I picked this up on a whim, because it sounded delightful and you know what? It was. After trudging around a shellworld (Matter), wars of angels (Dreams of Gods and Monsters) and provocative/clever grimdark (A Land Fit For Heroes trilogy), this was just what I needed – balm to the soul.
Clara was delivered to Auntie’s door by a stork. Her sister Maren was found in a clam shell. Her brother O’Neill was found in an apple tree. Clara and Maren are inseparable; their beloved O’Neill wanders the world having unlikely adventures with Auntie’s old flame Scarff, returning as often as Scarff’s curse permits to visit their loved ones on the mountain and share their stories.
But 16 years have passed, and Maren is finally turning into the mermaid she is. Scales are appearing; her voice and legs are disappearing. Soon she will not be able to flirt and dance with the village boys. Soon she must return to the sea, or die.
Clara is heartbroken. She will lose her sister and then perhaps everything else, if she too transforms into her natural shape (a stork) as she comes of age. Does she have the courage to set out on the road with Maren and O’Neill to find a cure or the sea before Maren shrinks away to nothing?
This gets marketed as YA and it will certainly play to that audience, but happily it works at any age. This is fairy tale or magical realism depending on your taste – the girls live on a mountain in Pennsylvania and their neighbours are homely villagers of the entirely human sort, but the world is full of faeries, dragons and curses they don’t notice.
The simplicity of the tale and the storytelling are charming, focusing on Clara’s emotions and determination rather than high adventure. The supporting cast are colourful and entertaining (not least the pet wyvern, who is uncertain whether to behave like a cat or a dog), although Maren the mermaid is little more than a pouty plot device, which is a bit of a shame.
It’s not full of twists and turns – the delight here is in forging a new fairy story from familiar components, but one that doesn’t relegate it’s young heroine to prize or damsel. Do expect a fair wallop of romance – Clara is 16 and her emotions slosh about accordingly – but at least it’s not inappropriate or insta-love, nor does it diminish who she is or what she is capable of.
Highly recommended, like an iced sorbet on a summer’s day.