For two weeks, come celebrate mermaids, whether it’s winter or summer where you live. Splash into Summer runs from June 28th to July 12th. There will be author interviews, guest posts, giveaways, reviews, and more! Now is the time to celebrate mermaids, especially with so many new novels about them coming out.
Be sure to also check out my interview with the intriguing Kit Whitfield!
I love the way not every mermaid book I’ve read recently is carefree or about shapeshifting. There are so many other worlds, so many places where the merfolk can take us. IN GREAT WATERS by Kit Whitfield is the darkest tale I’ve come across yet. It’s full of political intrigue and psychological analysis, weaving together a story of animalistic deepsmen and the land dwellers that hold England’s throne. The novel has the feel of a historical novel while showcasing an alternative world where the crown is held only by those with deepsmen (merfolk) blood coursing through their veins. This isn’t a novel for everyone. It’s too dark to be carefree and full of situations that can be uncomfortable to read. It’s gritty, yet realistic. The story starts off slow, but unfurls in a way that is hard to put down as readers eagerly turn pages in anticipation of who will sit on England’s throne.
The world of IN GREAT WATERS is set around England’s royal family. At one point in time, there was a peace treaty between the land dwellers and the deepsmen that created a political marriage. Ever since, this mixed blood runs through the veins of each descendent to take the throne. Sometimes, the deepsmen blood is thick and land dwellers are born with a tail instead of legs or a face as blue as that of a deepsmen. Almost always, they are born with a crippled walk that forces them to rely on crutches to keep them propped upright as they move. It is illegal for anyone outside of the royal house to couple with a land dweller and create royal blood. If any child of such a pairing is found, he or she is burned alive.
IN GREAT WATERS switches point of view between Henry, a deepsman whose mother abandoned him on shore, and Princess Anne of England, who was born with an unsightly blue face. The first chunk of the novel follows Henry, who is taken in by a scholar and trained to learn skills ranging from language to manners to combat. He is told that he may one day overthrow the king and become England’s new ruler. His identity must be kept secret lest he be burned alive. In my interview with Kit Whitfield, she mentioned that she modeled Henry after King Henry VII. Henry’s plight feels very natural for a deepsman forced to live on land. There are concepts believed by land dwellers, such as religion, that he fails to understand no matter how it is explained. Some words also elude him. He goes through a lot of pain over the trials to lead him on a quest for the throne.
The story arc that merges with Henry’s is that of Princess Anne’s. Anne is the youngest of two daughters. Her family’s hand on the throne is beginning to fail after her father dies prematurely and her Uncle Philip is born with a tail and little understanding of the English language and the way of land dwellers. Anne herself has the blue face of a deepsman, nowhere near as pretty as her older sister Mary. Through her, we see much of the ruling class and the way England has come to be where it is now. Anne is often overlooked because she plays stupid and the courtiers believe that she has little in the way of wits. Over the course of the novel, Anne develops a stronger backbone and goes to extreme lengths in order to secure England’s future, sacrificing herself in ways she never believed possible.
It’s hard to write a review that encapsulates all that makes up IN GREAT WATERS. There are so many themes and intricacies that are hard to detail without creating spoilers. Suffice to say, the novel is intriguing and hard to put down once the story picks up. It reads like a historical novel, albeit with fantastic elements brought into play. Like with when I reviewed SELKIE GIRL by Laurie Brooks, this novel incorporates the dangers of underwater life and the savage nature of deepsmen, who are not as tame as other novels might otherwise lead readers to believe.
The cover belies the contents this time around. The hand-holding mermaids seem benign, possibly even merry. One has her hair in adorable pigtails. Even the water is calm, with rays of light streaming down from the surface. But the merfolk lying within the novel’s page are deepsmen, savage and untamed. They fend for themselves, even as they live in tribes. The cover does its job when it comes to telling the world it harbors a mer-story, but speaks too lightly of the somber journey lying within.