by Dianne Lynn Gardner
Nihil novi sub sole – There is nothing new under the sun. This Maxim from Ecclesiastes could certainly be said to hold true within the realm of mer-fiction as it is a ground which has been plowed many, many times. Plots involving vast undersea cities, sub-aquatic strife, sea-witches, battles with monsters and/or humans, unrequited love, and of course, the perennial favourite of a teen-aged girl/boy suddenly discovering that they are in actuality, a mermaid/merman. This is not to say that such stories boasting these plot-lines – or variants thereof – are dull-making or not worth reading. Indeed, they can be fun, exciting, thrilling, endearing, and a veritable fin-fest. Every once in a while, however, the devoted connoisseur of mer-fiction yearns for something new, something different.
All is not lost. Of late, there have been two mer-novels that have covered fresh territory and have proven to be quite enthralling. The first, Flippin’ The Scales by Pete Tarsi, has already been discussed by this reviewer. The second entry, Pouraka by Dianne Lynn Gardner, is the subject of this review and is undoubtedly a quite noteworthy book.
We poor, landlocked humans are inclined to think of mermaids – and mermen, of course – as living a wild and free existence in the oceans of the world, having the occasional dolphin sidekick with whom they pass the time of day and are happy and joyous 24 x 7. The world which Dianne Garner has created for this story is far different than the one of our imaginations. It is a world where merfolk are a hunted species under constant encroachment by humans, tourists, and oil rigs. The ocean waters that border the land are rapidly becoming an inhospitable place to abide, evocative of the book of Amos, 7:17. “ . . . your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be divided by line; and you shall die in a polluted land . . . “ Their dire situation invites the reader to apologise for being human.
Tas is a merman who can no longer remain silent or idly by while his clan slowly dwindles. They continue to be hunted by humans and first his beloved mother fell victim and now his older brother has been wounded by their harpoons. To spend another season where they presently are risks extinction for the entire group. His idea is to take the members of his clan – including the aged and the wounded – North where the hope of a better life – or even simply life itself – beckons.
Conditions are somewhat different for merfolk to the North where Barnacle Bay lies. The merfolk have, overall, a better life and their home cavern – called in the mer tongue, Pouraka – has long provided a comfortable home and although pollution has impacted their food supply to a certain degree, they are much better off than those who live to the South. One of their advantages is that they and their home are protected by the humans who reside in the town beside the bay.
Cora is one of Pouraka’s denizens and she is rather fond of the humans who live on the shores of barnacle bay. Though the magic of Pouraka’s waters, which are jealously guarded by the merfolk, Cora is able to leave the sea behind and walk amongst her shore-bound neighbours, not the least of whom is her best friend, Beth. While Cora is always quick to defend her human friends and protest that not everyone who walks on two legs is a threat to mer-kind, she is nonetheless somewhat naïve as to how the world above the water’s surface works.
Despite the initial impulse of some merfolk to turn away the refugees from the South, they are given shelter and in time, absorbed into the Pouraka colony. It is through this gift of sanctuary that Cora meets Tas and he soon begins to play an increasingly important role in Cora’s emotional life. Sadly, whatever respite the southern merfolk might have gained by seeing refuge in Pouraka is short lived. The northward progression of oil hungry humans continues bringing with it arrogance, death, greed and plunder. The merfolk may be able to run but they cannot hide and a time is fast approaching when hard choices will need to be made.
Dianne Lynn Gardner has woven a thoughtful and provocative story for young adults that is as much about the choices in life which we all must face as it is about scales, tails and survival below the surface. Through the eyes of the mermaid, Cora, readers will learn that life and the world in which we live is not always as simple as we would like to believe. There are two romances in MS Gardner’s story and before the final word on the final page, irrevocable choices will need to be made and each will result in a sundering. Readers – both young and old – will enjoy this story for the plot itself as well as the thought provoking questions which it presents.
Dianne Gardner is without a doubt one of those multi-talented people that those of us who fall into the realms of ‘ordinary’ and ‘really ordinary’ cannot help but envy. Aside from being an author, she is also an illustrator, oil painter and filmmaker. Pouraka is Dianne’s first real foray into the genre of mer-fiction and it is this reviewer’s considered opinion that she seriously contemplate one or more return visits. If she can maintain her fresh approach to the subject, MS Gardner will find a ready and enthusiastic audience.
Visit Dianne Lynn Gardner’s Website at gardnersart.com