by L. Kirstein

Samantha Matheson is a single-focus kind of girl. No time for love. No time for relationships. Her plan is to finish high school early, motor on through college and then on into a career. Love simply does not play a part in her calculus and she has no desire to date. Her best friend Kim, however, has other ideas and keeps trying to fix Samantha up with someone who will make her happy. And so, Samantha finds herself at the beach as the disinterested fourth wheel recruited to hang out with Kim and her boyfriend as well as his un-attached buddy.

Her life – as she knows it – along with her future plans are about to change, however, and it begins with Kim prodding her to go on a date with the unattached friend and Samantha heading out into the surf to escape the verbal chess match that is bound to ensue. She is finally getting a chance to relax in the water when a monstrous rogue wave hits her and she is quickly pulled out to sea in the resulting rip current; Not just a few hundred yards from shore but one or two miles. Her rescuer is a strange man with cold hands and even stranger dark blue eyes. Samantha tries to thank him for saving her and his response is to pull her under water . . . for good.

Samantha finally awakens to find herself 5 miles below the surface of the ocean in the company of this same man who is named Adrian – Prince Adrian to be exact. Samantha has fallen down the rabbitfish hole (Siganidae Siganus) and learns that not only is she stuck there for good, but that she was brought there to be Prince Adrian’s wife and it is expected that she will also take the tail and become a mermaid. (“Take the tail” is a poor pun on “Taking the veil”.) She is in this pretty fix because she is Adrian’s “Soulmate”; a condition that only afflicts the crown prince and his intended. This choice was made by Posiedon’s son, Triton, before either she or Adrian were born. For his part, Adrian knows that she is the one by the translucent crown floating above Samantha’s head. It’s a shame that this does not happen in real life as it would make dating so much easier.

Samantha manages to charm Adrian’s parents, fall in love with Adrian, survive the conversion process and settle into life as a mermaid. Those that once felt cold and damp to her now feel warm and natural. The only thing she can’t seem to reconcile is how everyone’s eyes look. Sam has the same sort of eyes at this point but she still finds it a bit creepy.

Things are much different for Samantha now and they go beyond the fact that she has a hard time staying out of the water. Love and marriage were nowhere to be found on her list supra mare, but down below they offer the promise of happiness. Unfortunately, all is not well in her new home and its environs but otherwise, we would not have such an interesting and exciting story.

L. Kristen goes into a striking amount of detail in describing Samantha and her new world and may have set the gold standard in describing the transition from Human to Mer. Needless to say, it does not involve a sprinkle of pixie dust. The reader will also find it interesting to observe Samantha’s transition from “Adrian, take me home NOW!” to “Adrian, take me in your arms”. Although she comes to accept and even flourish in her new world and new reality, that acceptance does come with a price; Samantha regularly grieves that she will never see her family and friends – particularly her mother – again. Her mother-in-law, Lena, goes to great lengths to fold Samantha into the family unit and Sam is both touched by and greatly appreciative of Lena’s efforts but, as much as she begins to feel like a daughter to Lena, there is still that sad longing in her heart.

If nothing else, this reviewer has learned that there are a number of constants in mer-fiction. The first is that the overwhelming majority of these stories in the current wave are geared towards females. Perhaps when someone writes about a guy battling zombie vampire mermaids from the planet Kelp VI, YA males will hop on to the bandwagon.

The second is that there almost always seems to be royalty involved somewhere. The mer-person is a royal who falls in love with a human who may or may not be royal themselves. Witness such diverse works as Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid and S.K. Munt’s The Marked Ones. While royalty is at first tangential in the Mer Tales series by Brenda Pandos, in the final chapters of book 2, it is revealed that one of the main characters is royalty. Indeed, most of the mer-fiction aimed at adults seems to involve royalty in one way or another. Perhaps this common thread reflects the all too human desire to escape our mundane lives and be something else; nobodies becoming somebodies.

