Review: The Mermaid's Madness

After I reviewed The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines, I didn't think I was interested in reading more until I learned that the next book in the series was based on my favorite fairy tale, "The Little Mermaid." Though I reviewed a lot of "Little Mermaid" adaptations lately, I figured one more couldn't hurt. Or could it? I can say with some certainty that fans of the Disney movie would not enjoy this book. The Mermaid's Madness is much darker than the Hans Christian Andersen version of the story, which is really saying something. It unapologetically dashed many of my fairy tale princess hopes and dreams, yet the book was a daring undertaking that focused on an aspect of "The Little Mermaid that often gets left out in other adaptations. This is a version in which our protagonist actually goes through with the proposition to kill her beloved prince in order to save herself.

Since The Stepsister Scheme centered around the adventures of Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, I hoped that The Mermaid's Madness would take us on an adventure with a new mermaid protagonist following the trend of other fairy tale series that switch protagonists in each subsequent book. Instead, it was about the same badass threesome attempting to catch the mermaid queen Lirea after she mortally injured their leader, Queen Beatrice. It was difficult for me to perceive the little mermaid character as a villain after being so inspired by how passionately she loved and sacrificed for so many years. In the end, it turned out that the book was counting on exactly that and revealed an even darker twist to Lirea's madness. The saving grace for me was Lannadae, Lirea's naive younger sister who in many ways acted more like the little mermaid character we are familiar with than Lirea. Lannadae was a wide-eyed young mermaid who loved fairy tales and kept talking about how excited she was to team up with the famous Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. It's a shame that her innocence was tainted by her tragic experiences with her dysfunctional family.

One of my favorite things about mermaid stories is the discovery of a unique underwater world that exists entirely within the author's imagination. This book did very little to feed my mermaid fantasies. A large portion of it took place on a ship where three protagonists traveled with Lannadae and her grandmother Morveren. It wasn't always clear whether the two mermaids were actually on the ship and somehow submerged in water or swimming beside the ship. There were a few scenes where the main trio transformed into mermaids to run an espionage mission to gather information about Lirea's whereabouts. These scenes focused more on their gruesome transformation that involved cutting their legs open and using magic to sew them together than on the experience of being a mermaid and exploring the underwater kingdom. There was also some unnecessary nudity in a later scene due to the nature of the transformation process, which was even more awkward due to the fact that one of the princesses was secretly gay.

All of the notable elements of The Stepsister Scheme that made it clear it was written by a man stood out even more apparent in The Mermaid's Madness. Most princess books I read are written by women who understand that we care more about love, kindness, and sentiment in our stories than violence or sexuality. The concept of a sarcastic "Black Widow" who could kill you in the blink of an eye is more of a male fantasy. I enjoyed The Stepsister Scheme for its novelty, but by the time I got to The Mermaid's Madness, I was already tired of the unrealistic lack of feminity that all the princesses conveyed with the exception of Lannadae. They were basically men with boobs, seeking to avenge Queen Beatrice by any means possible. The story became more interesting when the big twist was revealed at the end, but it also made it that much more heartbreaking.

The Mermaid's Madness offers a unique look at the story of "The Little Mermaid" from the perspective of someone who doesn't like traditional fairy tales. Fans of Vertigo's Fables comics would enjoy it far more than fans of the Disney movie. The great thing about fairy tales is that they are so well-known in the public domain that you can find retellings of them for any audience. I am probably not within the target audience for this series, but there are those who love the exaggerated darker-than-life Sin City style worlds who would take this version of "The Little Mermaid" as gospel. As for me, I think I'm done with Jim C. Hines' princess books for now.


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