish choosing to believe the coral reef can offer genuine protection from the jaws of the eel, the arms of the octopus.

(The door would not protect them; the door was not enough. The door was wood and riveted steel and it was not enough. Tory had known that even before they’d run past the first shattered door. The cabin beyond had been dark, but not dark enough; there was blood on the door, and blood mixed into the slime onthe deck outside, and none of them were safe. Not here, not anywhere.)

Do I think they found mermaids?

Yes. Of course I do.

And I think the mermaids ate them all.

And finally, one from the perspective of the mermaids:

Where there was one of these things, there were always others. The delicate, delicious things that died so easily never traveled alone. Their schools varied in number from few to many, but they never traveled alone.

Deep beneath the waves, the hungry turned their eyes upward, toward the promise of plenty, and began to prepare.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Into the Drowning Deep
Author: Mira Grant
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: November 14, 2017
Length: 512 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of Orbit

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Novella: Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant

When the Imagine Network commissioned a documentary on mermaids, to be filmed from the cruise ship Atargatis, they expected what they had always received before: an assortment of eyewitness reports that proved nothing, some footage that proved even less, and the kind of ratings that only came from peddling imaginary creatures to the masses.

They didn’t expect actual mermaids. They certainly didn’t expect those mermaids to have teeth.

This is the story of the Atargatis, lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy. Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the bathypelagic zone in the Mariana Trench…and the depths are very good at keeping secrets.

If this is how you like your mermaids:

or this:

… then Rolling in the Deep may not be the reading choice for you. No singing. No flowy red hair or adorable fishy friends. No teen angst or cute Australian accents.

Nope. The mermaids in Rolling in the Deep have claws and lots of sharp teeth, and they seem to especially enjoy biting off faces, then dragging their prey into the darkest ocean depths.

I adored Rolling in the Deep! It’s gross and scary, packing a lot into a little. In a very short time, we get to know the crew of the Atargatis, the film crew and on-screen personality from the TV station, the scientists on the expedition who are supposed to lend credibility to the otherwise potentially cheesy “documentary”, and a troupe of performing mermaids, to add a little sexy flavor in case the exploration comes up empty.

Each section of the story is preceded by an excerpt from a book written to explore the tragedy and mystery of the Atargatis — so we know from page 1 that everyone on board the ship is doomed. The story is pieced together from the footage found on board the ship, which is found drifting off course and completely empty of people — but with enough gore left behind to let the discoverers know that something awful happened. But was it all a hoax, as the Imagine network is often accused of? Or did something beyond human understanding attack the ship and brutally murder all hands?

This book is not for the faint of heart, obviously. It gets bloody pretty quickly. As for me, I thought it was terrific! Just enough gore to make the threat real, and a palpable sense of dread — we know from the start that everyone will die, but the question is how. It’s smart and fast and a terrific read.

And once I finished and went to check it off on Goodreads, I stumbled across the news that a full-length novel is on the way! Into the Drowning Deep follows up on the events of Rolling in the Deep, and will be published in November 2017. Can it be November now please? I don’t think I can wait.

 

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Rolling in the Deep
Author: Mira Grant
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Publication date: April 6, 2015
Length: 123 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Purchased

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday: The Mermaid’s Child

There’s nothing like a Wednesday for thinking about the books we want to read! My Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday post is linking up with two fabulous book memes, Wishlist Wednesday (hosted by Pen to Paper) and Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine).

This week’s pick:

mermaid's child

The Mermaid’s Child by Jo Baker
(to be released March 17, 2015 )

A fairy tale for grown ups—the magical story of a young girl in search of her mermaid mother, from the acclaimed author of Longbourn.

Malin has always felt different. The fact that, according to her father, her absent mother was actually a mermaid only makes matters worse. When Malin’s father dies, leaving her alone in the world, her choice is clear: stay, and never feel at home, or leave and go in search of the fantastical inheritance she is certain awaits her. Apprenticed to a series of strange and wonderful characters, Malin embarks on a picaresque journey that crosses oceans and continents—from the high seas to desert plains, from slavery to the circus—and leads to a discovery that is the last thing Malin ever could have expected. Beautifully written and hauntingly strange, The Mermaid’s Child is a remarkable piece of storytelling, and an utterly unique work of fantasy.

The marketing notes for this book describe it as “Fantasy for adults: The Mermaid’s Child is that rare thing, a work of fantasy writing that is aimed at adults. It is sure to appeal to readers of Philip Pullman, and fans of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and Doug Dorst’s S.” Works for me! This book was originally published in the UK in 2004, but following the success of Longbourn, The Mermaid’s Child is getting its first US release.

I really loved Longbourn, and I’m eager to read more by this talented author!

What are you wishing for this Wednesday?

Looking for some bookish fun on Thursdays? Come join me for my regular weekly feature, Thursday Quotables. You can find out more here — come play!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Book Review: Fathomless — **This review contains spoilers**

Book Review: Fathomless by Jackson Pearce

Fathomless (Fairytale Retellings, #3)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?

Okay….

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.

Book Review: Sailor Twain

Book Review: Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel

sailor twain

Graphic novel Sailor Twain is a gorgeous tale of mermaids, riverboats, secrets, and myths, set in New York in the 1880s.  The action in Sailor Twain takes place aboard the Lorelei, a stately paddle-wheeler carrying upper class passengers up and down the Hudson River.

Captain Twain is a well-respected, upright gentleman and erstwhile poet who earns a living on the river in order to save money needed for a possible cure for his disabled wife Pearl. The Lorelei is owned by the Lafayette family, who struck it rich through their paddle-wheeling empire. Older brother Jacques-Henri plays host to Astors, Vanderbilts and other mansion-dwelling New Yorkers, until his behavior turns odd and he mysteriously disappears. Younger brother Dieudonné takes over the reins of the family business, and proceeds to scandalize the crew of the Lorelei with a never-ending string of illicit romantic liaisons, largely with the bored and neglected trophy wives of the captains of industry.

Captain Twain looks on with detachment until, late one night, he finds a wounded mermaid clinging to the side of the Lorelei. He brings her aboard ship and hides her away in his cabin while he tends to her wounds, but soon becomes enamored with the mermaid to the point of obsession. A secretive writer, C. G. Beaverton, may hold the key to understanding the mysteries surrounding the Lorelei and its crew, but will the answers come in time to help the captain?

The black and white drawings of Sailor Twain, interspersed with newspaper clippings and nautical maps, create an atmosphere throughout the book that is both starkly beautiful and highly evocative. The author does a tremendous job of recreating an historical point in time through the smallest of details, and the steamship itself is a thing of beauty. Looking at the drawings of the Lorelei, you can practically hear the chiming of the champagne glasses and the laughter of the pampered guests.

The story itself is engaging and romantic. Clues build upon clues as the Captain and Lafayette venture through parallel struggles to understand the nets in which they’ve become ensnared and to find possible solutions. There’s an aching beauty throughout, and we know from the prologue that tragedy will inevitably come for these characters.

Between the artwork and the haunting storyline, there’s a lot to love about Sailor Twain. This book will please booklovers who enjoy a dash of mythology with their historical settings, and deserves to be listed as one of the year’s best graphic novels.