Review: The Heart of the Sea

There's been a lot of big news for The Little Mermaid this year. Not only did the live-action movie come out, but we also got a new stage show of the classic Disney musical with another one on the way for Disney's Hollywood Studios. With that in mind, I was excited to review a gender-bent version of the story from the Once Upon a Prince series, The Silent Prince, a few weeks ago. On that review, I was recommended another gender-bent adaptation called The Heart of the Sea by Chesney Infalt. In the spirit of the holiday season, I decided to treat myself to it. This book takes place in a more complex world than The Silent Prince but does not flesh out the details enough to make it an easy read. It relies on the same hit-or-miss storytelling technique as ABC's Once Upon a Time in which the timeline constantly shifts between the past and the present with no rhyme or reason. Still, the book presents a touching love story that stays true to the themes of the original fairy tale.

The Heart of the Sea is told from the dual perspectives of a merman prince named Caspian and a human princess named Sabine. The two are childhood friends who have deep-seated feelings toward each other that defy their duties as royalty, particularly in the case of Sabine, who must make a political alliance with another human kingdom. Several years after their relationship blooms, Sabine's kingdom decides to break off its alliance with the merfolk due to a sudden outbreak of the Condemned, cursed merpeople who attack humans at sea. The descriptions that the book provides for the Condemned are vague, but it is apparent that they are inspired by the "Poor Unfortunate Souls" that Ursula holds captive in her lair from the Disney version of the fairy tale. Caspian accidentally causes two of his brothers to transform into such creatures when he makes a deal with Maire, the sea witch, to provide Sabine with a magic "dream bracelet" that would make it easier for her to be with him. 

Though Sabine and Caspian's feelings toward each other are fully developed, the rest of this book's waters are murky. It isn't clear why Caspian needed to get Sabine a magic bracelet when the two were already close and saw each other regularly at a secret cave where the land meets with the sea. The bracelet doesn't turn Sabine into a mermaid or Caspian into a human, and its powers are just as vague as what happens to merfolk who become Condemned. It also doesn't help that the story constantly switches between two different timelines for no real reason--one timeline from when Caspian met with Sabine as a merman, and the other from when he became human five years later. Another thing that wasn't fully explained was why Sabine didn't recognize Caspian in his human form despite thinking of him constantly. One of the chapters from Caspian's perspective said he must look very different for Sabine to confuse him for someone else. Yet, from Sabine's perspective, it is never clear why his top half doesn't look enough like Caspian for her to recognize him without his tail aside from pure denial combined with the fact that he didn't have a voice to explain himself

Despite a rushed ending that comes off as forced, the book follows the basic structure of "The Little Mermaid" if the protagonist had been a merman who was in love with a princess he knew from his youth. The time the two spend together in their early days helps to enhance the love story and make the audience root for them to get together. This book could have been even stronger if it hadn't been based on "The Little Mermaid" because the original elements are fresher and more interesting than the ones that are pulled from the fairy tale. While Caspian's lack of a voice comes off as contrived and is easily resolved, there is no reason for Sabine not to recognize him after spending so much time with him as a merman. I particularly enjoyed the star-crossed lovers element of the story and how the kingdom's banishment of ties with merfolk creates a challenge for Sabine and Caspian's happiness. However, I think it would have been far more interesting if Caspian hadn't become human and had to work with Sabine to find a way to work through the obstacles between their kingdoms and reform the alliance.

The Heart of the Sea presents a reimagined take on "The Little Mermaid," weaving a touching love story between a merman prince and a human princess within a complex world. While the book effectively captures the depth of emotion between the protagonists, it struggles to provide clear explanations for pivotal elements such as the magical bracelet and the timeline shifts. The original elements of the story shine through, showcasing the potential for a more compelling narrative without relying heavily on established fairy tale motifs. The challenges presented by the kingdom's stance on relations with the merfolk add an intriguing layer to the star-crossed lovers' tale, yet the resolution was too abrupt. Overall, The Heart of the Sea offers a heartfelt interpretation of a classic tale whose potential could have been further realized by deviating more boldly from the source material and delving deeper into its own unique narrative.

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