Review: A Kingdom Submerged

It's no secret that I love mermaids. So when I found out about a great deal on the first book in a four-book series by Deborah Grace White that features a mermaid, I decided to dive right in. The last book I read from her was a mediocre retelling of "Beauty and the Beast." I decided to give her another chance for the sake of mermaids, and I'm so glad I did! The Vazula Chronicles is such a well-written and compelling series that as soon as I finished A Kingdom Submerged, I immediately got started on A Kingdom Discovered! While this series is not based on "The Little Mermaid," it does contain a torrid romance between a mermaid and a human that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

A Kingdom Submerged by Deborah Grace White

A Kingdom Submerged tells the story of Merletta, an underprivileged mermaid who gets accepted into an elite school and is mocked for getting ahead based on her background as opposed to her own merit. Yet, it's pretty clear that the school would have preferred not to have someone from her background, and only her phenomenal intellect and skills allow her to remain there. At first, I thought this concept seemed a little too human for an underwater world. After all, there are many fantasy books about dark academia and racism. Yet, the more I read, the more impressed I was by the little details that set this mermaid society apart from a human one. Merletta wishes to attend the school to become a record holder, which is someone who keeps track of the recorded data about the Triple Kingdoms where the merfolk reside. Because they are underwater, paper and ink would disintegrate pretty quickly, so they have their own system of carving words onto writing leaves and copying them again over time as the ocean slowly eats away at them. There are also strict rules about going to the surface that Merletta defies on multiple occasions and learns all the things that her superiors wish to hide from her and the other inhabitants of the Triple Kingdoms.

The book alternates between the perspective of Merletta with Heath, a human noble who discovers a long-lost island kingdom called Vazula thanks to his dragon friend, Rekavidur. If the mermaid lore isn't enough for readers to get their fantasy fix, this fully fleshed-out enchanted world has plenty of dragon mythology as well. Heath's story begins when he befriends Reka and the two bond over their curiosity about ancient kingdoms. Reka agrees to fly Heath to the location where they believe Vazula is located. They just happen to arrive there on the same day that Merletta goes exploring beyond her kingdom's magical barrier. Heath is just as shocked by the existence of mermaids as Merletta is by humans. This initiates a series of secret rendevous between the unlikely pair on this ancient island lost to time that only the two of them know about. What a tantalizing way to begin an illicit romance! Unfortunately, Heath gets tied up in some politics about governing magic users in the human kingdom at the very same time that Merletta discovers her life is in danger. When they are finally reunited again, it is under the worst possible circumstances.

I love how this book takes common mermaid and dragon lore and does something entirely different with it. It makes sense that a diverse mermaid society would have its own form of racism and prejudice even though that's not something we like to think about when we read these stories for escapism. Merletta's very real fear of "drying out" on land was a nice touch that added additional stakes to the story. I also liked that she had some allies at the school and that she was considered a hero back home for attaining such an auspicious opportunity even though most of the staff and students were against her. Heath's situation about governing magic users is a fairly common one in fantasy lore, but the close bond he shares with the dragon is more unusual, which makes it all the more frustrating when it becomes clear that Reka is keeping secrets from him. This only increases the desire for Merletta and Heath to find a way to be together because they are the only ones who can truly trust each other.

I highly recommend A Kingdom Submerged and the rest of The Vazula Chronicles to all fans of mermaids and romance. The characters and world-building are superb. It is a fantastic original story with hints of nostalgia for similar fairy tales and books. I especially enjoyed how well the romance was done. Sparks fly between Merletta and Heath from the moment they lay eyes on each other, and we spend the rest of the series desperate for them to find a way for their impossible love story to work. All four books in this series are out now, and I am currently halfway through the second one.


Kae-Leah Williamson said…
As an ocean conservation activist, I was very disappointed, upset, and triggered by the fact that the merfolk in this series are depicted eating endangered species, and that is never really called out as wrong. I expected great worldbuilding, but the lack of care this universe's merfolk have for sea creatures was upsetting to me. I always thought of a mermaid as a sort of symbol of having a connection with the ocean and its creatures, something that is very much lacking in this series. I much prefer a mermaid society along the lines of Disney's Atlantica, in which merfolk can communicate with sea creatures. Fantasy can be a very powerful tool for imagining the way the world COULD be, as opposed to how it is. One has the opportunity to create a fictional world in which the environment is respected a lot more than it is real life, which can in turn inspire the reader to take better care of animals and the planet in real life. With that in mind, this universe felt like a missed opportunity to me, as this writer clearly has the talent and imagination to create such a world, but unfortunately chose not to.

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