Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3
What did you like about the book? A one-volume fantasy retelling of the Little Mermaid. The book opens with the main character’s birth; Sanna is half-merreminder and half-human and an old seawitch casts a spell of forgetting when she arrives. Neither her merfather, Bjarl, nor her landish mother, Lisabet, remembers anything about their romance or each other. Sanna grows to adulthood among the matriarchal clan and turns out to be full of magic. Through her apprenticeship to the seawitch, she learns to transform her tail into legs and goes ashore in search of her mother. But the Thirty-Seven Dark Islands that border her home are ruled by a cruel one-eyed landwitch named Thyrla, who quickly recognizes Sanna’s power and seeks to exploit it for her own ends. Sanna is literally a fish-out-of-water, but perseveres with the help of some landish friends and ultimately prevails.
That’s the straight-forward version. There are a lot of other plot elements that pad out the story, including the feral nature of the sea people and the landish people’s fervent belief that Sanna can perform miracles. Thyrla is a well-developed and interesting villain, with her “seeing eye” hidden under a patch and her room full of bones that advise and power her magic. I did really enjoy how weird and non-human the merpeople were (unlike Ariel) and the writing could be quite lush and beautiful. I liked the lyrics that are presented as mermaid songs.
Anything you didn’t like about it? The story and the telling seemed overly complex and long. Labored even. Sanna’s initial goal was finding her mother, and early on there’s some likely suspects. But then that thread melts away and we’re left with Sanna being pressed into a hasty marriage to Thyrla’s son Peder (sort of a bro), a maybe magic dress that mutes Sanna’s powers, an ill-conceived assault on the landish by the younger mer-ladies, and a lot of confusion. The frank explorations of the physical compatibility of sea/land peoples just seemed weird as did the emphasis on Catholicism and a statue of the Virgin Mary. When Sanna does finally find her mom, it’s literally a page-and-a-half til the story ends and quite anticlimactic.
To whom would you recommend this book? As there are very few mermaid stories for teen readers, I might offer it if there’s a request for them.
Who should buy this book? Public libraries
Where would you shelve it? YA fantasy
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: June 3, 2020