This book almost became one of those rarest of rare objects: it could have been a really good book about sea creatures. It came so frustratingly, heartbreakingly close. I love mermaids. I love sirens. I am always on the lookout for a really good book based on those creatures. To this day, I have yet to come across any such novels, and this book came so close to being one I enjoyed. It had a lot of the elements I search for in a novel: an enjoyably flawed heroine, a compelling plot line, a new spin on a classic mythology. So what ruined it? The romance. Always the fucking romance. My awesome heroine had to fall in love with an idiot boy with a constant smart-ass smirk on his face.
The foolish romance utterly obliterated this book for me. The insta-love and the needless love triangle knocked it from a 4 star book to a 2 star book. In a good book, the romance should play a role the plot, but it turned this book from an potentially intriguing YA political fantasy/thriller into a typical teenaged romantic melodrama and all the jealousy and mind games that entails.
I liked Nerissa so much, she's not perfect, but she's enjoyably so. She may be the heir to a kingdom, but she's in danger, and like a scared teenager, her first instinct is to run away. I do not judge her for it. I like her for it. She admits her flaws, and I admire her for it. But here's what turned her into Ariel for me. You remember Ariel, right? The cool Disney mermaid princess who's got the sweetest fucking life in the world as a pampered princess frolicking around under the sea chilling with the fishes, and then chooses to give it all up (not to mention the voice, and the tail, and possibly her life) for the sake of a human guy? Yeah, Nerissa went from a potentially kick-ass heroine into that kind of stupid. Into Ariel stupid.
From the book's blurb:
Amid danger and the heartbreak of her missing mother, falling for a human boy is the last thing Nerissa should do.
Aaaaaaaaaaand...what does she do? *cues "Kiss the Girl"* You guessed it.
The Summary: Nerissa is an Aquarathi Queen, but an exiled one. Her father has died from a tragic accident some years ago---some say murdered. A rival queen, Ehmora, from the Ruby Court has usurped Nerissa's throne. Before her father died, he warned her of danger, and since then, Nerissa has been living in San Diego in disguise as a normal high school student. Nerissa is completely focused on her studies, she is a brilliant student, she is an amazing athlete; she is, in fact, completely focused on being the perfect student until a human boy (Lo, short for Lotharius Seavon. SEAvon, get it?) catches her eyes.
At the same time, there is imminent danger to her life from the usurper queen, and there are traitors and spies in their midst. Will Nerissa be able to stop gazing lovingly into Lo's amazing bottomless-blue eyes for long enough to avoid the danger to herself and to the entire race of the Aquarathi?
The Mythology: The Aquarathi are a new twist on the age-old mermaid myth. I really like the interesting spin the author puts on the mythology of these creatures. You might think they're mermaids, and you would be wrong. They are a whole new type of sea-dwelling creatures, but they are not what you would typically expect. I made a joke earlier about Nerissa and Ariel. Nerissa is not Ariel. In her real form, she is a sea serpent the size of a small whale.
I’m what most humans would call a sea monster. I’m the sea serpent that historians have written about for years, the fiend that has capsized whole ships and devoured sailors by the mouthful.
Nerissa does not have pretty pretty perfect hair and adorable little cute fishy tails. In her true form, Nerissa is not remotely anything resembling human, she is truly a sea monster, and it is wicked awesome. I loved the myth of the Aquarathi. I enjoyed the tale of how they came to this planet, how they adapted, and their history as they evolved. I like the fact that they are not lovely, wondrous sea creatures, I like the fact that they are different, and I so wish the book would have dwelt more on that instead of the utterly insipid romance between Nerissa and Lo.
The Plot: The plot is interesting enough, but it is pretty predictable. There are some twists that were completely unexpected, but there were so many hints given regarding who the traitors would be that I saw that coming from a mile away. The mystery had a lot of potential to be really twisted, the evil queen is capable of doing some horrifying acts...
The scales are a pale bluish-purple color, oozing iridescent fluid along their edges. I recognize them [...] immediately. But it isn’t just her scales in the box, it’s her crown...the same elegant ridge of spikes and fins on her forehead that mark mine—the mark of an Aquarathi queen. The entire thing has been flayed off her scalp.
The plot had a lot of promise...but again, it was overshadowed by the idiocy of the romance between Nerissa and Lo.
