{Review} MERMAID by Carolyn Turgeon

Love fairy tales and mythology?
Fans of mermaids, dragons, unicorns, and other mythical creatures?
Enjoy when a beloved classic tale is retold?
A Twist in the Tail Thursdays features all this and more!

Lately, there has been a lot of chatter over mermaid novels and what makes a good one.

I've consistently stated that I tend to prefer the versions where there is a little more "beast" in the mermaid/siren, since they aren't really human. It always pushes the limits of my disbelief when a mermaid who knows nothing about humans and hasn't studied them, but comes out of the water on her 16th birthday able to speak and write in the human tongue, drive a car and know the rules of the world, be super up on fashion, etc. It just doesn't feel right to me.

Or what about mermaids who become humans and there are no repercussions? They can talk like a human, walk like a human, no pain, no suffering. (I swear, I'm not a masochist!)

I also love a good retelling of The Little Mermaid, one that doesn't necessarily follow the Disney version, but is closer to the original, which is darker and grittier.

One of the books I have been recommending a lot lately is an older title that most people haven't heard of, MERMAID by Carolyn Turgeon, so I wanted to dust off one of my earliest reviews and re-introduce the title to a new audience today since mermaids are big again right now (Did they ever truly go away?).

This novel follows the original Hans Christian Andersen tale, but stills twists it up. And it is one of the only tales I've seen that focuses on the princess from the convent as WELL as the mermaid, giving viewpoints to both characters, as well as adding attributes harking back to the original mermaid such as the fascination with human souls and...I'll stop here and let you read my review!

 E N I N G   L I N E:

  IT WAS A GLOOMY, overcast day, like all days were, when the princess first saw them. The two of them, who would change her life. There was nothing to herald their appearance, no collection of birds or arrangement of tea leaves to mark their arrival. If anything, the convent was more quiet than usual. The nuns had just finished the midmorning service and scattered to their cells for private prayer. The abbess was shut in her chamber. Only the princess was out in the garden, wandering along the stone wall that overlooked the sea. Here, near the old well, the wall dipped down to her knees, and an ancient gate led to a stairway that curved to the rocky baech below. She was bundled in furs, wincing against hte blast of wind that swept up from the sea and made the bare trees rattle around her.
She was not supposed to be out here. She should have been in her cell, too, but she did not follow the rules the way the others did, and the abbess had instructed them to give her wide berth. No one knew why, only that she'd arrived one night on horseback accompanied by three armed guards, who carried in a large chest, placed it in a private double cell in the novices' wing, and disappeared as quietly as they'd come.

(pg. 1, US paperback edition)

This review was first posted at A Backwards Story April 18, 2011 and has been revised and updated for today's post.

“Souls were webs of light that contained the essence of a human's life. Memories and loves, children and families. Every moment of life, pressing in.


One of my favorite fairy tales has always been The Little Mermaid. Mermaids fascinate me; I’ve been writing stories about them since elementary school. With this tale, while I’m obsessed with the sugary Disney version I grew up with, I also love the original story. It’s so sad and tears my heart apart. The mermaid goes through absolute hell in order to be with the man she loves and in the end, it still isn’t enough. MERMAID by Carolyn Turgeon deals with the Hans Christian Anderson version of TLM, but with her own twist. For the first time (that I’ve seen), the tale is told through the eyes of the princess in addition to the mermaid we all know and love. As soon as I realized we were going to get her perspective on everything, I knew I had to buy MERMAID and bring it home.

The novel doesn’t disappoint, either. I was swept away by Turgeon’s lush descriptions. I wanted to live beneath the sea with Lenia (The Little Mermaid) and her kin. I loved her description of mermaids, the way their skin was hard and diamond-like, able to withstand the cold. Turgeon introduces her own mermaid lore as well. When a human is touched by a mermaid, a trail of shimmer and diamond is left on his or her skin in that spot. Additionally, she describes the way mermaids and humans used to be one race until the king and queen had a major falling out. The king tore up the sea and created land and gave his followers legs instead of tails. There was so much to envision and explore that I never saw coming.

Whenever I read a re-telling of The Little Mermaid, it always tends to follow the Disney route, complete with a happily ever after. I was enamored with the way Turgeon takes Lenia down the sadder path. It was interesting to see why she made the decisions she did, why she fell in love, her obsession with souls, etc. After making her deal with the sea witch, her tongue is torn out and I can feel her pain, but even more so when she tries to walk. I agonized with the mermaid every step of the way. Turgeon really brought her plight to life. Same with the princess. Hidden at a convent so her father’s enemies won’t find her, Princess Margrethe stumbles upon the mermaid and a washed-up sailor. She never realizes he’s the prince of the enemy kingdom, takes him in, and saves his life. Seeing the way her life pans out really fleshes out the original version of the tale. The princess was nothing more than an afterthought then, with no motivations of her own. I loved seeing the way Turgeon brought everyone together and carried out the story I love so much.

