The Mermaid’s Sister, by Carrie Anne Noble

Before MERMAID MONTH here at the Stuff draws to a close, I’ve got another mermaid-themed book to review.

This book was the 2014 winner of Amazon’s breakthrough novel competition in the young adult category, and as a debut YA fairy tale, I can see why. There’s much to appreciate about the crafting of this story, particularly the atmosphere. Most of the YA mermaid stories I’ve read (and the two I’ve thus written) are set in contemporary times, and this one isn’t. The book definitely feels like it’s from another time in the way it’s constructed and in the way the characters speak and behave. I appreciated the setting and style so much, as I really felt transported to another time, but within a world like ours with its unique magic.

This is a tale of sisterhood between Clara (the narrator) and Maren, adopted separately by the wise, magical, amiable Auntie Verity. Like true sisters should, Clara and Maren know each other intimately, and they have expected shared experiences and rivalries. While Clara is more proper, Maren is more adventurous…and also more likely to have boys fawning over her.

But Maren’s attractiveness and boy-appeal may be in part to her otherworldliness. Auntie Verity found Maren in a seashell, and she is slowly turning into a mermaid.

Maren’s gradual transformation is exceptionally described, starting with a few shimmery scales on her legs and webbing between her toes and fingers. It is her webbed fingers that draw some attention at the annual local festival when a fortune teller removes Maren’s gloves. After that, Maren becomes a shut-in.

Though mermaids belong in the ocean, and Maren insists she wants to go there, Clara doesn’t want to bring Maren there and instead wants to find a cure. She enlists the help of O’Neill, adopted son of Auntie’s beau and traveling medicine man Scarff. O’Neill would do anything for the girls, and while Clara secretly loves him, she fears her love is unrequited because he appears to be smitten with Maren—even more so in her mermaid form.

Clara doesn’t want to lose her sister, but more importantly, she wants hope that her own ultimate magical condition is reversible also. Her adoption story is that she was brought by a stork, so naturally, Clara fears she will sprout feathers and turn into a stork herself. For me, this minor subplot was one of the weak spots in the book. Given the time period, particularly Clara’s own properness, I expected Clara to be Verity’s actual daughter brought “by the stork” instead of explaining how babies were made. My prediction was wrong, and I won’t spoil the reveal, but it was a bit of a letdown.

The stakes are built when it’s clear that Maren cannot live on land. Her skin and scales get paler, she can’t speak and is often lethargic, and she’s literally withering away. I didn’t expect her to start getting smaller, and her shrinking definitely added some magical excitement to the story. Since Auntie Verity can’t leave their mountain town, Clara and O’Neill embark on the journey to bring Maren to the ocean—where Clara hopes they can convince the sea king to return Maren to human form.

The journey becomes perilous as they are forced into servitude by a troupe of traveling performers, hoping to exploit the little mermaid. (See what I did there?) It becomes a difficult and fearful situation for Clara, and her concern for her sister’s welfare is among the bright spot of the story.

The underlying theme about the bond of sisterhood is beautifully developed. Though sisters (whether through blood or adopted parentage) may grow up together, they may eventually pursue their own destinies and live apart. It doesn’t make them any less of sisters. Clara’s acceptance of that—and learning you must be true to yourself—was handled extremely well and is undoubtedly the biggest strength of the book.

This was a well-crafted fairy tale. Maybe some of the occurrences around the conflict’s resolution are appropriate for the genre, but they were a little too convenient and coincidental for my liking, causing me to give this a lower rating. The premise, language, characters, and rising action are magical, but some of the resolution not as much. Overall, it is the strong sisterly relationship that gives The Mermaid’s Sister its FOUR STARS.

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The Mermaid’s Sister is available at Amazon.

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