Review: The Siren and the Scholar

I was so thrilled when the sequel to The Little Siren came out that I could not wait to read it. So far, I have thoroughly enjoyed the Faraway Castle series by J.M. Stengl. The Siren and the Scholar takes place six years after the events of The Little Siren. It is inspired by "The Little Mermaid," and it's my favorite adaptation of the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale that I've read so far. The book catches up with Kamoana and Tor, the titular siren and scholar that were introduced in The Little Siren. Just like the mermaid from the fairy tale, Kamoana becomes human to find Tor again. However, instead of giving up her voice, she gives up her memories of him, so she must find him without even know who she's looking for. His memories of her are wiped as well, causing a lot of frustration on his behalf as an intellectual.

I loved the romance and emotion that went into this story. Kamoana and Tor had forgotten their time together but felt empty as a result of their separation and didn't know why. When they find each other again, it isn't a cheesy melodramatic reunion. Since they are both analytical and logical by nature, they must first look for clues that they had indeed met before and recover at least some of their memories about each other before their feelings toward each other can fully return. This solves a complaint many people have had about the Disney version of The Little Mermaid that it's impossible for two people to find true love in only three days. It was heartbreaking to read about Kamoana's memories of her feelings for Tor returning while he still couldn't remember her at all. The couple had six years of history together, so there is no denying the validity of their love. I would strongly recommend reading The Little Siren for free on J.M. Stengl's website before beginning this book. It paints a strong picture what their relationship was like before their memories were wiped. There were also some brief references to Ellie and the Prince, the other novel in the Faraway Castle series, but the stories are mostly self-contained.

The adaptation of "The Little Mermaid" The Siren and the Scholar reminds me of the most is Dyesebel, a comic book series and periodically rebooted telenovela from the Philippines. In some versions, Dyesebel's mother gives up her memories of her life as a mermaid in order to become human and be with the man she loves. Even though he doesn't know who she is, he quickly falls in love with her as well and helps her through her amnesia. Unfortunately, mermaids are considered bad luck in their village, and things do not turn out so well for the star-crossed lovers. I think the most important aspect of "The Little Mermaid" is that she believed so strongly in her love that she was willing to sacrifice a part of herself for it. It doesn't matter if it's her voice, memories, beauty, or something else. That's why The Siren and the Scholar worked for me in a way that Silent Mermaid by Brittany Fichter, in which the protagonist was simply born without a voice and sacrificed nothing for love, did not.

The Siren and the Scholar also excels at having excellent side characters. There was the conceited prince, Mike, who acts as though he is entitled to Kamoana's love from the moment she becomes human, Eddi, a princess visiting Faraway Castle who is fascinated by Kamoana's other life, Beatrice, Eddi's clever maid, and the fellow scientists who travel with Tor. I even enjoyed the "B" love story in which Nora, the niece of one of the scientists, uses her charms to distract Prince Mike from aggressively pursuing Kamoana. Nora's aunt reminded me of a scientist from the Australian mermaid series H2O: Just Add Water who was so obsessed with collecting information on mermaids that she didn't care what happened to anyone else in the process. Kamoana also learned some secrets about her own family by the end of the book. I also thought it was pretty interesting that mermen in her world have the upper body of a fish and the lower body of a human, unlike most other mermaid stories. Since sirens are typically female, there's no need for merman to be aesthetically pleasing to humans as well.

I think I've found my new favorite "Little Mermaid" adaptation. The Siren and the Scholar succeeds at staying true to the themes of the original fairy tale while still creating a rich world with a fresh story. Not since Gail Carson Levine's books have I enjoyed a series of fairy tale adaptations as much as Faraway Castle. I am eagerly anticipating the next book in the series, The Rose and the Briar, a retelling of "Sleeping Beauty." There is a fantastic preview of it at the end of The Siren and the Scholar. The world of Faraway Castle is exactly the sort of fairy tale world I have dreamed of as a child.


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