by Adrianna Stepiano
Wikipaedia defines “Sophmore Slump” as
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A good example of this last category is Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The first movie was great. The second . . . not so much. The same thing happens with authors and their novels – they will hope that the second is at least as good as the first.
In the subgenre of Mer-fiction, there are examples – Tracy Deebs’ Tempest series is a good one – of the 2nd book being even better than the first. Move over Ms Deebs, Adrianna Stepiano has avoided the sophomore slump in her Memoirs of a Mermaid series and has delivered a book that tops her first outing.
A feeling of loss is the only way to describe it. When my heart aches with what I could have had, that for a moment, I know. I know. I KNOW—that I cannot live without him. I’m sure most people have similar moments of clarity. It’s the random seconds when you realize that something you wanted was yours all along—but, you failed to recognize it.
As the story opens, a year has passed since Seraphin – this Hebrew name means ardent or fiery – graduated from high school; one year has passed since Seraphin first met Joesph. A lot has happened in that time. Seraphin has discovered that she’s a mermaid, that she’s destined to be one of the two guardians of the sea and that her former biology teacher is not quite the sweet, quirky person that she thought she knew. ‘Phin also learned – at the end of the first book in this series – that her father is alive and that the man – now deceased – she thought was her father was actually her uncle. Revelations like this are nothing new – either in fiction or real life. This reviewer discovered – after all the parties had gone to whatever reward awaited them – that the older woman he thought was some sort of distant cousin was actually his grandmother. As well-intentioned as the deception may have been, this reviewer would have much rather had the truth from the beginning and so would Seraphin.
‘Phin does not like lies and upon hearing that what she was told is not how things really are, she vented her spleen upon the messenger – Joseph – who is her closest ally and co-guardian. Joeseph is the one who went to great lengths to find out what became of Seraphin’s mother and – quite understandably – he does not take kindly to being the focus of her anger.
It’s an unfair truth that we hurt those closest to us, and I hurt Joseph Merrick.
Seraphin retreated into a shell of familiarity and remained at home when it came time to begin the fall semester at the University of Maine; Go Black Bears! This was the last straw for Joseph. After all, he had gone to great lengths – again – to see to it that ‘Phin had a place at university and this additional rejection caused him to leave for school and stay away for the rest of the year. Nine months without so much as a word from Joesph has only increased her sorrow and regret.
. . . he was in my thoughts, my very secret thoughts. When I tried to imagine his voice, I struggled. It had been too long since I last heard him speak. The sound of his voice was beginning to fade from my memory
Now that the summer session at CORE – Coastal Oceanic Research Expeditions – has begun, Seraphin will have to face the music if she hopes to have any chance of salvaging her relationship and snatching love from the jaws of rejection and defeat. Things, however, have changed for Joseph. Dr. Caro, the man behind CORE, has pushed Joseph towards overseeing the lab technicians and becoming more like middle management and less like a hands-on researcher. There’s also someone else, Lena Ligeiato, who has taken over his old position and seems to be exerting a Svengali-like influence over him. If Joseph seems like he’s entranced by a Siren, it is because Lena is an actual Siren.
Adrianna Stepiano depicts Sirens in their original form; Bird-like women or women-like birds – both dangerous and beautiful – who used their enchanting voices and music to lure sailors on to the rocks of whatever island they happened to inhabit. Somewhere along the way, humans expanded the definition of Siren to include Mermaids and they have suffered from the bad press ever since.
Ms Steptiano has once again done a brilliant job of envisioning the relationship between ‘Phin and Joesph. As the story opens, Sepaphin is the same age as a rising college Sophmore while Joseph has completed a year of graduate school. This reviewer – with a little effort – can remember being that age. Even taking into account the fact that ‘Phin is in her first real relationship, things would be quite a bit more involved if the couple were indeed real people. Adrianna has successfully envisioned this relationship for the mid-teen market. Seraphin and Joseph share hugs, kisses and tender moments; everything that a mid-teen female would want to read about. Quite tame by today’s standard of fiction and yet, very sweet and romantic.
When, At Last, She Could See is a tale well told. Adrianna Stepiano has a firm hold on her vision for this series and continues to expand the world she has created for her characters. While Mermaids and Sirens may be fantastical creatures from mythology, she skillfully humanizes them and renders them as believable. There is no better example of this than the Goonches, the half-breed merfolk who were unlucky enough to have a human forebear. They suffer a similar fate to that of the Wizards and Witches of Harry Potter fame who had a Muggle or two somewhere up their family tree. And like the Mudbloods, the Goonches suffer from the resentment and disdain of the pure-blooded merfolk.
Adrianna depicts her Goonches as ordinary – or mostly so – people living ordinary lives. They are shopkeepers, administrators, house-wives and just has human as the rest of us. Perhaps even more so. The Goonches of Bar Harbour, Maine have been unobtrusively protecting ‘Phin from the very beginning without her even knowing who or what they were. A necessary lie, perhaps, but nonetheless a lie. Perhaps this is one deception that she can forgive.
Parents read children fairytales with happy endings. It’s a way of sheltering their children. They do it because parents understand that innocence is so rare, and they know it’s temporary. They see it, and they cling to it. They want to protect it, keep it, and hide it away from the evil world. Eventually, children grow older though. With age comes awareness, and awareness ends innocence.
Seraphin’s world – and her perception of it – continues to change and evolve. Over the course of this novel she grows up some more. There will still be things – like emotions – that she needs to master but Adrianna’s way of story-telling ensures that the reader will want to see what happens next. The third installment in the Memoirs of a Mermaid series is – at the time of this writing – due to appear in the late summer/early autumn of this year. Those who have followed ‘Phin on this journey – and perhaps have gained their own understanding via her travails – will undoubtedly look forward to that time.
Adrianna Stepiano’s skill at both writing and story telling has grown since When, At Last, He Found Me and there is no reason to doubt that the forthcoming installment will be even better than the two before it.
Adrianna’s website may be found at Memoirofamermaid.com.
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Read a sample of When, At Last, She Could See