Maybe since reading Otfried Preußler two years later I have been mesmerized by the idea of mermaids, their mysteries and their underwater worlds. The beginning of the current mermaid trend in YA fiction and paranormal romance about two years ago consequently made me very happy and alert. In the meantime I have picked up as much disappointing stories as interesting ones. But I am determined to enjoy the wave as long as it lasts. And although I have stopped putting every new merfolk book on my wishlist, I still patiently sift through the debris in order not to miss the rare gem. Everblue”, the first book of the “Mer Tales Series” by Brenda Pandos, sadly belongs to the category of stones I am going to throw over my shoulder with some flip behind it. Yet, I am sure, some other mermaid fans stumbling across the book will decide that they have finally found what they had been looking for. I am going to try to explain in detail so you can decide, whether you would judge like me or like them:
First a description to make you familiar with what I am talking about:
“Everblue” is told in the first person. Its point-of-view switches from chapter to chapter between the two main characters (usually a “plus” for me), High School senior Ashlyn and her best friend’s home-schooled twin-brother Finley. Ash, Fin and Tatiana live on the shore of Lake Tahoe. Ash has helped Tatchi to secretly apply for the admission and a scholarship at the Florida Atlantic University, where they want to spend their college years together, although they know that Tatiana’s parents, who do not even allow their kids to go to the local High School and who often disappear with the twins for days, will not exactly be thrilled about their daughter’s plans for the future. Truth is Ash doesn’t really know. Since the day several years ago when Tatiana’s dad smashed a glass vitrine because Ash had suggested a sleepover at her house, she hasn’t set a foot on the family’s premises. She remembers her own parents mumbling something sounding like alcohol-related problems, but she has never breached the subject. Another thing she does prefer not to talk about is her long-standing crush on Fin. Apparently a pity, because for Fin there has ever been only Ashlyn. But in contrast to just-waiting-for-the-right-moment-to-confess-Ash, Fin is set on forgetting the beautiful red-head next door, because his “carreer” has not been decided upon and he does not want to force an underwater-life on her. For Fin and Tatchi are mermaids, who are permitted to live temporarily on land because their father is guiding a gate in the Lake that leads to their monarchic underwater country. When Fin’s family is summoned down by the capricious son of their present King, there is not even time to say good-bye. And while Tatchi tries to evade evil Azor’s advances and Fin tries to replace his longing for Ash by courting a mermaid who reminds him of her, Ash is on the one hand concerned because of the twins’ absence, on the other hand she basks in the sudden interest of the school’s – really nice - star quarterback in her and nurtures her crush on him, which had been slumbering in a corner of her heart. How will everbody get happy with the right partner, (how) is Azor going to be defeated and how can Tatchi get to live the human life she longs for?
These questions are not so easily answered because of the unquestionably unique mermaid lore - which is essential for “Everblue” and which is in large part responsible for me being repelled. To be fair: From a logical point of view there is nothing wrong with the construct. It is even very believable, because it fits into the pattern of merfolk legends and fairytales. But if I think of “Everblue” as a love story between girls and boys I am supposed to like - or at least understand fom a "human angle", the lore turns into a paranomal romance nightmare:
Mermaids are a different species. They are either born (alpha-mer) or made by a willingness to stay with a merfolk partner (beta-mer, who really stay second-class citizens). When daylight falls on their tails (directly or indirectly via mirrors) they morph into legs. Simultaneously somthing happens with the breathing apparatus, too. The most important things are that mer-blood has healing qualities (came in handy when mermaids encountered shipwrecks in former times) and that a kiss and one kiss only (between two mers or a mer and a human) mingles the two souls permanently and makes the two persons addicted to each other up to the point that the absence of one makes the other one go crazy. This explains why sea-faring men encountering mermaids after a storm or a swim went slowly mad, jumped into the waters and drowned or joined their tailed saviours and were never to be seen again. That these mermaids were kissing the poor guys in the first place does not need to always have been an erotic urge. A mer’s kiss is also reviving for a person who’s life’s flame is on the brink of blinking out. For the teenaged merfolk in “Everblue” it means that regardless to whom you are attracted to or who you fell in love with, you first kiss – voluntarily, accidentally or forced - determines who you will eternally long for, who you cannot be without, whose body will turn you on without fail, who you “love”. To avoid random matings the mer-families do not approve of or which weren’t really planned by the hormon-laden teens all unmated merfolk is constantly heavily chaperoned. To me this once-press-the-button-guarantee of eternal, mutual infatuation (Tatchi and Fin’s parents are permanently making out) seems to be a thousand times worse than, for instance, an unwanted pregnancy or an old-fashioned arranged marriage (for both allow for serveral choices). It does not take into account that people change, that people have intellect, something in common or not in common, something to talk about or not to talk about. It is just some weird chemistry that traps a couple into an iron lock of inescapable bliss. Horrific, don't you agree?
