Khanh the Killjoy


Deep Blue - Jennifer Donnelly
“You don’t look like an outlaw,” Serafina said.
“Or a shark,” Neela said.
“I’m a lawyer, actually, the worst kind of shark.”

This is not a bad book, but the pros in this book are outweighed by the fact that it is an overwhelmingly childish infodump.

There is no cursing in this underwater fantasy, a rave (drug-filled party to us landlubbers) is a all-night wave. An ass is a wrasse. There are no bad-asses, but there are bad-wrasses and jackwrasses.

Money is called currensea. Jerks are gobies and guppies. Transparency spells are spelled transparensea. A girlfriend is a merlfriend. A crazy mermaid lady keeps catfish as pets. A family tree is a family coral. Caramel is caramalgae, and other candies are "chillawondas, bing-bangs, janteeshaptas, and zee-zees." Manta Rays speak in RaySay. Anchovies speak Pesca. Dolphin speak Dolpheen.

I love bad puns. I love word play. But there's only so much I can take before this book starts to descend into absurdity, which is a damned shame because it's a good book otherwise.

This book is categorized as "Young Adult" and "New Adult" and I have no idea why. It reads like a Middle Grade story, and it wouldn't be out of place next to a 7-year old's A Little Mermaid picture book. The Disney version, not the Grimm's. Hint: Don't read your child the Hans Christian Andersen version unless you want to pay for therapy out of their college fund.

So, in continuing with today's theme of terrible puns, I have this to say about the book: It's not a bad book about mermaids, but it doesn't have sole. The characters are shallow, the plot doesn't hold water, and overall, I'd have to give it a sea. There's a surprising level of depth, as well as a good feminist message, but if you want a book that your older teen will love, don't hold your breath.

Sorry for all the bad puns. I didn't do them on porpoise. I'm just angling to get a rise out of you.

The good:
- VERY light on romance
- A creative and enchanting underwater fantasy (fantasea?) world
- Strong female characters and friendships
- Diverse characters (we have Indian, Chinese, Italian, Middle-Eastern mermaids, prominently featured)
- A matriarchal kingdom

The bad:
- HUGE infodump: the first 25% of the book is a major infodump with almost no plot, that had my head spinning
- Little character development, the characters are strong and feminist, but they lack a level of depth that made them believable
- The childishness: the puns, the wordplay, the very, very cute fantasy world that's even prettier than the Disney version. It just undermines the seriousness of the book

The summary: Principessa Serafina of the Miromara lives an enchanted life under the sea.

She sat up in her bed—an enormous ivory scallop shell—and stretched. One half of the shell, thickly lined with plump pink anemones, was where she slept. The other half, a canopy, was suspended on the points of four tall turritella shells. The canopy’s edges were intricately carved and inlaid with sea glass and amber. Lush curtains of japweed hung down from it. Tiny orange gobies and blue-striped dragonets darted in and out of them.

But all is not as glorious as it seems. Today is the day of her Dokimi, where she will have to perform in front of her entire kingdom. It's a huge deal, and Sera is understandably freaked out about it.

“Right, Mom. Only a Dokimí,” said Serafina, her fins flaring. “Only the ceremony in which Alítheia declares me of the blood—or kills me. Only the one where I have to songcast as well as a canta magus does. Only the one where I take my betrothal vows and swear to give the realm a daughter someday. It’s nothing to get worked up about. Nothing at all.”

To top it off, her childhood friend and betrothed has since become an asshole in the past two years. He used to be a wonderful young man with whom she looked forward to marrying. They shared an understanding, and perhaps even love.

She could still hear the last words he’d spoken to her, right before he’d returned to Matali.
“My choice,” he’d whispered, taking her hand. “Mine. Not theirs.”

But on the day of her Dokimi, Mahdi seems to be a different person. He's now a playboy, a rebel, someone she dreads marrying. But Sera has more to worry about than romance because there's something bigger going on within her kingdom.

Sera could only imagine what her mother would have said if she’d barged into her chamber complaining that Mahdi had hurt her feelings.
She had to do it. She had to put her pain and loss aside and exchange vows with a merman she couldn’t even bear to look at, in order to save her people from a war.

War. Yep. War is coming. Their kingdom has always had enemies, from the Praedatori to the Terragoggs (humans), but now it is more than a mere threat. It all started with her mother's assassination.

She would remember that moment for a long time, that golden, shining, moment.The moment before everything changed.
Before the arrow, sleek and black, came hurtling through the water and lodged in her mother’s chest.

