Review: The Prince and the Sea Witch

It's no secret that "The Little Mermaid" is my favorite fairy tale. One of my favorite adaptations of it is Princess of Mermaids by AG Marshall. In The Prince and the Sea Witch, she brings us an entirely different imagining of the story in a much darker world where mermaids follow the classical siren mythology of luring men to their deaths. This is one of the latest entries in the Villain's Ever After series that I had been looking forward to the most. Considering the length of many of AG Marshall's recent novels, I was pleasantly surprised that this one was quite short, allowing me to read it on my own time without feeling pressured to finish. It doesn't convey the same themes of risks and sacrifice that I love about the original "Little Mermaid" story, but it is a pleasant book in its own right that follows the narrative structure of the other Villain's Ever After books, giving readers a good idea of what to expect.

You've heard of the "not like other girls" trope, but what about "not like other mermaids?" Briony starts her journey as a naive young mermaid in training for her first feast with little understanding of what that feast entails aside from what she learned in her classes with her elders. When she realizes that her mer-sisters are heartless sirens who suck out the souls of helpless sailors to keep themselves young, healthy, and beautiful, she decides that life is not for her. She swims to a secluded part of the ocean and becomes a recluse who practices magic and avoids hurting innocent people. Vicious rumors begin to spread about her among the merfolk for not participating in their deadly games. One day, she finds a human man who somehow escaped the clutches of the siren song and brings him safely to shore.

This book takes a daring risk by turning the beloved character of the little mermaid into an ignorant villainous monster who uses men for her own selfish desires. Stories that turn villains into heroes must sometimes make the original protagonist evil in order to make the villain more sympathetic, and this is one of those times. When Lyra asks Briony to turn her into a human so she can convince Prince Harlan to marry her, it is only with the intention of sharing his soul so she can live forever. She has no concept or understanding of what love is. How could she when the only thing she was ever knew was how to kill? I have mixed feelings about Lyra having no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It makes Briony's decisions easy to justify and relate to, but I think it would have been more interesting if both Lyra and Briony believed that they were doing the right thing for different reasons.

Conversely, Briony is a perfect angel. It is no wonder that Harlan falls in love with her. He enlists her services to stop the sirens forever, and she is all too eager to turn on her own kind for the sake of the humans. Her lack of ties to any of the other mermaids gives her no reason to feel remorse. The sirens only become eviler as the story goes on, blindly supporting Lyra's greed until the very end. I liked Briony enough since she gave no reason not to like her, but it would have been nice for her to have a dark side to balance out all of her light like many of the other villains from these adaptations do. However, it's hard to complain about the lack of overall nuance when the book was such a quick, easy, and pleasant read.

I'm glad A Villain's Ever After included an adaptation of my favorite fairy tale and that it was written by my favorite fairy tale author. It offers a fresh and unique perspective on "The Little Mermaid" with a unique twist that follows the original Greek mythology of mermaid lore to explore how different the story could have been if the mermaids were wicked sirens. The love story was cute and well-paced, especially for such a short book. If you enjoyed this story, you can also check out my adaptation, Of Land and Sea: The Untold Story of The Little Mermaid, on Amazon, in which I also explore this beloved fairy tale from alternative perspectives.

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