Beneath the Waves
Although I am in real life quite afraid of the sea and prefer to stay out of it, I think the best part of Beneath the Waves is the setting. We spend a lot of time in the water, on a boat, on an oil rig, in a city on the bottom of the sea, and I loved this closeness to it a lot. It’s fascinating as long as I can read about it and don’t have to experience it myself, it seems ;-)
In Beneath the Waves Ali Vara tells the love story of Kai Merlin and Vivian Palmer, two women whose fates have been intertwined since they were children. Kai Merlin is heir to a secret alien race who lives in Atlantis, a city, as the legend says, hidden from humankind, somewhere in the depths of the sea. The whole population is female because they once upon a time left their male counterparts back in space. The women mate for life and are even able to procreate.
Vivian Palmer is the daughter of an oil baron and is meant to one day take over the business together with her brother Franklin, with whom she shares a deep bond. But lately she feels pressured into this role and into marriage by her parents and isn’t happy about it at all. I liked that she is a strong character who stands up to her parents and is very independent. She’s no pushover and gets what she wants without being bratty.
Kai’s and Vivian’s paths cross again when Kai – as part of her education – starts to work for Vivian’s father in order to sway him in a more ecological direction. I really liked how the book shows that the world can live without neither oil nor the sea and tries to find a compromise.
When Vivian and Frankie were young kids playing on the beach, Kai, a girl herself then, felt compelled to talk to them, but soon after vanished back into the sea. For reasons I don’t want to go into here, this encounter had a huge impact on Vivian’s and Frankie’s lives.
Well, since this is a romance, it’s not surprising that, meeting again, Kai and Vivian are drawn together. I liked both women because they are interesting and strong female characters. Their push and pull and their flirting is lovely and charming. Once they get together, they are a bit too sappy for my taste, however. The few sexytimes are hot but also very emotional.
Apart from Kai and Vivian there are several more characters who play an important role and I liked the larger cast as I don’t think it took away from the romance but helped with a natural plot development. However, I would have liked for a more strict separation in the points of view. It is always clear who is thinking or speaking but the PoV changes quite often and isn’t in any way marked in the text via paragraphs or chapter changes.
Apart from the romance, intrigue and action surrounding the oil business and the alien race play a huge role and define the pace of the story.
I enjoyed reading the book but for some reason, I felt a bit disconnected from it the whole time. I did care for the characters and the plot was also interesting, as was the setting, but the plot was really, really, reaaallly predictable and – apart from one point – I was never on the edge of my seat or feared for what was to come. That isn’t to say the book was boring or anything like that, but my lack of involvement could have its origin in that predictability.
There’s one thing that rubbed me the wrong way, though. Franklin is disabled and wheelchair-bound – it isn’t really explained why – and has been since he was a child. He is a strong character and has agency in the story, which I really liked and appreciated. But I didn’t like the implication of his being healed in the end. It wasn’t necessary for the story, but rather felt as if I was being told that real happiness wasn’t possible with a disability. :-/
To summarise, I had a good time reading Beneath the Waves and I recommend it when you’re looking for strong female leads with a lovely romance and a unique fantasy setting and don’t expect to be thrilled by surprising plot twists.