by Brenda Pandos
The following is a detailed review of the Young Adult novel, Everlost, by Brenda Pandos. It is the longest review that Dr. Data has penned to date.
For those readers who wish to bypass the folderol and cut to the chase, here is what Dr. Data thinks about Everlost:
It is really, really good and you should really, really read it.
In 2011, Brenda Pandos – an established author of Young Adult fiction – released [intlink id=”120″ type=”page”]Everblue[/intlink], the first book in her Mer Tales series. This exciting story was followed in 2012 by [intlink id=”942″ type=”post”]Evergreen[/intlink] and now her eager followers have been rewarded with Everlost, the capstone of the series.
In order to appreciate the present, one must first understand the past. [intlink id=”120″ type=”page”]Everblue[/intlink] centered around three main characters:
- Ashlyn a.k.a. Ash, a very human and personable high school senior living with her parents, grandmother and somewhat bratty younger sister on the shores of Lake Tahoe
- Tatianna a.k.a. Tatchi, her next door neighbour and BFF
- Finley a.k.a. Fin, Tatianna’s twin brother upon whom Ash has an ongoing crush.
Fin and Tatchi have a secret; they’re not really human – at least in the conventional sense. They are merfolk from the subterranean aquatic kingdom of Natatoria. The powers that be in Natatoria are very picky about whom is allowed to live outwith the bounds of the kingdom and both Fin and his twin sister are quite lucky indeed to experience the world of humankind. Their sojourn on land is interrupted when the family is summoned home because of a crisis in the realm. There, Prince Azor – who has fancied Tatchi for quite some time – decides to claim her as his mate through the simple act of a kiss; something that binds all Natatorian couples in perpetual bliss. Tatiana loathes Azor and all hell breaks loose when her father – at the head of a small rebel army – attempts a rescue at her promising ceremony. Sadly, Azor kisses her first. Fin and his parents flee Natatoria while Tatchi – now bonded to Azor – stays behind. There’s also another kiss involved here. On one of his surreptitious visits to Tahoe, Fin rescued a drowning Ash and the kiss of life now has more than one meaning.
In its sequel, [intlink id=”942″ type=”post”]Evergreen[/intlink], Fin and his parents are wanted by the Natatorian authorities and take it on the lam for a safe house in Florida leaving Ash behind, lonely and longing for her wandering merman. At the Florida safe house, Fin encounters the princess Galadriel – the underlying cause of the whole crisis in [intlink id=”120″ type=”page”]Everblue[/intlink] – who bears an uncanny resemblance to Ash and becomes the third central character of this installment. Ash discovers that she is actually a Natatorian herself; Galadriel’s long lost sister who was switched at birth with Azor in order to give their father a male heir. Along the way, Ash is reunited with her tail and accompanies Fin and Galadriel home to Natatoria in order to spring Tatchi and straighten out the mess that the kingdom has become.
There are several differences between Everlost and its predecessors. The first two stories centered on three main characters: one male and two females. Everlost focuses on Tatchi and the two men in her not-so-happy life: Jacob – who made a (very) brief appearance in [intlink id=”120″ type=”page”]Everblue[/intlink] – and Prince Azor. The first two stories were told in alternating first person narratives by Ash and Fin. In Everlost, Brenda, volte-face, spins her story with a third-person narrative. Although the first two stories had an ample share of action in addition to romance, Everlost is most definitely a romantic thriller.
Back in Natatoria, all is not well between the newly bonded Tatchi and Azor and in the ensuing two weeks after their disastrous promising ceremony, things will go from bad to worse.
Azor shoved Tatiana into the entry of the compound and slid the heavy stone door shut. She whirled around, stunned he’d left her side, and tugged at the iron handle in a panic, unable to lug the monstrous thing open.
Tatiana is in thrall of the bond and when she is with Azor, her mind turns to mush while free will and self-determination are swept away on an almost obsessive current of infatuation with him. Prince Azor has other ideas and doles out his affection sparingly; just enough to keep this fish on the line but not enough to fulfill Tachie’s needs and expectations. Her only real companionship comes from her handmaiden – royalty hath its privileges — and her body-guard, Jacob.
