This is the first in a series of four planned books about six mermaids who are trying to protect their hidden world from a monster which could destroy them all. There is a glossary in the back of this book, and believe me, you will need it.
Serafina lives in the Adriatic Sea, and like other merpeople, is a descendant of the original mer who came from the ruins of Atlantis 4,000 years before. She has just turned sixteen, and as the daughter of the ruler of her people, is required to take a test to confirm her heritage, as well as to become betrothed to 18-year-old Mahdi, the crown prince of the mers from the Indian Ocean.
The night before the ceremony however, Sera has a dream that seems almost real, with river witches calling out to her and five others – each from a different kingdom of the seas – to help combat an ancient monster about to come to life. The next day, during her ceremony, the kingdom is attacked, with Sera and her best friend Neela among the only ones to escape alive. They begin to realize that the dream (which Neela also had) wasn’t make-believe, and that they must find the sea witches to understand how to save themselves and the world of the mer.
Discussion: The world-building in this book is extensive, but delivered in an awful, unrealistic info dump at the beginning of the book, or, as this writing style is often referred to, an “Introdump.” Characters swim up to Serafina and start expounding on backstory she would already know, such as the nature and history of the realm and the ceremony she is about to undergo. Sera responds to the other characters by adding to the info dump process in dialogue that would be absurd in real life between people who already know one another. Sera also receives a couple of lectures to fill in the rest (“As you know, Serafina….”)
Meanwhile, the mer world is described in what clearly sounds like screenwriting tips for an animation crew (especially because much of it would be too ridiculous for an adult movie). The characters sleep in scallop shells, sip sargasso tea and eat hors d’oeuvres of sea urchin or keel worms or salted crab eggs, listen to books on conch shells, and kiss anemones to get pouty, tentacle-stung lips. Travelers use sea elephants to carry their trunks, ceremonies are heralded by guards beating on bass drums made from giant clamshells, and partiers go to “all-night waves.” In more serious moments, they worry about terragoggs (or humans) who are destroying the oceans by overfishing and dumping garbage in the sea.
Donnelly, who has created such strong characters in her other books, here seems focused too much on creating her Disney-cartoon like world, and both the characterization and writing suffer greatly.
Evaluation: Jennifer Donnelly has penned such consistently excellent work that it was hard for me to believe this was really her writing. I’m hoping it’s just a fluke, so to speak… [Fluke: type of flounder, or part of a whale tail, or part of an anchor. Triple sea-related entendre!]
Published by Disney-Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group, 2014