Cover art

Cover art

by Tracy Lane

Princesses, mermaids growing up unawares on land, life or death battles for the sanctity of the seas, charming men who show up out of nowhere to inform you of your destiny; all these are common plot devices found in many of the new wave in fantasy stories known as Mer-fiction. Considering the massive upwelling of these stories over the past few years, it almost seems that some authors are choosing one from column A and two from column B. As common as these elements may be, it takes a real artist to take these bog-standard devices and turn them into a fun and entertaining story and that is exactly what Canadian author Tracy Lane has done in her first novel, The Call of the Deep.

Enter Mericle Edwards, a twenty-something student of veterinary medicine living with her pre-med roommate in a one bedroom apartment in Fort Collins, Colorado. Mericle was found floating in the sea by her adoptive parents in an odd sort of water-filled bassinette.  In case you are wondering, she was her adoptive parents’ miracle baby and they substituted Mer for Mir due to the fact she was found at sea.

One may also wonder what brought Mericle to Fort Collins, Colorado and it is definitely not the labs for the National Institute of Standards. No, Mericle is there because although she grew up in Miami, she has an acute case of Thalassophobia and Colorado State University is far enough away from the sea to suit her. Mericle shares a cab one morning with a quite handsome young man named Matt who informs her that they’ve met twice before and that everything in her life is about to change.

One year later, nothing has changed and Mericle has almost forgotten about Matt. Her roommate, Kelsey, coerced Mericle in to going on a blind date that includes a cruise on the local reservoir. Mericle is knocked overboard and her blind date, Jeff, saves her. This is the start of an intense mutual attraction that scares the bejeebers out of Mericle and she pushes him away. Jeff isn’t too happy about this development but he nobly gives her some space.

This just the start of things. Gaining the ability to read minds, learning to control water, deciding that she’s ready to begin exploring a relationship with Jeff – who promptly disappears from the face of the earth – are amongst the long foretold changes to Mericle’s life.

We stood, nose to nose, gasping short breaths for what felt like an eternity, but only a few seconds.   Jeff wrapped his arms tight around me and I found myself lost in his deep green eyes and intoxicating smile.

The atmosphere changed.   I knew we were alone but if felt like someone or something was there with us.   A ghost or a presence of some sort, or maybe an electric current?   I wasn’t sure, but it had to be more than hormones.   But as tempting as it was, I couldn’t take my eyes off Jeff – even for a second – to see if the room had been infested with spirits or engulfed in flames.

There is, of course, a certain amount of chemistry between Matt and Mericle. Matt has devoted his life since the age of eleven to her welfare and it stands to reason that he would care for her deeply. For her part, Mericle is hard pressed to ignore the fact that she finds herself attracted to Matt. Things, become even more confused for her when Jeff enters the picture and subsequently disappears. For those readers who are weary of triangles, this is more an abortive romance rather than the old game of “which one do I choose?”

The dramatic tension in The Call of the Deep comes from the very reason why Mericle is where she is in the first place. Mericle’s parents were once the rulers of an undersea kingdom and her father supposedly went his separate way before her birth. In reality, he had taken up with a sub-aquatic sorceress and returned with an army of mutant creatures bent on taking over not only his old kingdom but as many other kingdoms as he can get his hands on. At the tender age of eleven, Matt was charged with carrying Mericle to safety and keeping watch over her until she can return to save life in the sea as we know it.

Matt has been a stand-out protector and guide for Mericle but he’s just not telling her some things she ought to know before she actually needs to know them. For example, her relationship with Jeff would have been off to a much easier start and she wouldn’t have wasted so much time obsessing over Matt if he had simply informed Mericle about just how the mating game works in the deep. This brings up an interesting point in Ms Lane’s telling of her story. In Meri’s post-rescue encounter with Jeff, she is frightened . . . nay, terrified of what appears to be happening and the overwhelming attraction that she suddenly feels for him. Conversely, however, Mericle’s reaction to Matt telling her that she is a mermaid and a princess is almost blasé’ by comparison.

Tracy Lane has developed an interesting cast of characters. There is, of course, Mericle whose character does start out a bit mild in the beginning but picks up steam as the story unfolds. Matt is the ultimate Boy Scout; cheerful, brave and ready to do whatever is necessary for Mericle to realise her true potential. This includes acting as body guard, grand vizier, and court magician all rolled into one.

Jeff, Mericle’s hunk-ah-hunk of burning love,  is a bit of an enigma in that he only has a relatively few scenes with her and, besides the obvious fact that he’s head-over-heels crazy about her, is hard to get a read on. After all, he does appear to vanish from the face of the earth about a quarter of the way through the story. Fortunately, Tracy Lane has provided an intermezzo whereby the point of view switches to Jeff for four chapters so the reader is able to learn the reason for his sudden disappearance and what his role will be for the remainder of the story.

The uneasy sense of mutual attraction between Matt and Mericle is resolved by the appearance of two escaped mermaids from a Southern Atlantic kingdom:  Jayna and her sister Sparrow. It seems that Sparrow is more a perfect fit for Matt and they do have a bit of history together.

Of all the central characters – aside from Mericle, herself – the one that stands out the most is the human; Mericle’s roommate, Kelsey. She is a stand-up kind of girl, protective, loyal to a fault and willing to do anything for her best friend. Once Mericle and company are on their way to kick some tail, it is Kelsey’s task to return to Fort Collins, CO. This reviewer has become rather attached to Kelsey and hopes that Ms Lane will see fit to employ her again.

Ms Lane has created a fun and exciting story in The Call of the Deep and this reviewer is eager to see what comes next in books two and three of the series.  Her novel appears to be aimed at the upper end of the YA market and the lower end of the NA (New Adult) market. It is the firm opinion of this reviewer that anyone above the age of fifteen  with an abiding interest in mermaids and mermen will thoroughly enjoy the story.

Love, fear, change, discovery; The Call of the Deep is about a lot of things but most of all, it is about finding oneself. It is about learning who you really are and where you really came from.

Now I understood.   I was remembering a former life.   I had forgotten how beautiful it was – the diverse array of plant and animal life swaying back and forth with the current along the reef.   The shifting sand of the endless ocean floor and the way the school of bluefish sped along side us one moment, as if to say hello, then off in another direction the next.

The gentle hum of the underwater world was both energizing and calming all at once.

I was home.

Americans are always surprised by the myriad things that come to us from Canada. Excellent Mer-fiction can now be added to that list. Tracy Lane’s sequel, Return to the Deep is expected to release in the spring of 2014.

My Rating:

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