I’m finally getting round to another book review and today I’m going to be talking about The Seafarer’s Kiss and all things mermaid! I first saw this book on Twitter and it was described as an F/F retelling of The Little Mermaid. As that’s my favourite Disney film and I was seriously lacking in mermaid books I knew I had to read it. Despite being a short book, this was a really clever read that included lots of social commentary and put a new spin on mermaid tales. There won’t be any plot spoilers below so nothing will be said past the synopsis in order to keep this review spoiler free!
Having long-wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the mermen’s glacier. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.
Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from Loki. But such deals are never as one expects, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies.
It initially took me a little while to get into the book, but I think that was because there was a lot to set up in a short space of time. Julia Ember built a complex world full of social expectations with an intricate back story that would impact the plot. I did, however, begin to love the novel once I’d absorbed all the exposition. I thought the world was strongly built and well thought through which helped engage me with the story. Despite being set under the sea, it was still relatable. I loved the idea of a society built on rules and social expectations, which very much mirrored our own. Of course I loved the idea of a YA protagonist challenging it even more!
Ersel, the protagonist, was a really great character. She was so strong willed and determined yet flawed and naive, too. I loved that she wanted to break free from what was expected of her but struggled to do that. There were lots of conscious choices and bad decisions which I loved – it was much more interesting than reading the perfect character that could do no wrong. I also found myself falling in love with Havamal, Ersel’s childhood best friend. He was such an endearing character who was internally conflicted between his loyalty to the people and his friendship with Ersel. This was such a truthful characterisation and part of the reason I loved the novel so much. Ragna, Ersel’s human interest, was also a well built character who served as a useful plot device. I loved her character development throughout the novel and the challenges this brought in her relationship with Ersel.
On a side note, I also loved physical description of Ersel and her fellow mermaids. Ember beautifully described the merfolk which created a clear picture in my head. They were clearly glowing beings that were intriguing and terrifying at the same time. The novel is full of such wonderful imagery.
One of my favourite parts of the novel was the use of Norse mythology, as opposed to the Sea Witch in the original tale (or Ursula for all you Disney fans). The inclusion of Norse Gods was a clever nod to Hans Christian Anderson, who was Scandinavian, and his original story. This was such a unique take on the story and introduced us to new characters who we are familiar with in other works. This also added context to the world of the mermaids and their beliefs.
The plot was exciting and intriguing and took lots of twists and turns which kept me turning the pages for hours, but that’s all I’ll be mentioning about the plot in order to keep this review spoiler free until the end. Whilst I didn’t think there were huge parallels to The Little Mermaid, there were clear similarities and it was obvious where Ember drew her inspiration from. The Seafarer’s Kiss is certainly worth a read to see how The Little Mermaid retelling is interwoven with Norse mythology and a strong, female protagonist.