Review: Lake Locked

I received Lake Locked by S.R. Nulton from an amazing book deal a few years ago that contained many of my favorite fairy tale books. This one stood out to me because it was a retelling of my favorite fairy tale, "The Little Mermaid," and "The Wild Swans," which I had only read one other adaptation of. Both of these fairy tales have a protagonist who must remain silent for varying reasons, making them a natural choice to bring together. However, there are enough differences that a combination of the two would need to favor one over the other, and in this case, Lake Locked favors "The Wild Swans." In fact, the mermaid element is so downplayed in this book that it makes me question why it was included at all. Aside from the lack of undersea worldbuilding, the main character comes off as immature, making her difficult to relate to. However, her personal growth as a result of these experiences makes her more tolerable by the end of the book.

Ariel is a princess living in a seaside kingdom who has the ability to turn into a mermaid when she enters water. It isn't explained why she can turn into a mermaid or whether or not the other people in her family have this ability as well. It's just something she can do. The only time this is relevant to the story is a brief flashback of when she rescued a boy from drowning when she was younger. A few years later, Ariel still acts quite young despite having entered adulthood. The first-person narration does not do her character any favors. She has a reputation amongst her family as a chatterbox. When a witch curses her cousins to transform into swans unless someone will sew six shirts out of nettles and take a vow of silence to save them, Ariel is the first to volunteer. Not only does she blame herself for the curse that the witch cast as punishment when Ariel refused to make a sculpture for her, but she also wants to prove to her family that she is capable of changing her ways. During her quest to collect nettles, she encounters a prince named River who invites her and her cousins to come live with him in his castle.

There are many things that happen in this story just because they were in the fairy tale and don't make sense in the context of the book or have little to no consequences. For instance, Ariel's vow of silence never gets in the way of communicating with River, nor is it explained why River decides to take her in immediately upon finding her. It also doesn't make much sense that the witch would curse Ariel's cousins instead of Ariel when she was the one who refused to make the sculpture. The curse itself is more of an annoyance than a blight since her cousins are able to regain their normal human forms every night after the sun goes down. Ariel's ability to turn into a mermaid rarely comes up, so there is none of the undersea worldbuilding that I usually enjoy in other books. There is also no direct villain threatening Ariel during her time in River's kingdom. The villain is only mentioned in passing, and her sole threat is a case of mistaken identity. Another part I struggled with was that Ariel's secret plan for the climax was not explained, forcing me to go back and reread a passage that could have easily been foreshadowed with a little extra dialogue.

There were still some elements of the book that were enjoyable. The story had a heavy focus on Scottish culture, regularly incorporating accents into the dialogue of characters from River's kingdom and describing the scenery surrounding it in a similar manner to that of Scotland. Breeze was a great character who became fast friends with Ariel. Inspired by the character from "The Little Mermaid" who stole the prince away, Breeze's inclusion adds a sense of strong female friendship to this book by its bold decision not to turn the girls into romantic rivals and fight over River. Instead, they work together to overcome each other's difficulties and lift each other up in the spirit of female empowerment. River and Ariel don't have a lot of chemistry, but they make a fine couple when they need to. While the climax adds a hint of excitement to the story, the stakes are not very high since Ariel is never in danger at any point. Despite being the protagonist, the only characters who suffer are the ones around her, including River, Breeze, and her cousins. Her sole struggle is learning to keep her mouth shut, which she seemed to be able to do just fine when it came down to it.

Lake Locked by S.R. Nulton combines elements from "The Little Mermaid" and "The Wild Swans" to create a unique retelling. However, the inclusion of the mermaid element feels unnecessary and the main character, Ariel, does not act her age, making her difficult to relate to. The story lacks depth in terms of worldbuilding and explanation of certain events, and the curse placed on Ariel's cousins seems misplaced. Despite these shortcomings, the book does have its merits, such as its focus on Scottish culture, the portrayal of a strong female friendship, and some enjoyable moments between Ariel and River. Ultimately, the story lacks high stakes and Ariel's struggle mainly revolves around learning to keep silent. I would recommend this story to fans of "The Wild Swans" because there are so few full-length adaptations of that fairy tale, but if you are little for a unique "Little Mermaid" retelling, there are better options out there.


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Happy International Mermaid Day!