If there must be royalty, too many authors have all of their characters – both male and female – bowing to the person of royal stature. It would be so much nicer for the female obeisant gesture to be a curtsey; something that this reviewer finds more elegant for females.

Finally there is the pre-ordained mate. The protagonist learns that they are destined to marry so-and-so. While the translucent crowns featured in Drown Me are unique to the royal family, it is still common in much of mer-fiction for the main character(s) to learn that there is someone out there destined to marry them and that they will know them – somehow – when they see them. One can argue that this is simply an expression of the hope and fantasy that there is a Mr./Miss Right out there just waiting for us to come along, but perhaps it is also an admission that the search for that special someone is going to be a long, bruising journey and that the knowledge of a connubial destiny would save a lot of heartbreak along the way.

In spite of all the good to be found in L. Kristen’s Drown Me, there are two things that this reviewer must take issue with. This first is a matter of semantics. L Kristen is hardly the first author who wants to refer to all merfolk – male and female – as mermaids. But this is the first time that this reviewer has seen an author be so brazen and up front about it. Consider the following piece of legerdemain:

 Adrian took a deep breath. “I am a mermaid, or merman, whichever you prefer. I know your society prefers to call males mermen. They seem concerned about gender, and the word maid refers to a female. In our world, we call ourselves mermaids— men and women both. Merfolk works for groups, though we do not use the term here.”

Is all this really necessary? It would almost seem to be a bit of conceptual laziness on the part of the author. Is there not some word/term – contrived or otherwise – that could be used to denote what most readers would call merfolk or merpeople? While this reviewer has a deep appreciation and admiration for the fairer sex, most males he can think of don’t want to be called females and he has yet to meet a single mermaid who wouldn’t bristle at the thought of being called a merman. Maids are maids and men are men and to refer to one as the other invites multiple instances of confusion as the story progresses.

The second issue is one that occurs all too frequently in the realm of self-published novels; proof reading or the lack thereof. Drown Me is no exception. The early chapters tend to be a fairly clean read but as the story progresses, more and more things start to slip. In this book, things hold together until the general vicinity of Chapter 26 when the bottom seems to have fallen out vis a vis’ proof-reading.

While this reviewer is known internationally for his typos, The Parsons’ Rant hews closely to the concept of “you get what you pay for”. The price is free, the reviewer is on his own patch and nobody pays attention to his writing anyway. It is, however, a different matter when you write novels for which people are supposed to pay up in order to read. If one wants to be taken as a serious writer, then they must be prepared to invest the time and trouble to present the reader with a cleanly written story. When there are egregious typos on the first page, the reader will instinctively know that things are only going to get worse as the story progresses and their interest and appreciation of the novel will decline accordingly. Fortunately, the number of errors in Drown Me is relatively small though annoying nonetheless.

These two issues are not fatal to Drown Me but, rather, they are a bit of annoyance that keeps the story from being as good as it can be and it is already good to begin with.  Drown Me is an exciting and enthralling story and fans of Mer-fiction would do well to place it at or near the top of their “to-read” list.

Drown Me is the first installment in L Kirstein’s Mermaid’s Tail series and the author has left her readers with a good, old-fashioned cliff-hanger. This reviewer will not reveal whom or what pickle they are in but he will reveal that he is genuinely interested in seeing what Book II will bring. Will Samantha ever see her birth-mother again? Sam will feel cold and damp to her mom in that first hug and her visit can’t go more than five days – much too short for any real catching-up. Oh . . .  and a pair of sun-glasses might be in order.

What this reviewer can predict that change in coming to the race of Merrfolk five miles below the surface and Samantha is the harbinger of that change. As Prince Adrian notes:

“Do you remember how Triton evolved our species to have a better chance of surviving? . . . It may be why he sometimes chooses a land walker as a soul mate for his descendants. [Queen] Henrietta brought change to us when she was brought here.”

That in and of itself is enough to make most any fan of mer-fiction want to learn more about Samantha and Adrian.

My Rating:

Buy Your Own Copy of Drown Me
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