The Seafarer’s Kiss
by Julia Ember
Published May 2017
Goodreads: See Here
Synopsis at a Glance:
Having long-wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the mermen’s glacier. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.
Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from Loki. But such deals are never as one expects, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies.
I’ve had this strange desire all year long to read a story about mermaids, and this was the first I had the chance to crack into. I’d love to say that it met all of my expectations and blew me out of the water, but unfortunately I just wasn’t entirely hooked. Something about it didn’t quite reel me in. From subplots that just didn’t float my boat, to aspects of the story that moved like they were caught in a riptide, this story was equal parts awesome and disappointing at the same time.
Lets start with what I liked and move into what I had some issues with.
The setting was surprisingly creative! Normally when you think Mermaid, you think tropical setting with singing crabs and festively colored fish. I actually really love that the author subverted that trope here by placing Ersel and the community of mermaids (school of mermaids?) that she lived with in the artic north. They live inside a hollowed out glacial fortress instead of within great coral palaces that are so commonly associated with the mermaid trope.
The setting also informs on the plot and cultural beliefs in the story – which is an unexpected bonus. We learn that the mermaids have been displaced by war and forced into this exile in the frigid north, and that the colder waters have disrupted their ability to breed future generations. It was a really great idea, to tie the setting so directly into the fate of the mermaids in the story. It generates its own inherent conflict as the females in the kingdom become valued solely by their breeding capabilities, a system that Ersel becomes desperate to escape.
I’m torn by the f/f relationship in this book. It was in a way the thing I enjoyed the most, while also being the thing I was most disappointed by. I really enjoyed the theme of self-discovery that Ersel and Ragna’s relationship invoked in Ersel, but I think my main issue here stems from the fact that this book was just too short. Clocking in at under 230 pages, much of their relationship seemed to be on fast-forward which made it difficult for me to truly become emotionally connected by their dynamic. This is one case where I wish the book had been 100 pages longer, as it would have allowed for their relationship to unfold in more natural ways. As it stands in the final draft, it feels a bit like they meet, fall too quickly for each other, and then their relationship is dropped for over 50 pages as the author turns back to plot points taking place under the sea due to the length of the story and need to resolve other subplots.
My biggest gripe with this book stems from how short it is.There’s so much going on in this book that feels halfway developed or rushed because there was no time to explain things in more depth. For example: the mermaids worship Norse Gods, (Odin, Thor and Loki specifically) but given that they were in fact a southern species displaced into the north, it was unclear why they held these beliefs in the first place, or how much power the Gods actually held, or the way that they are actually worshiped by the mermaids in the first place. We know that they have statues of them, but why is never explained.
It’s difficult to discuss the subplots in the story without spoiling anything, but the way they all resolve fell flat, or worse, made Ersel look selfish and uncaring.
One subplot is particularly cruel and involves the death of a minor character, and Ersel sort of just… moves on from it after it happens and it’s never mentioned again. Because of page constraint the story had to move rather quickly from moment to moment, but more care needed to paid to this plot in particular, because the way it stands leaves Ersel bearing the responsibility and very little guilt or growth that she should have been burdened with after it.
Similarly under-developed were Ragna’s magical tattoos, and the malicious King merman’s respective plots. I get that in Ragna’s case, her tattoos are what allow her to navigate the ice, but we never really know why or how she came about these powers. In a way, it feels like an abandoned (perhaps forgotten) plot point, but it also could be a poorly developed method of making the character special, which felt unnecessary. She was cool enough just being a badass swashbuckling viking warrior.
The plot involving the king is equally under-utilized and tied up much too neatly in the last chapter, which left me underwhelmed.
As rushed as it felt, I did enjoy the overarching story. I stand by the opinion that had this book been 100 pages longer, I probably would have loved it, rather than just liked it. I’ll be interested to see what Julia Ember comes up with in the future, especially if she gives herself more time and pages to really develop her world, plots and characters.
★★★= 3/5 starfish
Have you read this book? Heard of any other great books about mermaids that you really enjoyed? Let me know in the comments section below!