by Valentine Wheeler
Publisher: Ninestar Press
Publication Date: December 17, 2018
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Sarai ran away from home to find a new life on the high seas. But when a storm destroys her ship and her life aboard it, she's stuck on land with only a days-long hole in her memory and the tattered clothes on her back. What could have happened beneath the sea? And can the strange new world she finds when she investigates help her save the world she left behind?
Look, this is a lesbian romance about a mermaid scientist and a farmer-girl-turned-sailor, and if that doesn’t have you one-clicking the heck out of this story, I don’t know what will! It’s a sweet, fairy-tale-like romance, and it was a delightful read.
“The mast swayed beneath her, the ship banking hard as it came about, and she gripped the edge of the basket with both hands and wrapped her hands in the webbing, closing her eyes. Back home in a storm, she’d be huddled in front of a warm, blazing fire. She’d have her father beside her and a book in her hands. She’d be warm and dry and safe.
She opened her eyes, the fear sliding away. She’d be safe at home. But out here, she was alive.”
Sarai wakes up on a beach after a shipwreck, with only disjointed memories of the storm that wrecked her ship. What she does know is that she doesn’t want to go back to her life as the daughter of a pig farmer, so she eventually seeks out her cousin Gretchen, who works at the castle. Sarai is just biding time, trying to figure out to do since she loves the ocean but knows she’ll have a hard time getting a new position on a ship without any references. While walking along the beach, she thinks she spies the figurehead of her ship, and wades in, only to be grabbed by something and drug under the water. Turns out, she’s been kidnapped by a mermaid scientist, Ydri, who intends to keep her captive for fourteen days, and who’ll then release her with some gold to make up for it. The catch, though, is that it’s revealed that she’d been captured before in the aftermath of the shipwreck, so the mermaid’s magic will not be able to wipe her memory. During their experiments, Ydri and Sarai become almost-friends, but it’s what happens after she’s released that may have impacts on both the human and mermaid worlds. What common ground can a woman who loves the sea and a mermaid scientist have?
“There’s nothing wrong with what you’ve shown me!” Sarai reached toward Ydri, but she pulled away, and Sarai’s hand dropped between them. “There’s nothing wrong with being curious, Ydri. There’s nothing wrong with sharing, with making friends. That’s how you learn new things.”
Despite being a novella, the story moves at a leisurely pace. It reminds me a bit of a fairy tale retelling, and there are little homages to Disney’s The Little Mermaid, from Ydri’s cache of human artifacts to one character long to be “part of your world.” Once Sarai is kidnapped, however, the story really starts. Ydri, the mermaid scientist, is fascinated by humans and their society, and secretly wishes they would have more contact with the humans, though it’s forbidden by their council. For all the things Ydri learns about her, though, she’s forbidden from revealing anything about their magic, which frustrates Sarai to no end. Despite their growing friendship – and other feelings – they’re hampered by the captor/captive relationship, and that, after fourteen days, Sarai will be returned to the surface and they’ll never see each other again. Both women, of course, are strongly against this, both being curious about the other culture and both, eventually, convinced that mutual cooperation could only help both cultures. When push comes to shove, however, Ydri chooses her family over Sarai, and she’s returned to the surface, once again forced to make a new life on land while her heart remains under the sea. Ydri’s such a wonderful character, curious and motivated to fulfill that curiosity, and I simply loved her. Compared to her, Sarai felt much more anchorless and aimless, though she does her best to form a new life for herself after each time she’s returned to the sea. I loved how she stood up to Ydri, though, about the unfairness of the one-way exchange of information, and how she stepped up when Ydri came to her with news vital to the town, and how brave she was in being the messenger of that bad news.
If you’re as leary of tentacle sex as I am, it’s good to know that besides a few kisses and some mild petting, there’s no sexual content. It’s much more focused on the initial relationship between Sarai and Ydri, which, considering they’re in a captor/captive relationship, is a very good thing that the romance takes a bit to develop. I did find some of the dialog a bit too contemporary for a fantasy-esque story, but I loved the banter between Sarai and Ydri. I thought the ending was quite sweet, and I honestly would love to read more of Sarai and Ydri’s adventures!
Overall, I think some people might find the gentle pace a bit off-putting, but if you’re willing to settle in for a comfy ride, you’ll be well rewarded!