As the story progesses the reader is in for a treat of how awful the mating-kiss can turn out. Tatiana is forced to kiss evil Prince Azor and feels compelled to stay with him and even shield him from her brother’s attack – in spite of her always having been the one willing to leave the merworld and become a full-time human for the sake of her personal freedom. Brainless, naive Fin who felt only slightly inconvenienced (he wanted to succeed his father as the Lake Tahoe gate keeper, knew that his future lay in the hands of the all-powerful royal family) but never managed to see the real danger, feels kind of bad for his twin in the clutches of the slimy-tailed Dark Knight, but he is more intent on assuring his lately acquired, giggling mate that he won’t have sex with her before turning her into an honest woman. I asked myself what the heck is wrong with that author? As if the question of premarital sex could be of any relevance when two teens are already infinitely bound by magical shackles. In addition the admittedly peculiar question stole into my head if the author thinks that lasting happiness can only occur, when both partners are brain-washed and paranormally forced? This notion would be supported by Ash’s change of feelings toward quarterback-boy after being kissed by Fin. What he says is simply not interesting anymore, his body looks less delicious and she doubts his devotion to her altogether. How convenient, but also how wrong! It all made me personally very angry.
But should the mentioned concept of love (I don’t think that this kind of connection deserves to be labeled love) of the author’s mermaid lore cover you in happy goosebumps, because you simply cannot pass up the chance to read about sweet eternal obsession, do not mind my previous antics and buy the book!
Another aspect, which constantly annoyed me to pieces, were the two sets of parents. Tatchi’s mother – a beta-mer – never trusted her children and their ability to keep their mouths shut enough to let them go to school with humans or to have friends, but she promised her daughter the freedom of choice as fas as her future mate was concerned. When the family moves underwater she changes her stance and her behavior so frequently that the reader gets the impression she has already gone nuts from her husband’s extended “business trip”.
Ash’s mother is a over-the-top moody, sharp-tongued, unfair bitch, who likes to make her daughter feel unbelievably helpless and bad in various creative ways. Communication between her and Ash is only possible with Ash’s dad as a go-between, who advises his daughter to "talk to her mom about it”, but does not initiate a family conference himself either. When Ash, whose confusion about her friends’ absence and her own accelerating romance with what’s-his-name finally wear her out, resorts to excusing herself from church under the pretense of feeling unwell, she is plagued by a mightily bad conscience and an enormous urge to come clean afterwards (which is later seconded by her indignant grandmother. Imagine! A good girl lying to her parents! *gasp*). That had me seriously wondering if the author is member of a strange religious cult. The real problem was definitely not Ash’s dishonesty, but her fear to ask monster-mom for permission! But faith is rather bluntly pushed at the reader throughout the book anyway.
I will count “Everblue” as “read” although I have to admit I stopped reading at 93%. But since I cannot imagine what glorious things could happen on the last few pages to pull the boat around, and I have read somewhere that the book ends on a huge cliffhanger anyway, I am not going to bother, since it only makes my skin crawl. One more down, how many to go? We will see.
Forgive me for not elaborating on the writinng style ecetera. It was not bad, but also not outstanding. The usual young adult, paranormal fare, you know?