Prince Azor can only be described as “a real piece of work” and the main villain of this drama. While other bad guys may be known for their duplicity, Azor is an overachiever when it comes to quadruplicity. He is a grasping, conniving individual who always manages to get what he wants no matter who has to suffer – including the kingdom of Natatoria. His multi-faceted schemes are aided and abetted by his small but quickly growing squad of goons known as the Dradux. His goal is to have control of the kingdom, a trophy mate and a male heir — all by his 18th birthday – and he very nearly succeeds.
Jacob is the direct antithesis of Azor. He is a warrior assigned to protect as well as keep an eye on Titania. He is also a member of the rebels seeking to show Azor and his father, King Phaleon, the door and rescue Princess Tatiana from the living hell of her Promising. Physically, he looks as if he could grace the cover of almost any “bodice-ripper”. Through all of this, Jacob develops feeling for Tatchi. For her part, Tatiana finds him somewhat attractive and starts to develop feelings of her own until Azor throws her a bone of attention and, to her besotted eyes, becomes “da man” . . . at least for the next fifteen minutes until Azor can find the excuse and opportunity to stall her and get back to the business at hand.
At this point, it is worth considering a similarity between Ash and Azor. His true parents are the mom and dad that Ash has always known growing up in Tahoe and her real parents, the king and queen of Natatoria, are the only ones that Azor has ever known. Though she has grown up as a human, there is a thing or two about Ash that harkens back to her Natatorian birthright. She loves to swim and always has loved to swim. As captain of her high school swim team, she is one of the fastest and most able girls in the water and her academic career at FAU will be underwritten by an athletic scholarship in swimming. Though she now knows about the underwater world of Fin and his sister, joining them below the surface is still just an option until she is forcibly converted to a mermaid by Fin’s uncle and cousin. Ash seems to almost instinctively know how she should move and act in her new environment. One could say that she had been yearning for the world taken from her at birth.
Azor seems in some way to instinctively long for what he was at his beginning. Because he is unable to have that, he compensates by grabbing more and more of what he can have and is ultimately never satisfied. This ongoing want of power and privilege feeds upon itself and will not end with his becoming king. His dislike of humans is common knowledge and though he ascribes many a negative trait to them, he exhibits almost every one of these traits himself. It could well be that, in some subconscious way, Azor knows that he doesn’t really belong in Natatoria and he consciously reacts by hating what he really is. Unfortunately, the kingdom suffers for it and a prevailing suspicion and distrust of beta mers – former humans who have chosen to join their promised mates in Natatoria – is exacerbated as part of his reign of terror. In fine, both Ash and Azor are affected by what they once were as much as what they are now.
Everlost is Breda Pandos’ opportunity to examine the aquatic world she has created for her characters. Its citizens are almost unilaterally forbidden from exploring and understanding life on land. Although many Natatorians consider their realm a utopian one, they exhibit the same faults and prejudices that beset their cousins supra mare. The palace is dependent upon luxury goods from the world above and this desire for better things extends to as well to John Q. Mer and his fellow hoi palloi.
A telling moment comes when Ash – now a newly minted mermaid – enters a Natatorian home and is gob smacked by the similarities to human homes on land.
Being fish, the whole concept of air-filled homes stumped her. Why did they act so human?
Though the Mer of Natatoria consider themselves to be first and foremost fish, they are decidedly human fish and suffer from the same types of failings that humans do. The rights of women have yet to make their way to Natatoria and mermaids are relegated attracting a mate and producing merlings. This kind of life does not appeal to an independent minded Tatchi and has thus been one of the factors behind her desire to join the human world . . . completely.
Everlost is a bumper serving of thrills, chills, action and excitement. There are narrow escapes and daring rescues such as the scene where Tatchi arrives to save the life of Jacob whom she is now decidedly interested in after successfully breaking the bond that tied her to Azor.
“You know, the girl can be the hero sometimes.”
Even though Jacob is the rescuee rather than the rescurer, he finds all of this to be quite the turn on. If anything, Tatchi is a stellar example of an empowered mermaid. She loves Jacob as much as he has come to love her and this time, she – not Azor – is in control of her life.
