Mermaids seem to be the next big thing, after vampires, werewolves, and the recent zombie trend. I’m not sure why – apparently the Animal Planet documentary (or docufiction or mockumentary, depending on who you are talking to) Mermaids: The Body Found had over 10 million views when it first aired. There has also been a stream of mermaid young adult novels, some evil merpeople in a couple of films and books, and now a mermaid romance.
Sirena is a mermaid, and she has been sent off to do her duty – breed with a human male. Mermaids are, as the name implies, all female, and the only way to keep their race continuing is to interbreed with humans. However, when she is unable to save her chosen mate from the sea after their time together, Sirena declares she will not do her duty, she will instead do as she pleases. She is sixteen years old.
Fast-forward about 90 years, and there is something going on in the oceans, specifically on the ocean floor. Sirena, now an Elder with two children and grandchildren, has been tasked to find out what the humans know about this potential disaster. Going with her will be her daughters, Maria and Apalala. They will be posing as fishers named Vanessa, Maria and Belinda, working off the coast of Australia, near Perth, using the opportunity to speak with other fishers, governmental officials, scientists, and, of course, the internet.
Joe Fisher is on his vacation, which is why he is spending the two months before he goes back to setting up electricity in mining camps fishing for rock lobsters as a deckhand. Joe’s been trying to save money to buy a house (and officially move out of his parents’ place), so he jumps at the opportunity. And then is ecstatic when his neighbor on the island is the drop-dead gorgeous Vanessa. Befriending her with his electrician skills and wagers involving beer, Joe finds himself falling for her.
Alternating the narration between Belinda/Apalala and Joe, the story moves quickly, able to follow both the romantic storyline and the mermaids’ search for answers to their changing environment. I enjoyed the environmental aspect to the story as a way to both move the plot along and an overarching theme for the series. As Belinda/Apalala point out, without humans, the mermaids are unable to continue their own species, and so we are intrinsically linked to each other and to our environment. It’s interesting to see both sides of this, between Joe and Belinda/Apalala’s narrations.
There is a thing with alternating viewpoints – they are really hard to do well. The author does a really good job of making the two different characters sound different, think differently, and as a result, it isn’t difficult to figure out who is narrating at any given time (even without the chapters being labeled by character). And she also tackled something I thought was unusual – the two viewpoints are not from both the hero and heroine. Joe has his own narrative voice, but Vanessa/Sirena only has the beginning chapter from her point of view. The other narrator is Belinda/Apalala – who I was expecting to be the love interest. Yeah, I was so incredibly wrong about that. Both Belinda/Apalala and Maria have no desire for (and in some ways absolute disgust at the thought of) being with a man. Instead, our view of the romance comes mainly from Joe, which I thought was an interesting change of pace.
Unfortunately, the voice of the mermaids is hit or miss. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how exactly the mermaids are speaking to one another – it is telepathy? Something like echolocation? Squeaking? I still have no idea. And their speech patterns are rather stilted, so Belinda/Apalala’s chapters were less than comfortable to read.
But, luckily, Joe saved the book for me. I loved his voice – he’s very down-to-earth, very normal, and very believable. He’s a bit of a letch (but if someone’s been setting up electricity at mining camps for months on end, and is missing, shall we say, company of their sex-of-choice, I can’t really blame them). His reactions to the people and situations around him are pretty much spot on. The only time I had a moment of disbelief is when he didn’t say anything about Sirena/Vanessa hacking off the head of a four or five meter tiger shark before it could make a snack out of him. Maybe Australian women are just that kick-ass, I don’t know. Personally, I would probably say something about it.
In the end, I enjoyed it. I think that is was a little weak in places, but overall it was an interesting premise, and I’d like to read more in this universe. And I definitely want to know what Joe does next (I don’t think I could say enough how much I liked Joe). I also have to give the author a shout-out for including Animal Planet’s Mermaids: The Body Found. That was hysterical.