Review: Drown by Esther Dalseno

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This beautifully-written twisted retelling of The Little Mermaid was absolutely glorious, probably my favourite fairy tale retelling (unless we’re still calling the Throne of Glass series a Cinderella retelling) and the first modern mermaid book I have actually read all the way through. If you’re a mermaid wannabe like myself and having trouble picking up quality fin-fiction (ha!), you need to give this one a try.

If you’ve read the original Hans Christian Anderson story, then you’ll know what to expect. The overall plot is basically the same. But there are a lot of key differences that really make this retelling stand out. For one thing, it’s darker. It wasn’t quite as dark as I would have liked it to be, but we’ve got a sea witch that makes her potions from flesh and blood and a self-harming prince, so the darkness is still there in bite-size portions. We also get a lot more fictional mythology behind the race of merfolk and the sea witch herself, which was absolutely fabulous.

“Thus the little mermaid learned her world’s greatest paradox: that their currency was beauty, and their coin was body parts. And she also remembered that even though her beauty could buy a kingdom, her sister’s could buy the whole world.”

I really wanted more world-building, though. There was plenty, truth be told, but this was my first successful mermaid book and I wanted the whole nine yards. I mean, it’s a race of humanoid fish people living under the waves, the creativity possibilities are endless. I really would have loved to see how far Dalseno’s imagination could stretch. But with slightly less world-building, the story did seem to flow better so fair enough. I still wanted more though.

I would have enjoyed a bit more gumption from the little mermaid herself, too. Ariel is, and probably always will be, my favourite Disney princess so I will always automatically judge a retelling my comparing the protagonist to her. I wasn’t thrilled with this incarnation. She did feel true to Anderson’s original: innocent and naive, very childish and not too bright. I liked the fact that she was still highly inquisitive, and would easily disregard rules in order to quench her curiosity. Also, my inner feminist was sated after learning that the mermaid’s love for the Prince was really only her side quest; her desire to gain an Immortal Soul was really what the story was about. But at the end of the day I feel my Ariel was quirkier, more unique and brave. The bravest moment we saw in this retelling was this exchange:

“Who are you?” asked the little mermaid, for she was sue the witch was not her kind, but could not possibly be human either.
“I am the face you will see on the day of your death,” she replied customarily.
“Many other’s deaths maybe.” said the little mermaid, “but never mine.”

At least the sea witch was epic. She was an excellent villain with a fitting background and I really did love her. I adored how spiteful she was, how she cut off the little mermaid’s tongue to make her spell but added insult to injury just because she wanted to:

“Every step you take on land will be like daggers slicing through your feet. You will end your days standing in pools of blood.”

Aside from the Uncle, the other characters were minor and didn’t stand out in the slightest. And that was fine, if I’m honest. Everyone was nameless, which really added to the fairy tale narrative, and I really liked how that was done. The little mermaid’s sisters were stony and emotionless and a really excellent example of how heartless the merfolk really are.

“Everyone is dying, sister. Although the nanny matters little, as she was meant to die soon in any case.”

The only character who could have used a bit more character was the Prince, who was essentially portrayed as a depressive git who was entirely unworthy of the little mermaid’s affections. But, at the end of the day, that was the whole point so who I am I to criticize?

One last thing, while I’m on a roll here. There were several (and by several I mean six) instances, just minor details really, that did not make sense. For example:

“For there was her Prince, and he had held her in his arms, and he had swept his tongue into the cavern of her mouth, and she tasted the champagne and olives of his mouth, and it tasted like dizziness.”

For a girl who’s had her tongue chopped off, she’s got an unusually keen sense of taste, does she not? And as much as I enjoyed the running joke that the little mermaid thought human beards were actually parasitic face animals, why exactly has she never seen a beard before? Can merfolk not grow facial hair, then? Why don’t they seem to have trouble growing hair from their heads? It’s the details that bothered me, here. They’re not massively important, I still loved the book, but when you notice little holes like that it really takes your mind out of the story.
As it happens, little holes like this, coupled with my lack of love for the main character, would usually be cause for me to detract a star from the overall rating. The fact that I haven’t should just go to show how much I loved this book.

The writing was gorgeous. The story was sublime. The backstories, the darkness, the creativity were all such great additions to the classic tail tale. The ending was brilliant, so tragic and heartbreaking in a completely new way. It was beautiful. The whole thing was, even with its flaws. It was the best book I have read so far in 2016, it hooked me from the start and slowly reeled me in, happy to be lost in its pages.

Drown is available as an ebook at a very reasonable price (and a slightly less reasonable price as a paperback). Purchase this glorious novel and thank me later.

** I would like to apologize for the amount of fish-based puns in this short review.

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4 Comments

Filed under Reviews, Tess Talks Fairy Tales

4 responses to “Review: Drown by Esther Dalseno

  1. This sounds right up my alley! If you’re looking for more modern fin-fic, I also highly recommend the Lost Voices trilogy by Sarah Porter. It’s the most realistic portrayal of what it would be like to be a mermaid in the contemporary world, and the whole reason why mermaids exist is really unique. It’s actually almost a Peter Pan twist, with a tribe of teen mermaids instead of Lost Boys πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Drown: a Twisted Take on the Classic Fairy Tale | Postcards from La-La Land

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