Plot: Lo was once a human girl but she doesn’t remember much about that life. Now she lives beneath the ocean with her sisters. The only way to return to the surface, the old ones tell her, is to make a man fall in love with her and take his soul. But when one of her sisters draws a young man into the water, Lo saves him instead of killing him. Everyone believes that Celia is the one who saved Jude but her mysterious power to see a person’s past may save Lo, and the girl she once was.
This review is based on an ARC received at BEA 2012.
Fathomless is a beautiful, modern-day interpretation of The Little Mermaid. Pearce has tackled fairy tales before: Sisters Red was her take on Little Red Riding Hood and Sweetly on Hansel and Gretel. If these two companion books are as good as Fathomless, I need to read them soon.
The novel is told from the POVs of Celia, Lo and her human alter-ego, Naida. They each have distinct and engaging voices. All the elements of The Little Mermaid are present: a charming prince (well, gorgeous starving musician… close enough), the mermaid who saves him from drowning and the girl who takes the credit. There is love, lies, music and a touch of magic.
But this isn’t Disney’s Little Mermaid: there is a much darker element to this tale. Pearce calls them ocean girls or mermaids but I would call them sirens: inhuman beasts who sing men to their death. Her exploration of their lives is fascinating (spoiler: they don’t put on musicals directed by crustaceans). And yet though Lo is soulless and murderous, she is not a monster. Or at least not yet.
Celia is interesting too. She is one of a set of triplets and each has a power: Anne can see the future, Jane the present and Celia the past (am I the only one reminded of Norns or Fates?). The powers themselves are less interesting than the ways in which Celia feels distanced from her sisters because she is not identical and because her power seems the least useful of the three.
I was not entirely sold on the ocean girls’ origin. Without giving any details, I can only say that I didn’t feel the proposed mythology quite fit with the rest of the story. Others might disagree. Besides this doesn’t take away from all the qualities of the book, nor from its powerful ending.
If you like fairy tale re-tellings, love stories and dark explorations of humanity, you will love this book.
Fathomless will be released on September 2nd 2012.
Author: Jackson Pearce (http://jackson-pearce.com/)
Publisher: Little Brown