Even knowing the original tale, there are still new twists and turns that will come as a surprise to readers. Because of this, the novel never got old or boring. My only complaint was that at times, the lack of using contractions in sentences stood out, but this was forgivable due to the fact that people spoke in such a fashion back then. Turgeon tried very hard to keep to her time period without any modern influences. For example, the focus on religion and a joining of souls worked well. It wasn’t preachy, but rather laid things out in a “this is how the world is” fashion. MERMAID very much read like a proper periodical and I was completely drawn into the world in which everything took place.

Even now, so long since reading (and even re-reading) MERMAID, it remains one of my favorite mermaid novels because it is unique and stands out from the pack. This review makes me nostalgic, so I may be re-reading this soon!

Carolyn Turgeon has gone on to write several other books since this review, which I've reviewed, a mermaid handbook (and also a fairy handbook, with a unicorn handbook on the way this June!), and is the editor-in-chief of Enchanted Living magazine, which features fairies, mermaids, fairy tales, and so many more enchanted moments!

Check out more from her now -- especially that mermaid handbook!

THE MERMAID HANDBOOK: An Alluring Treasury of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes and Projects  by Carolyn Turgeon and the Editors of Faerie Magazine is lush and gorgeous and the perfect addition to any home library! (Video review here!) There's also a FAERIE HANDBOOK that recently came out, which I reviewed here and did a video review for here!

Turgeon has also written books that blend fairy tales and lore into original novels. I adore the psychological twists in GODMOTHER, the twist of Rapunzel growing up to be Snow White's evil stepmother in FAIREST OF THEM ALL (Turgeon also stopped by with a great guest post about the title upon its release), and the fact that in MERMAID, you get the perspectives of both the mermaid AND the convent princess from Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid, which you almost never see. She has also written THE NEXT FULL MOON for younger readers, about the daughter of the Swan Maiden, as well as the original novel RAIN VILLAGE (Though it has an almost Thumbelina flair to it). You can also check out an interview with Turgeon here!


To be honest, I don't remember. I first wrote this review in 2011 before I used content ratings and have freshening it up today. I haven't read this in years (I should re-read it soon!), and I don't remember a lot of specifics. I don't recall language, and I can't remember how sensual it may or may not be -- I do remember a pregnancy, and the book is shelved in adult fiction, not teen, so take it as you will. (Plus, having your tongue torn out can't be pleasant!)

C O V E R   D E S I G N:

This is one of those covers that reveals things to you the more you look at it. The first time I saw it at a store, all I noticed was the model’s neck and the way her hair is pulled off her nape. It was the word “Mermaid” that stood out to me. Then, I saw the awesome blurb by Keith Donohue (THE STOLEN CHILD; great book!). 

It was the synopsis on the back that drew me in. It wasn’t until I picked the book up to read for the first time that I realized her neck and shoulders were actually joined to her back and that she sported a tail. I like to think I had my hand on her tail when I was looking at the store. I have a feeling I thought all the darkness beneath her shoulder/arm was a dress. I remember thinking there should have been a mermaid on the cover, not a girl’s neck. But upon closer, inspection, voila: it’s a mermaid! Very cool. 

I also love the typography used for the title. The “M” has a great curl that swirls into the “e” and dips back out again. There’s also a wave that comes in through the second “m” and swirls through it and the “r,” twirling away and trailing off like a wave. There’s also a bit of glitter around the title that reminds me of the shimmer a mermaid leaves behind on a human’s skin. While this isn’t the most eye-catching cover in the world, its elements pull everything together nicely. The title design is definitely my favorite aspect.

O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Carolyn Turgeon
Release Date: March 1, 2011
Publisher: Penguin Random House / Crown Publishing Group


rincess Margrethe has been hidden away while her kingdom is at war. One gloomy, windswept morning, as she stands in a convent garden overlooking the icy sea, she witnesses a miracle: a glittering mermaid emerging from the waves, a nearly drowned man in her arms. By the time Margrethe reaches the shore, the mermaid has disappeared into the sea. As Margrethe nurses the handsome stranger back to health, she learns that not only is he a prince, he is also the son of her father's greatest rival. Sure that the mermaid brought this man to her for a reason, Margrethe devises a plan to bring peace to her kingdom. 

Meanwhile, the mermaid Princess Lenia longs to return to the human man she carried to safety. She is willing to trade her home, her voice, and even her health for legs and the chance to win his heart...

A surprising take on the classic tale, Mermaid is the story of two women with everything to lose. It will make you think twice about the fairy tale you heard as a child, keeping you in suspense until the very last page.