Review: A Song of Sea and Shore

Most adaptations of "The Little Mermaid" do one of two things. They retell the exact same story with more detail than the original or they turn the whole tale on its head and create something completely different, usually losing what made the story so special in the first place. A Song of Sea and Shore by Katherine Macdonald lies somewhere in the middle. The best way I can describe it is that it turns the story sideways. Some aspects are exactly the same while others have shifted, such as the mermaid's motivation to visit her human prince. This is the third book I have read from The Fey Collection, and the author takes more liberties with this fairy tale than she did with the other two. Some of the changes lower the stakes for the main character, making it less of an emotionally powerful tale, while others address concerns that critics have brought up with this story for years.

A Song of Sea and Shore by Katherine Macdonald

Like most incarnations of "The Little Mermaid," Neri is a headstrong and optimistic young mermaid who desires with all her heart to protect the humans, especially the prince she has loved since childhood. Unfortunately, her mother, Queen Maris, is more cynical about the ways of the world, especially after having lost a daughter. When the humans seem to have broken a treaty they made with the merfolk years earlier, Maris decides to summon a storm that will destroy the entire human kingdom. It's up to Neri to find a way to walk on land so she can warn them before it's too late. This aspect of the story reminds me of a Sofia the First special called The Floating Palace in which Sofia had to stop Queen Emmaline from creating a storm that would sink her family's ship because she didn't trust the humans. The special featured Ariel from Disney's The Little Mermaid, and it was interesting to see the same storyline incorporated into an alternate version of the fairy tale.

Though this is clearly a "Little Mermaid" retelling, I noticed several references to "The Snow Queen," another popular Hans Christian Andersen story, sprinkled throughout the book. Even the prince's name, Kai, matched the name of the boy that the protagonist in "The Snow Queen" had to rescue through her love and memories toward him. There were other Nordic names as well, many of which were used in Disney's Frozen adaptation, such as Anna, Sven, and Hans. The "frozen heart" angle was interesting. Although Kai still has his emotions intact, Neri learns that he and the rest of his kingdom seem to have lost all their memories of mermaids. As a result, Kai has forgotten why Neri is so important to him. She must find ways to communicate who she is without her voice, many of which have been used in other versions of this story, such as sign language and writing, though Neri is disappointed to discover that humans have a different written language than the merfolk.

While many of the changes the author made to the fairy tale work in this book's favor, many of them take away from the heartrending aspects of the original. For instance, Neri no longer has to worry about dying if Kai doesn't remember her, though he will lose his entire kingdom if she is unable to communicate the danger that her mother poses. I also thought the prince's fiancée, Princess Sophia, was not believable as a character. The author doesn't like stories about women becoming rivals over men, so she made Sophia too good to be true. Sophia immediately realizes that Kai and Neri are in love and does everything in her power so they can be together. While this character was not exactly evil in the original story, there was some tension around a misunderstanding that she was the one who rescued the prince from drowning which I felt was missing here. I think it would have been more interesting if Neri had to build a friendship with Sophia to help her realize the misunderstanding.

All in all, A Song of Sea and Shore is a perfectly fine retelling of "The Little Mermaid." It develops a unique kingdom and culture around merfolk and gives the protagonist more motivation to trade her voice for legs. However, there were some changes to the story that made it less appealing to me, such as the sexualized version of mermaids, which is fairly common in mythology, and the lack of stakes for Neri because the danger is transposed to the human characters. There were a few surprises involving Neri's sisters that I really enjoyed. If you are a fan of "The Little Mermaid" and are looking for something new to read, this is a good one to check out.


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