Urban Mermaid, by Howard Parsons

UrbanMermaid-coverI finished this book last fall, having received an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) from the author in exchange for an honest review. Author Howard Parsons knew I was a fan of mermaids—though admittedly not as well-researched and well-versed one as he is—so I accepted the book with much enthusiasm to dive in.

Being a YA author, I read a lot of YA fiction. Many YA mermaid stories often center on teen girls learning they’re part mermaid princess or on mermaid royalty coming on land to experience or escape. There’s usually a hint of romance involved, but being YA, it’s typically clean teen romance. Urban Mermaid is NOT a YA mermaid fantasy book.

When I read books geared for adults, I tend to gravitate towards fast-paced thrillers like those written by Dan Brown, or to science fiction like Michael Crichton or horror like Stephen King. I rarely read straight-up contemporary adult romance, and that’s the genre where Urban Mermaid fits the most. Though there’s the supernatural element of characters being mermaids, this book wouldn’t really be classified as a fantasy story.

Penelope Tench has just been hired as the assistant comptroller for a publishing house in the city. She lives away from her home—a community of mermaids and mermen called Colony Island—because there doesn’t seem to be a suitable mate for her there. In the mermaid world Parsons has created, finding a mate is crucial to a mermaid’s happiness. Needing to periodically get her fins wet, Penelope is lying in the water underneath a dock and contemplating her future.

Without warning, there are footsteps on the dock above her. Instead of staying there silently waiting until the man leaves, she reveals herself—tail and all—to him and plants a kiss on him that leaves him breathless. The moment is described so well that it wasn’t difficult to get lost within it…and secretly dream that I was at the receiving end of a mermaid’s kiss.

When Penelope starts her new job, she finds that she works in the same office as the man she encountered the day before! At this point, I was eager to see all the tension and complications this would cause. He introduces himself as Peter (hey, that’s my name! I can live vicariously through him!) and assures her that her secret would be safe with him. I immediately questioned why he wouldn’t exploit the situation—after all, he discovered a magical creature and could make a fortune—but then I realized that as a mermaid aficionado, I’d probably do the same. Despite his offer, Penelope is skeptical and tries to keep him at arm’s length, creating this initial conflict of the book.

But this really isn’t a conflict-driven story, and I’ll admit I was a little thrown by that at first. I had expected from the word Urban in the book’s title that the book would be about Peter and Penelope hiding the truth of her identity from the city dwellers. Instead, the story is relationship-driven, and it chronicles a budding romance and courtship, showing the reader that true love comes from accepting all facets of your partner and how strong communication can overcome relationship problems.

Though there’s the fantasy element of Penelope being a mermaid, the inner workings of this story are so real. The characters feel like real people going through real relationship issues. The level of detail given to describe Penelope’s home of Colony Island made me feel like I was driving through an actual seaside town. The culture of these mermaids is fully realized, with their history stretching all the way back to Greek mythology—another subject I enjoy—and author Parsons did his research but made it his own.

In the end, what I admired most about the book was the world view Parsons presents—a world view to which we should all aspire. When Peter and Penelope choose to get married, the mermaid community embraces the human traditions surrounding weddings and other holidays. Meanwhile, Peter literally throws himself into mermaid culture. One of Parsons’ underlying themes is that we should embrace our cultural differences and realize that our anatomical differences are minor—we’re made up of more or less the same DNA. Peter delivers a beautiful speech about it regarding mermaids and humans. I wish our world was more understanding and accepting like this, but until it is, we’ll have to look to the tails from Colony Island.

Even without conflict elements I was anticipating, the optimistic world view made Urban Mermaid rise above the tide to FOUR STARS.

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Urban Mermaid is available at Amazon.

Read the spotlight of author Howard Parsons HERE.

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