Blurb from GoodReads:
In a cottage high atop Llanfair Mountain, sixteen-year-old Clara lives with her sister, Maren, and guardian, Auntie. By day, they gather herbs for Auntie’s healing potions; by night, Auntie spins tales of faraway lands and wicked fairies. Clara’s favorite story tells of three orphan infants—Clara, who was brought to Auntie by a stork; Maren, who arrived in a seashell; and their best friend, O’Neill, who was found beneath an apple tree.
One day, Clara discovers shimmering scales just beneath her sister’s skin: Maren is becoming a mermaid and must be taken to the sea or she will die. So Clara, O’Neill, and the mermaid-girl set out for the shore. But the trio encounters trouble around every bend. Ensnared by an evil troupe of traveling performers, Clara and O’Neill must find a way to save themselves and the ever-weakening Maren.
And always in the back of her mind, Clara wonders, if my sister is a mermaid, then what am I?
I really, REALLY wanted to like this book- I hoped it would have an Angela Carter-style magical realism to it, perhaps a touch of Charles De Lint (see my review of ‘Forests of the Heart’ and ‘The Onion Girl’) or a whimsical sea-shanty melancholy. I wanted it to be salty, briny, beautiful, bittersweet book of magic and mermaids that would carry me off on an adventure- but sadly, I was disappointed. This didn’t so much sweep me away as trundle ever so achingly slowly through a list of increasingly bizarre characters and scenarios. Make no mistake, this is a slow-paced book. In short, this was too ‘out there’, even for me- TOO whimsical, too borne on the back of a flight of fantasy that seemed to have no end. In the first half of the book alone there was a mermaid in the bath, a half-fairy woman (Clara’s auntie,) a girl left by a stork (Clara herself), a magical horse, a witch, gypsy travellers with jewels, a boy who magically manifests under a tree (O’Neill)…this may make it seem as though it’s fast paced but again, I warn you, IT’S NOT. And all the magical elements just felt a bit too crammed in. (Although probably perfect for fans of Jeanette Winterson.) I could find nothing to anchor me to its plot, no footholds, no real reasoning behind the magic and the marvels.
To be honest, I also found Clara a bit of a cloudy, vague character, and whiny at times. Maren I just found narcissistic. The plot itself I found woolly (i.e how come Aunt Verity is part fairy? WHY? HOW?) as more and more magical things were just ‘chucked in’ without explanation. Having said that, it did have some wonderfully evocative and unique imagery and descriptions, and I LOVED the premise, but this just wasn’t for me-the pacing was soooo slow I struggled to finish it- which probably means I like my fantasy a bit more gritty and a bit more fast-paced.
Overall rating: 3 out of 10
Read if you enjoyed: ‘Sexing the Cherry’ by Jeannette Winterson
This Book in Four Words: Magical. But. Not. Memorable.
Note: Artwork is from here via Tumblr