Lost Voices - Sarah  Porter Mermaids are my favorite creatures – always have been. Consequently I notice with glee all those merfolk novels that lately have started popping up left and right. And I am very, very grateful to Hartcourt and to Netagalley for accepting my request for a review copy.

Mermaids and other humanoid water-breathers can be tackled from completely opposite angles, because there is always a mystery around them: the "We-above-the-waterline-cannot-know-for-sure-factor". Thus opposed to vampires (getting sucked dry can only end badly) and other monsters they can be pictured as cutish and harmless glitter-girls living in pink mother-of-pearl cities, but there are also selkies, who are not to lose their seal skins, and legions of inhumanly beautiful and alluring, but cruel, calculating, heartless and cold-blooded hunters - out to mesmerize the male two-legger. Face it, the majority of the European legends and fairytales does not present us with with wavy redheads singing happily along with the starfish chorus, but with death-bringing voices luring Orpheus into dangerous waters (Homer), hairy Lorelai distracting seafarers by shaking her booty on her wood-splitting rock (Brentano and others), clever waternixies persuading millers' sons to accompany them underwater and sending them back completely spaced out and clueless three generations later (Grimm’s), fairy-like undines tricking men into getting them pregnant and thus gaining a soul (de la Motte) and – certainly – unhappy fishgirls who give their voices and their lives for a futile shot at gaining the heart of a rich jerk (Andersen).

Sarah Porter grabbed the siren-theme from the Odyssey, recreated the unforgiving and bleak atmosphere of the European seas by moving the setting to even colder Alaska, cooked up a plausible reason for women to use their enchanted voices deathbringingly and wove a modern retelling for a young adult audience from the strings:

Girls of all ages who die from being abused or reach the point when stomaching more abuse and violence simply isn't possible anymore, turn into magical creatures with superhuman strength, sea-serpent-like glittery tails, angelic, persuasive voices and perfect faces (picture Luce as Alice Cullen with a tail) – if they are coincidentally in the vincinity of any source of water. Being disappointed from mankind and enraged for having been mistreated during their childhoods allows their bloodthirsty enchanted voices, who have a mind of their own, a good leverage. The girls find a home within one of the matriarchic mermaid communities, but spend their days dreaming of wrecking the next ship, of enthralling helpless sailors and tourists until they kill themselves joyfully.

Luce (Lucette) is different. It becomes clear quickly, that her voice is unusually powerful, but more important is Luce's attitude toward her "killer voice". Luce's experience with abusive adults didn't last as long as that of many of her tribemates. After her father’s death – at sea - she had only spent about a year with her alcoholic uncle - who had beaten her often, but had tried to rape her just that one time when she decided to jump. Even the lack of friends didn't matter so much to her during her nomadic life with her thieving father, since she had always felt loved and treasured by him. In contrast to the other mermaids Luce does not condemn humanity as a whole. She still can distinguish between good humans, bad humans and indifferent ones. And – at the latest when manipulating newcomer Anais arrives, who did not really have a reason to become a mermaid and sets a wave of envy and back-stabbing into motion - she comes to the conclusion that her fellow mermaids' souls do not really differ from the humans’ they all hate with abandon and that without their orally transmitted code of behavior everybody would be at each others throats.

In the beginning Luce starts to "tame" her enraged, beautiful voice, gradually steering it to alternative uses, because she wants to shed her crave to kill with it. Later she notices that working with her voice also hones her singing skills as such. Her bottomless admiration for Russian Catarina, the tribe's ruling queen, secret code breaker and star singer, whose friendship she desperately seeks to win, hinders her from being open about her vocal experiments – until it is to late and the bullies' trap is asbout to snap.

Luce is – like Catarina and the orphaned sisters Violet and Dana, too – a strange and unfathomable character. Sometimes she is samarithian on the border to Sainthood, sometimes unreasonable fangirlish or naive, seeking approval and praise at all costs. When she has a real chance at acquiring a friend in depressive Miriam, she blows it without giving the possibility a thought. What puzzled me immensely was her quick acceptance of the so-called Larvaes’ fate: Larvae are abused infants who turned mermaids – and certainly do not age. If not for the code the older mermaids would ruthlessly kill the helpless, clingy babies, who end up in the orcas' jaws most of the time. Luce undertakes only one feelble attempt at saving a Larvae, before she capitulates. They could have easily fenced them in I thought angrily.

Sarah Porter's writing is beautiful, the setting well defined and easy to visualize, the story a little springy and frayed with a little too much stress on bullying and mean girl stereotypes. It also does not please me that the end was a complete hanger that even lacked a proper cliff.

Personally I like stories that do not avoid problems, but play a hopeful tune and end on a promising if not cheerful note. If you are into dark and evil modern fairytale retellings, which do not magic away the gritty and dirty parts like, for example, Sisters Red (Rumpelstiltskin) by Elizabeth Bunce and you do not mind the complete absence of romance, "Lost Voices" might be just the thing for you. It is definitely an interesting addition the available selection of mermaid fiction.

A note to the cover designer: The cover is outstanding, but the tail is supposed to be much longer!