Sonia Faruqi writes her debut novel as a mash-up of mermaid fantasy and oceanic conservation information. Unfortunately, it’s more mashed than up. I abandoned it after 100 pages.
The parallel story lines of a human and a mermaid are a trope that goes back to old-school fairy tales. Hans Christian Andersen, I’m looking at you. But the bottom line of a story like this can only result in a woman subsuming her fundamental identity in order to catch that man. I started out reading with reservations.
Faruqi introduces Coralline (catch the play on coral there?), a young and naïve mermaid. She’s trying to find her way, studying to work at the local apothecary, and snagging the village’s most eligible bachelor. But, man, does that bachelor belittle her. As do her parents. And Coralline and the author just go along with this disturbing trend.
On the surface, we also have a young human named Izar. He’s been adopted into the family that owns Ocean Domination, a transparently-named company with goal of depleting everything good about the ocean. Izar knows merpeople killed his parents, but he knows nothing else. And he’s a brilliant scientist, who in his early 20s is attempting to develop a previously impossible tool to further damage the ocean and fill his family’s coffers.
The story line I could intuit from the first 100 pages is the standard two people who should be fighting against each other end up falling in love. Izar is also searching for the true story of his birth family, and I had inklings of that final reveal pretty early on. The bad guys have names that awkwardly foreshadow their behavior. And it’s all so very uninteresting.
I wish I could tell you the ending, because there’s plenty of potential here. I just can’t stomach the writing style that would get me to the end of the story. Faruqi hasn’t polished any of the potential in this story until it gleams. It just cries out for copious further editing.
This sounds small, but the author uses names for places, people, and things that range from idiotic (Menziesii—how do you even say that?) to pedantic (Izar has an Invention Chamber). It happens over and over. I was rolling my eyes and wishing for a guy in this world named Chris or Steve. Anything besides Deneb, Zaurak Alphard, Saiph, or Violacea. This felt like a creative device where the reader pays a price.
Her descriptions come from heavy thesaurus use. For example, she says “perturbed sleep,” which just made me scratch my head. To me, being perturbed is an emotion that requires engagement, something that generally isn’t present in sleep. Or maybe I’m picking nits. On the other hand, Faruqi gives us this one which shoehorns so many oceanic terms into it that my brain boggled.
“Much of it was planted with paddle-grass, the stalks shorter than those of other grasses, the leaves bright green. Scarlet bushes of berry wart cress and crimson stalks of siphoned feather grew in bright columns, interspersed with the dreamy, silvery bands of peacock’s tail.”
This is not an isolated example. Sentences like this show her love of the ocean, but they’re overwhelming in such quantity. And it stopped the flow of the narrative for me. I too love the idea of teaching people about the ocean, but I’d never finish the book if I googled every term. Oh heck, I didn’t finish the book either way. I’d be more inclined to persist if Faruqi narrowed her focus to just a few concepts, instead of trying to teach every little thing on each page.
It’s hard to abandon a book. I feel badly because the author clearly cares about her subject. But this one didn’t have characters or story line that grabbed me.
Plus, I’ll confess to reading some reviews from people who did persist. Apparently, Faruqi includes some story elements I know I’d find objectionable. For example, the mild misogyny of some male characters devolves into full-blown assault. Not going there.
I have to recommend a hard pass on this book.
I received a free copy of this finished novel from the author in exchange for this honest review.