Oh look it’s another Pride Month installment of #FridayReads! This time with Julia Ember’s THE SEAFARER’S KISS, featuring an #ownvoices bisexual mermaid main character.
(Random, but good LORD I loved the papercraft cover so much. It was utterly lovely though admittedly not as dark as the book actually was LOL)
I definitely enjoyed this one; it’s a queer fairy tale retelling – four words that guarantee I’m going to be interested in the concept – and one that did a great job of it overall, I think.
First thing you need to know is that this definitely isn’t the Disney version. Ember created a story that’s dark and twisty with characters that are all flawed and do horrible things to survive. We have characters we root for, sure, but even our main character makes some selfish choices that definitely lead to other people being hurt. That’s one of the things I liked about this story honestly, that while we did have a few undeniable villains, the heroes and heroines were never perfect. They had to own up to their mistakes before there was any chance of a ‘happy ending’ and that felt genuine to me.
Ersel’s past relationship with Havamal was also something that felt very true for me: that sense that two people can love each other like crazy, but eventually want different things and get pulled apart despite how much they might care for each other. It doesn’t excuse all of their actions, particularly Havamal’s, but it still read completely genuine for me. Also the fact that Ersel’s bi-ness wasn’t an issue for Havamal was especially important to me; he gets jealous, but it’s because Ersel has someone who’s NOT HIM and worse is human, not because it’s a woman. With all the biphobia out there, that was huge for me.
One big downside to the book for me was likely due to how short it was. 224 pages doesn’t take me long to read at all, and it also seemed like the last third of the book was very rushed compared to the well-paced first two thirds. I am glad that there’s a companion novel in the works – that might help the story feel more complete for me.
Finally, I did feel I should offer up some trigger warnings with the dark subject matter (and I’m trying to be general so as not to post spoilers), though most of it is off screen: sex with a creature in a ‘gods made them do it’ sort of side plot along with death in childbirth, also use of “removing scales/partial skinning” as torture and punishment. Also, a major plot point revolved around “fertility as worth/womb as worth” for the mermaids with them literally being “graded” on how many eggs they have. It was definitely presented as negative and twisted part of the society, but it didn’t make it any easier to read.
Note: when I was looking at other reviews after I finished reading this, I noticed that there was some controversy about Loki being non-binary since they were the villain of the story & there wasn’t another non-binary character in the story, though the reviews I saw had enby folks on both sides of the argument. Since I’m not an enby I don’t feel like I am the right person to present my opinion, but I wanted to give my readers a head’s up that there were folks who were hurt by the portrayal.
So yeah, this was a solid 4/5 stars for me. Lots of things that I enjoyed alongside some issues as well. Overall, I enjoyed it, and I’ll be looking forward to the companion novel when it comes out!
By the way, this is now my sixth square on my #DiversityBingo2017 card: for “retelling with MC belonging to LGBTQIA+ I’m WAY behind on this thing, but lord knows I’m still trying for it!