*I received a free ARC of this novel, with thanks to the author, Candlewick Press and NetGalley. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: In the far northern reaches of civilization, a mermaid leaves the sea to look for her land-dwelling mother among people as desperate for magic and miracles as they are for life and love.
Blood calls to blood; charm calls to charm.
It is the way of the world.
Come close and tell us your dreams.
Sanna is a mermaid — but she is only half seavish. The night of her birth, a sea-witch cast a spell that made Sanna’s people, including her landish mother, forget how and where she was born. Now Sanna is sixteen and an outsider in the seavish matriarchy, and she is determined to find her mother and learn who she is. She apprentices herself to the witch to learn the magic of making and unmaking, and with a new pair of legs and a quest to complete for her teacher, she follows a clue that leads her ashore on the Thirty-Seven Dark Islands. There, as her fellow mermaids wait in the sea, Sanna stumbles into a wall of white roses thirsty for blood, a hardscrabble people hungry for miracles, and a baroness who will do anything to live forever.
Mermaid Moon takes the familiar story of a young mermaid begging a sea witch for legs to walk on the land, and turns it on its head.
Sanna isn’t chasing after a man, for a start; she is searching for clues to find her human mother, forgotten due to a magic spell on the night of her birth. And she is no helpless ingenue. She has strength and resources, and plenty of magic of her own.
Strangely, despite this, she still seems easily trapped and spends a large portion of the story passively waiting for answers to reveal themselves to her. Caught up in the selfish plots of the landish baroness and the desperate hopes of the townspeople, her own search is constantly sidelined as she is manoeuvred around the story-board like a pretty pawn. Until towards the end, when she suddenly takes control of events and begins to think, and act, for herself!
The writing is beautiful – conjuring up, not only an exotic underwater landscape and society, but also a landish society rich with magic and mythology of its own, and the juxtaposition of Sanna’s viewpoint with Baroness Thyrla’s as they consistently misunderstand and misinterpret each other’s behaviours is a very clever illustration of the human tendency to project ourselves onto others.
I was often reminded of the animated film of Peter S. Beagle’s story The Last Unicorn, with its old-fashioned other-wordly feel – strange and hauntingly unnatural, but beautiful – with Sanna as Lady Amalthea, Kett as Molly Grue, Tomas and Peder as Schmendrick and Lir, and Baroness Thyrla as King Haggard. However, the ‘red bull’ of danger in this story is actually, as mentioned previously, our speed and willingness to jump to erroneous assumptions about those around us. The characters here are all so focused on their own wants and needs that they unwittingly and repeatedly shroud themselves and each other in confusion.
Far darker and more adult in theme than the average Disney mermaid tale, Mermaid Moon, weaves a slow and strangely haunting tale around the reader, overwhelming them with the scent of salt tears and cloying, blood-red roses, and drowning the sounds of siren song with the clacking clamour of dust-dry bones.
Fans of slow-paced narratives, focused strongly on female-centric themes, will enjoy this swim in magical waters.
As I step toward them, I get another sensation, that which we call the Down-Below-Deep. I feel as if I’m moving below the sea’s striae of buoyancy, so far down it takes days first to swim and then to sink to the bottom. Anyone who reaches that place risks being held by the weight of water until it crushes her to death.
I am almost afraid enough to turn back, but I don’t. I am sworn to the quest. And anyway, my poor new feet can’t walk to the water again, and my grip on my magic is weak; I might not be able to change.
So I take a deep breath, and then the last few steps into sun and the edge of the crowd.
– Susann Cokal, Mermaid Moon
Mermaid Moon is available on Amazon right now!