Waters of Change: Gwendolyn Falling, by Amy Astorga

WatersOfChange1CoverThe book description on the Amazon product page for this book makes the following claim: “A young adult urban fantasy that will redefine mermaids.” I haven’t hidden my love for mermaids, so that bold statement was all it took for me to download a copy of this book onto my Kindle. Unbeknownst to author Amy Astorga, I issued her a secret challenge: I’ve read YA mermaid fiction, so show me what you’ve got. I dare you to redefine mermaids for someone who has already seen them in a variety of ways and even has his own twist on the mermaid tale. Or tail.

At the end of the book—which was nearly impossible to put down most of the time—when I fully understood how mermaids were being used symbolically, I breathlessly put down my Kindle. My jaw was dropped wide open. The author’s claim was not only backed up, but I’m still reeling from all the implications of it. I maintain a spoiler-free policy in my reviews, so I cannot discuss this further other than to say that I strongly recommend this book if you want a truly fresh new take on mermaid mythology.

Weird review this is, starting at the end of the book, right? So let’s go to the beginning—the book’s Prologue. Gwendolyn is trying to make her way into the hot new club in town, trying to find Marcus, the owner of said club, and give him a message of deep importance. The urgency is palpable in Gwendolyn’s first-person narration. This message seems to have serious consequences for these (and other) characters, but its context is unknown. Starting with such mystery and urgency is a great way to hook a reader from the get-go, but then to start Chapter One with the statement “Seven Months Earlier” compelled me to keep reading. I needed to know what the message meant and all the build-up to it. Placing (what turns out to be) a near climactic moment at the start of the book is a bold and risky move, but when done well, it has tremendous payoff. Here, it’s done well.

The initial incident that sets the plot events in motion is the disappearance of Gwendolyn’s somewhat estranged best friend Emma. Because Gwendolyn has spent much more time with her boyfriend Ryan (who has just proposed marriage), Emma feels like the third wheel. However, Emma visits to gloat about the boy she’s just met—the new love of her life—who has already given her a unique pearl necklace and professed love after very limited time knowing each other. Gwendolyn scoffs at this, under the guise of looking out for her friend, but Emma storms out anyway. Other than a phone message later, it’s the last Gwendolyn sees of Emma.

There are no clues to Emma’s disappearance, and Gwendolyn reasonably becomes more and more withdrawn. Thus, her relationship with Ryan suffers. Also, Gwendolyn is experiencing a bizarre calling toward the ocean, where she meets—and is saved by—the attractive and enigmatic Marcus. She’s drawn to him, and so starts a love triangle often found in YA literature, but it really works because of the chemistry between Gwendolyn and Marcus, particularly his protectiveness of her for reasons she doesn’t understand. Gwendolyn musters up all the internal strength she has to remain faithful to Ryan, but he has been drifting—perhaps towards someone else.

So where do mermaids fit in? That, dear readers, I will keep as a mystery in this review. Just know that their inclusion is worth reading towards. There are countless stories out there about mermaids changing their tails into legs—or searching for ways to do so. But the tagline of this book quite succinctly says something very different: “What mermaids lack that humans possess isn’t legs. It’s a soul.” It’s a powerful statement, and it speaks to the book’s underlying theme of souls and morality. Sure, humans have a soul, but we also make choices that show either the light or the darkness in those souls.

None of the characters in this book can be described in lights and darks—only shades of gray like real, flawed people. Let’s face it, we all have flaws, we have all hurt people—either accidentally or intentionally—and we all have the power to make choices both good and bad. Add that to emotionally charged situations involving relationships, where real people have been known not to always act rationally, and what you get—or what author Amy Astorga gives us—is a story super-charged with conflict both internal and external, packaged in a way that makes it impossible to put down right until the ending.

And that ending is a shocker! No spoilers here, but I found the ending thoroughly satisfying in what it says about human nature. It’s unexpected, and it leaves things wide open for the next part…which I can’t wait to dive into.

This book has a new and darker twist on mermaids, complex characters and themes, rich details, and one heck of a well-earned cliffhanger. There’s no doubt that I have fallen for Waters of Change: Gwendolyn Falling and am giving it a full FIVE STARS.

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Waters of Change: Gwendolyn Falling is available at Amazon.

Read the spotlight of author Amy Astorga HERE.

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