Review: Princess of Mermaids

Did you know that today marks the actual 30th anniversary of Disney's The Little Mermaid? To celebrate, I would like to share a book review of A.G. Marshall's Princess of Mermaids with you. I've read many other adaptations of "The Little Mermaid" and even wrote one of my own, but I have never seen a book that managed to pay tribute to the fairy tale and the Disney movie while also telling a compelling original story so effortlessly. Princess of Mermaids is the third book in A.G. Marshall's Fairy Tale Adventures series. Though it works as a standalone novel, I highly recommend reading the other two first. Not only are they fantastic books, but they also paint a clearer picture of the world and characters in this book. Princess Fiora first appeared in Princess of Shadows, originally called The Princess and the Pea when I reviewed it. Her love interest, Gustave, was introduced in Princess of Secrets (originally The Frog Prince) along with some of the mermaids that appeared in Princess of Mermaids.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I learned that the egotistical and condescending princess from the first Fairy Tale Adventures book, Princess of Shadows would take on the role of the innocent and kind-hearted little mermaid. Yet, as I read further into Princess of Mermaids, I realized that I relate to Princess Fiora more than I care to admit. Like many well-meaning individuals, Fiora has a tendency to speak her mind with little regard to the effect it has on those around her. As a result, she is misconstrued as brash or rude. Yet, the person who misunderstands Fiora the most is Fiora herself. As a half-human and half-mermaid, she feels no sense of belonging to either world. The mermaids sent her to live with her human father for most of her life, but when she failed to land a proper marriage alliance for his kingdom, he sent her back to live with the merfolk. One of the biggest overarching themes of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" is being unwanted. This came from Hans' personal experience of being rejected by various lovers who he tried to court. Most "Little Mermaid" adaptations overlook this theme, but Marshall's story embraces it by making Fiora so ashamed of who she is that she dyes her hair and reveals as little about herself as possible after turning human again because she assumes that no one would love her if they knew who she really was.

Princess of Mermaids also spends some time developing the young King Gustave and devotes entire chapters to his perspective. When he was introduced in Princess of Secrets, we learn that he refuses to get married until he can solve the mysterious disappearance of his father. Still, he finds himself enamored by the mysterious girl who saved him from a shipwreck. Many adaptations of "The Little Mermaid" present the prince as slow or clueless. Reading the story from his perspective helped to form a better understanding of his mental state and how muddled his thoughts became after falling under the effects of various mermaid songs. It was also clear that he knew the mute girl he found on the beach had some connection to the one who rescued him even though he wasn't sure if they were the same person. This book also used a creative method of solving the communication issue between the two lovers by making them both know sign language. Other books I've often have the mute princess write everything she wants to say on a pad of paper, but that can seem unrealistic because of how long it would take to write down an entire conversation. Using sign language instead creates more chemistry between Fiora and Gustave by giving them something in common and allowing them to communicate in a way that not everyone around them and understand. It's also a great way to provide visibility for disabled princess fans.

Even though Princess of Mermaids is a terrific book on its own, I also loved the little homages it incorporated to both the original fairy tale and the overwhelmingly popular 1989 Disney adaptation. This was the first adaptation of "The Little Mermaid" I've read that references the little mermaid feeling like she was walking on broken glass and leaving bloody footprints with every step she took. It also included an incredibly touching version of her sisters' sacrifice. Even though I was already familiar with the fairy tale, I got misty-eyed when I read about Fiora's mermaid sister Zoe giving up her hair without a second thought to bring Fiora the enchanted dagger that was promised to save her life. The scene was handled with such care and sentiment that it touched me even more than Fiora's relationship with Gustave did. It was the first time in the book that Fiora realized that someone she grew up with truly cared about her. The darker elements of the fairy tale were balanced out with lighter references to the Disney movie. Another mermaid who claims to be an expert on humans insists on fastening forks into her hair to help her look more attractive to humans. The forks are later revealed to belong to a certain merchant taking refuge in the castle who has a daughter that requested he bring her a rose from his travels, which may be a hint toward the next book in the series.

Princess of Mermaids surprised me multiple times over. I wasn't expecting the little mermaid to be a mean and blunt princess from earlier in the series who wasn't even a mermaid at the time, nor was I expecting to care about her as much as I did by the end of the book. It's interesting that she admits later that not being able to talk may have helped her gain people's favor because she wasn't able to put her foot in her mouth anymore. Maybe I should try that sometime! I loved how A.G. Marshall incorporated new mythology and spells to explain Fiora's human transformations and how perfectly the new magic aligned with elements of the original fairy tale. If you are a fan of "The Little Mermaid," this book is a must-read. I also could not be happier to share this review on the 30th anniversary of the animated Disney classic after picking up this beautiful commemorative doll at the Disney Store yesterday.


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