Both Tatchi and Fin have found their life mates is this saga thus easing the ache and loneliness that has fueled their desire to permanently leave the mer world behind. This does not necessarily mean that they will turn their backs on the surface world and live happily ever after with their promised mates in Natatoria. At the end of the day, it seems that Ash, Fin and Tatchi want to be a part of both worlds and it is left to the reader to imagine how that will ultimately unfold.
Brenda Pandos seems to have a knack for writing a about true love – this is a YA romance after all. She is more than adept at telling her target audience about those tender, loving and passionate moments about which almost every Young Adult female wants to hear .
Her soul exploded into a song filled with all the goodness that was him. And everything about him felt right. To hold him close, to be with him, to treasure him for all eternity, she could think of nothing else, completely engulfed in his love.
She speaks of the love and attraction between her characters in such a warm and compelling way that even this reviewer is prompted to remember just how much he loves his wife of thirty-eight years and thus recommends her books as required reading for any Young Adult male enrolled in Girls 101.
Ms Pandos also deserves a gold star for one small thing. Back at the beginning of the series, Tatchi is conspiring with Ash to follow her to Florida Atlantic University – Go Owls!! – on scholarship. This reviewer has read more than one YA novel where the heroine decides that, since she’s a mermaid now, she doesn’t need to finish high school and/or go to college. At the end of it all, Ash and Tatchi are still looking forward to attending FAU together. That one wee bit of positive reinforcement for the target audience draws top marks from this reviewer every time.
Throughout this story and the ones preceding it, Brenda Pandos has carefully crafted her characters and imbued them with a warmth and humanity –or is it mermanity? – that renders them as real and tangible individuals. The reader naturally both feels and fears for Tatiana and spends the better part of the story wondering when the cavalry will finally arrive. For those who have read [intlink id=”120″ type=”page”]Everblue[/intlink] and [intlink id=”942″ type=”post”]Evergreen[/intlink], Brenda has scattered a number of clues throughout the story as to what is happening with her family and Ash on the surface.
At the same time, Ms Pandos does not skimp on the villains in her stories. The baddies are appropriately bad and have an air of rotting marine life about them. All are definitely “hiss-worthy” and the only things that Brenda does not do is have them speaking in rhymed couplets and exiting stage-left.
For the observant, Brenda Pandos has woven several lessons into her tale of tails and one is well worth mentioning here. Since time immemorial, young adults – of both genders – have often practiced the art of stringing a person along and preying on their emotions for whatever end they may have in mind. In Everlost, Tatchi is strung along by Prince Azor and the mental anguish and emotional suffering she must endure is plainly obvious to the reader. This reviewer hopes that at least some of Brenda’s Young Adult fans will get the hint and pass it along to their peers.
Brenda Pandos has spun a thrilling and timeless tale that is arguably her best work to date and one of which she may be justly proud. Read it for the drama. Read it for the action. Read it for the romance but by all means, read it.
When an author comes to the end of a series, he or she packs away their characters and moves on to other projects. Things are somewhat different for those who have followed that series from its inception. Over the past years, Ash, Fin and Tatchi have become familiar friends as readers have followed each twist and turn and pondered where Brenda Pandos would take the story in the next installment. Here, the reader is wont to say: “Please don’t go . . . not just yet”.
Ms Pandos should seriously consider penning a “Where Are They Now?” kind of short story as readers will be dying to know things like:
- How does Ash finally square things with her parents?
- Will Fin be able to sing himself out of this sticky situation?
- How will Ash explain to her mother that she’d rather sleep in the lake than her own room?
- Will Fin’s design for Velcro enhanced board shorts take the Natatorian runways by storm?
- How about Ash and Tatchi a few years hence when they’ve got several merlings under foot and/or fin?
- Will Fin ever get his beloved red Jeep back?
- Will Uncle Alaster finally be brought to justice?
- What happened to Ferdinand?
So many questions that fans of the Mer Tales series will want answers for. Brenda’s final installment in her Mer Tales series is undoubtedly a success in that it leaves the reader wishing for more.
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Read a sample of Everlost