Author: Zoraida Córdova
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: May 2012
Hardcover: 384 Pages
For Tristan Hart, everything changes with one crashing wave.
He was gone for three days. Sucked out to sea in a tidal wave and spit back ashore at Coney Island with no memory of what happened. Now his dreams are haunted by a terrifying silver mermaid with razor-sharp teeth.
His best friend Layla is convinced something is wrong. But how can he explain he can sense emotion like never before? How can he explain he’s heir to a kingdom he never knew existed? That he’s suddenly a pawn in a battle as ancient as the gods.
Something happened to him in those three days. He was claimed by the sea…and now it wants him back.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a planned series
How did I get this book: e-ARC via NetGalley
Why did I read this book: I’ve always been a little leery of mermaid books – my excursions into the mermaid paranormal creature pantheon have been largely unsuccessful – but I was intrigued by this YA novel that features, of all things, a merman protagonist.
Tristan Heart is young, carefree, and hot (and he knows it). A Coney Island lifeguard, Tristan doesn’t have too much to worry about; he has a doting family, a group of friends that think he’s the man, and he has no problem pulling in the ladies with his ethereally beautiful eyes and studly good looks. Well, he has no problem pulling in most girls. His best friend, Layla, is gorgeous, strong, smart and everything Tristan wants in a girl, but he knows Layla’s opinion of him has been somewhat tainted after he cheated on ex-girlfriend (and Layla’s good friend) Mandy.
On a day that starts out like any other, Tristan stares out from his lifeguard post only to see the sea turn from clear blue under sunny skies to a devastating maelstrom of churning water and chaos. A storm approaches in seconds, without warning, leaving a swimmer stranded off shore. Without thinking, Tristan dives into the choppy water though everyone is fleeing the formidable storm’s path, and soon Tristan is overwhelmed by the waves.
When he awakens, Tristan finds himself in the hospital three days later, with barely any recollection of what happened to him in the water, with just a strange, itching rash on his legs and his neck to remind him of his ordeal. The rash only gets worse…and then his legs fuse and disappear into a giant tail, and the itching on his neck transforms into gills.
Tristan, as it turns out, is a mermaid (er, merman). The son of a human father and a mermaid mother, Tristan soon learns that he is not just any merman: he’s the heir apparent and grandson of the Sea King. The king’s time is short, and a challenge has been issued – Tristan must accept his role as future king and best the other two challengers if he is to rule the sea and preserve peace among the fey of the land and of the deep. For the charming (if admittedly shallow) surfer dude Tristan, this means the first time he’s ever had to try or truly care about something. And now that he’s got something to fight for, he’s not going to give it up.
Even if there’s a twisted sea-witch and all her terrifying spawn hell-bent on stopping Tristan, haunting his dreams, killing his friends, and seizing power of the seas.
The Vicious Deep is a completely unexpected book, mostly because its protagonist is a male, and he is, of all supernatural creatures, a merman. When one thinks “mermaid fiction”, the natural inclination is to imagine beautiful enchantress fish-women of the deep, luring wayward sailors to their doom with their silky long hair and glittery scaled bodies. One certainly doesn’t think of a macho, pigheadedly arrogant, but somehow still compelling high school dude.
But pigheadedly arrogant, irritatingly charming high school dude it is in The Vicious Deep. Tristan Hart is the guy that everyone has known at some point in their lives – he’s the hot guy that you know you shouldn’t be suckered in by, but who manages to worm his way into your affections despite your better judgement because there IS something so freakin’ compelling about him. There are many, many times in The Vicious Deep when I wanted to stretch out and smack him (HARD) upside the head because of his bizarre blend of ignorance, cockiness, and vulnerability. He is in love with his best friend Layla, but acts like such a clueless jackass towards her (including creepily flirting with other girls in front of her, pushing Layla away to keep her “safe” when clearly she can take care of herself, etc). It’s kind of pathetic. And everyone else in the book knows that he’s being pathetic. But as we’re constrained within Tristan’s first person narrative, we get to see firsthand his ridiculously selective thought-processes and interpretations. While this is infuriating – because you actually DO care about Tristan and want him to get over his ego and out of his head – it’s also so incredibly compelling because his narrative rings true as wholly genuine. This is a teenage boy that thinks about sex, that worries when he turns into a stupid mermaid that his wiener has disappeared (seriously), that thinks entirely too highly of himself because of his good looks – and yet for all that also has some deep seeded insecurities about how people perceive of him, and actually has a good heart underneath all that outward machismo and bravado. This tension, coupled with the gradual awakening within Tristan as he realizes that if he wants to become Sea King he has to fight and take responsibility for his actions, makes him a flawed, but relatable, even admirable hero.
There’s also the matter of his best friend Layla, who is AWESOME and doesn’t take Tristan’s shit. Though clearly she has feelings for him, she knows better that to jump into anything because of his track record. Layla is loyal and strong willed and repeatedly tells Tristan that she doesn’t need him to save her – rather, she rushes in to try and rescue him. And that, dear friends, is awesomesauce. I don’t think Tristan deserves her…yet. Time will tell. (I’m rooting for the idiot, but only if he grows up.)
The other standout characters are Tristan’s family (he has a good relationship with his parents, which is refreshingly wonderful), and the two attendant mermaid courtiers that take his side once he’s undergone his transformation to merman: Thalia and Kurt. Both characters are wonderfully drawn and make for fabulous companions.
With regard to the actual story and worldbuilding involved, I love the world of mermaids and the different rules imposed by Ms. Cordova in this book. The separation of court and landlocked servants of the sea, the mutated and deformed offspring of human-merfolk unions, the system of tithes and fay – let’s just say, I loved it ALL. While some writing things felt uneven in this novel (some choppy and awkward chapter transitions, primarily), the strength of the overall plot and world were more than enough to compensate. The underlying story arc, in which the Sea King has champions prove themselves by going on a round-the-world hunt for the missing pieces of his trident, is imaginative and leaves plenty of room for the next book (two books?) in the series.
I’m excited to read more in this odd, strangely compelling find of a mermaid YA series, featuring a male protagonist. (Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d be writing.)
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
I hear the first wave before I see it—
Hear the rumble of the sky that reaches down to the belly of the sea, hear the clouds that appear out of nowhere. They churn and curl inside themselves in big gray mouths across the sky. The sky that up to a few seconds ago was perfect and blue.
I’m standing at the bottom of the lifeguard tower. The white-washed wood is warm where I lean my arm. It’s supposed to be mine and Layla’s shift, but I’ve given up my seat so she can sit with Maddy. Together they sit up top in that way girls do when they’re joined in a single purpose—and that’s loathing me with all their evil-eyed, purse-lipped, cross-armed attitude. And I take it like a man, because after what I did to Maddy, that’s the least I can do to make things right.
I can’t shake the feeling of water stuck in my ear. But that could also be because I’m hungover, which means I shouldn’t be swimming or actually trying to save anyone’s life. I hate not showing up for work or a meet. I may be a lot of things, but flaky isn’t one of them.
Behind me is a stretch of the Coney Island boardwalk, and behind that are Luna Park, Nathan’s Hot Dogs, and the Cyclone. There’s Sideshows by the Seashore and the unused parachute tower, which is the best place to take a girl on a cheap date after all the rides are shut down. I’ve come here every day since I can remember. There’s just something in the air that makes you want to be here. It’s in the screams and thrills of the rickety rides that have been running longer than most people’s grandparents have been alive. In the food courts that sell you questionable but delicious meat. It is beauty and grime all mixed in one, and I love being in the middle of it. Plus, chicks love lifeguards.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: The Vicious Deep by Zoraida Córdova
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