The night of the Dokimi was supposed to be the beginning of her future, instead, it signals the end. Her kindgom is in shatters. Her people have been hurt. Serafina isn't ready to become queen, but it seems like she doesn't have much of a choice. Together with her mermaid friends, Ling and Neela, Serafina will have to use her magic to solve the mystery of the Ielé witches.

The Setting:

“As you know, the Ondalinians broke the permutavi three months ago,” Isabella said. “Your uncle thinks Admiral Kolfinn did it because he wished to derail your betrothal to the Matalin crown prince and offer his daughter, Astrid, to the Matalis instead. An alliance with Matali is every bit as valuable to them as it is to us.”

Wow. Can I get a pillow so I can take a nap, please? Maybe a sea cucumber? They're squishy. This book has a Glossary, and thank god for it. The first 25% of the book, the first chapter, specifically, is a huge infodump. This world is a fantasy taking place in our world, only underwater. Serafina lives, specifically, around Venice, Italy.

The info-dumping made my head spin. In the first chapter, we learn about the Terragoggs, the Janicari, the history of the Miromara. The people, her brother, her dad, her cousin, her friends, her uncle, her lady's maid, her instructor, the girls at court, her betrothed, her best friend's brother, her instructor. We learn about the tensions going on between the mer-nations. We learn about the government. We learn about the Dokimi and the history of the merpeople. We learn about the magic and the magic spells and how the Dokimi ceremony works. ALL THAT WITHIN 25% OF THE BOOK. I felt like I was reading a really, really pretty textbook. It's just too much. It's just too much details, at some points. Like I really need to learn about why her uncle used to love her rival Lucia's mother but wasn't allowed to marry her.

Angry, Vallerio had left Cerulea and spent several years in Tsarno, a fortress town in western Miromara. Portia married someone else—Sejanus Adaro, Lucia’s father. Some said she only married him because he looked like Vallerio with his handsome face, silver scales, and black hair. Sejanus died only a year after Lucia’s birth. Vallerio never married, choosing to devote himself to the welfare of the realm instead.

It's a beautiful, enchanted world, though. It is so very Disney-like, and it's no wonder...since they're the publisher of this book. Even Serafina's room is a dream come true for any little girl.

The golden rays warmed fronds of seaweed anchored to the floor. They shimmered in the glass of a tall gilt mirror and glinted off the polished coral walls. A small green octopus that had been curled up at the foot of the bed—Serafina’s pet, Sylvestre—darted away, disturbed by the light.

The Characters: Surprisingly feminist, for a book that's so fluffy in nature. I really like the main character's personality. She's strong, she's willful, but she's also vulnerable. She fights with her mom over being too Queen-like instead of mom-like, but Serafina knows that she is a princess, and she has to behave like one. Serafina never whines.That’s what her mother would do, and that’s what she would do, too.
I always disappoint her, Serafina thought, but tonight I won’t. Tonight, I’ll make her proud.Serafina has her moments of weakness, when she just wants to give up...

“I can’t do it!” she shouted angrily, slapping the water with her tail. She turned to Thalassa, her composure entirely gone. “Tell my mother the Dokimí’s off. Tell her I’m not good enough! Not good enough for her! Not good enough to cast this rotten songspell! And not good enough for the crown prince!”

But she realizes her errors quickly, and throughout the book, Serafina maintains her maturity. My problem with her character, and that of her friends, is that despite the fact that they are strong feminist characters...there's something lacking in their character development. I like them, but they never feel real to me.

I love the fact that there are diverse mermaids in this book. There are other underwater kingdoms in this book, including the Japanese, the Antarctic, the Chinese, the Afro-Indian, the Nordic. We have her best friend, a sari-wearing Indian princess, and her new companion, a Chinese linguist mermaid. It's pretty awesome.

The Romance: Almost nonexistent, but for a very small section in the beginning. This was a surprise! Serafina is betrothed to an (Indian!) prince! She feels jealousy, she feels hurt, but she never allows her feelings for him to overwhelm her when he turns out to be someone different. Best of all, the romance is almost gone for the rest of the book. There is more female friendship than romance in this book.

The Plot: Another weak point. It has an unnatural flow. This feels like an info-dump and nothing else. The plot goes in all sorts of direction that just didn't really make sense to me. It's book 1 in a series, and I really hope the second book will be better, because there really wasn't much substance to this initial book.