Nerissa: It makes me a little upset to write about Nerissa because I liked her so much. Here's my problem with YA fiction: strong, independent, perfectly flawed heroines are rare enough, but when they appear, inevitably, they fall for someone who is completely unworthy of them. This book falls prey to that same failure. Nerissa is really cool. She is an amazing student, and her athletic skills are second to none because of her heritage as an Aquarathi. She is a hockey player (!), she is an awesome swimmer, but she chooses not to participate in water sports because it would be cheating, given who she is. Nerissa is not perfect by any means, and I liked her all the more for it. She is scared, she is running away from her destiny. Nerissa sticks her head into the sand until her best friend confronts her with the truth.
“But we’ve stayed here and done nothing while so many died, and all you want to do is forget about who you are, to become like these insipid humans. You’re stupid and blind. And selfish.”
“Don’t you speak to me like that!” I hiss. “I am your—”
“My nothing,” Speio says dully, his eyes wet with tears, gesturing to the landscape around us. “You are a princess of nothing. A princess of rocks and mud and death.”
Nerissa is a wimp, but she admits her faults, and she wants to be better---she wants to be the sort of Queen her people deserves. Nerissa understands her failings. She knows she has been a spoiled princess, she understands her people's lack of trust in her and her ability to assume the throne.
Looking back, I was far more trouble than I was worth. Our people faulted him for being so indulgent and not taking a firmer hand with me, saying that if he couldn’t control his own child, how could he control his people? Put it this way—when I left, no one missed me. After all, as the humans say, no one mourns the wicked.
Nerissa is a complex, imperfect heroine that I could relate to. Until she falls in love with Stupid.
Lotharius Seavon is an asshole. He is the kind of smug, self-assured son of a bitch any thinking girl would avoid at all cost when they see him across the hall. He's handsome, of course. He's got eyes like the bottomless sea. It's blue, but it's not just blue. It's blue. Bluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuue.
...the oddest-colored eyes I’ve ever seen—a bottomless blue, as if he’d leached the color straight from the depths of the ocean.
I must have imagined the strange, nearly navy color, or it must have been some trick of the sunlight, because on closer inspection, his eyes are more dark than light, almost blue-black.
And Lotharius's hair. It's...I don't even know what color it is. Every color but blue, it seems.
...the fading sunlight makes his wet hair look like burnished metal. His hair is such an odd color. It’s not reddish-blond like mine, but it’s not gold or silver, either. It’s more of a mix of the two. The only thing I can think of to describe it is wet sand.
Lo is wealthy. His parents are dead. What did I say before? It's so fucking dangerous to be a parent in YA literature because the chances that you would die is roughly 90%. He's a teenaged deliquent. Lo ditches class to surf. He makes fun of the principal's accent. He calls the poor man "Borat" because of his misfortune of having an Eastern European accent. He gets Nerissa's phone number from nowhere. He practically stalks Nerissa.
Even Nerissa can recognize an asshole and a loser when she sees one.
Even Nerissa recognize his douche-potential firsthand.
“Jenna, you can’t even imagine how bad,” I seethe. “He honestly thinks he is God’s gift or something. I mean, I swear he has rocks for brains. First of all, who would cut their first day to go surfing and show up not in uniform and make fun of Cano almost to his face? An idiot, that’s who.”
OK. SO WHY THE FUCK DID YOU FALL FOR HIM? Jesus Christ, Nerissa SEES Lo's faults, and throughout the book, there is little about Lo that redeems him in my eyes. And so it is with the utmost frustration that I watch my wonderful heroine fall for someone not worthy to lick the bottom of her aquarium clean.
It is their romance that kills the story. It is Nerissa's foolish decision to turn to him for help when she has a host of competent people to help her in the forms of her guardian. She is, after all, still a queen, despite one in exile. I just could not tolerate Nerissa and the multitude of her fallacious love for Lo and her concentration of love games when there is so much more at stake.
It’s not Ehmora that will be the death of me.
It’s this boy.
NO. NO. NO. AN EVIL CRAZY SCALPING BLOODTHIRSTY QUEEN IS OUT TO GET YOU. FOCUS ON HER. NOT ON THE BOY.
Get your head on straight, girl.
So much potential, wasted by a foolish romance. I am so disappointed by this book's potential and eventual letdown of my expectations.