Small reviews: Mermaids edition

If you remember, back in late April I decided to do a Mermay-challenge where I’d read the mermaid related books I owned. It did not go very well, I read maybe 1 of the books on my TBR and then 1 from the library. But I’ve also read a bit more since then and thought I’d give them a bit of a spotlight.

In Other Lands, by Sarah Rees Brennan

The cover is a lie! … well, not really. There ARE mermaids, there are even more mentions of mermaids – but it’s really not the centre of the story. Instead, picture this: you’re 12 and your teacher gets paid off to bring you to a field in the middle of nowhere that’s got a portal to a world where mermaids, harpies, trolls and elves exist… so you can go to a school that trains child soldiers, and nobody in that world finds it weird at all. Diplomacy? who cares about that!

Elliot starts off as an asshole brat and I struggled to like him at first, but it’s a story about growth as much as anything else. And about being different, and being queer, and finding your people and learning to care about others. In case you didn’t notice before, found families are my jam.

This book interrogates a lot of tropes you take for granted in most “classic” fantasy books, especially the violence against “monsters”, and it also has some amazing observations about gender (the elves believe women are bound to be warriors and men are weak and soft… that leads to some interesting discussions!)

Our Bloody Pearl, by D. N. Bryn

This book was recommended to me by Tessa, and was one of the BBNYA finalists last year. I did not know what to expect except human-siren romance?

I think, at its heart it’s once again a story about found families, and learning to trust after being abused for a long time. It’s also a story about interspecies misunderstandings. The mermaids in this are ruthless, yes. Perle starts off hating all humans. But it’s not just “mermaids are monsters”, of course. Or humans are monsters (though a lot of them are). It’s also about communication, and I loved how sign language is a central part of this story.

I had a lot of feelings reading this, because the mermaids in Perle’s world think if you’re wounded, or you’re in pain, you’re better off left to die so you’re not a hindrance to your pod. And as they come to the realisation that you can care for each other and help each other so that disability is not a problem anymore… yeah, I had a lot of feelings.

Ice Massacre, by Tiana Warner

I wrote a full review here but the gist of it is, this is also a story about how mermaids and humans think of each other as monsters because miscommunication lead to death. But it’s a lot darker. Where Our Bloody Pearl is about found families, this is about getting through horrible situations and coming out… well, alive, if not necessarily ok. And how people in such situations can and will do anything to survive, even hurting the ones on their side.

I really love that with the same basic concept (“mermaids are seen as monsters by humans / humans are seen as monsters by mermaids”) you can get so many different ways to look at it and different analogies to the real world.

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