Review of “Deep Blue” by Jennifer Donnelly

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.

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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….”)

Seraphina has "copper hair" just like Ariel from The Little Mermaid ... just sayin

Seraphina has “copper hair” just like Ariel from The Little Mermaid … just sayin

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.

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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!]

Rating: 2.5/5

Published by Disney-Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group, 2014

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10 Responses to Review of “Deep Blue” by Jennifer Donnelly

  1. Care says:

    A “Triple sea-related entendre”?! WOW.

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    I’m usually turned off by books that need glossaries. Oh well, I don’t think the merpeople angle is for me anyway.

  3. sandynawrot says:

    I think pretty highly of Donnelly, so this is really a hideous thing. I mean, in just reading your synopsis, my leg started to shake up and down and I got impatient. The cover IS gorgeous but I have no time in my life for merpeople and evil monsters living in the deep sea.

  4. Heather says:

    Donnelly IS great, so this is very disappointing! Hopefully she gets back to her old self soon.

  5. stacybuckeye says:

    Well now I can’t read it! But you have made me want to watch The Little Mermaid 🙂

  6. sagustocox says:

    eek, info dump. I hate that! It sounded like it had a good premise…and I just love those Mermaid images…my daughter LOVES this movie. I think I’ve seen it about 20+ times in the last several months.

  7. Love your review. Awesome. A tiny part of me wants to read it just to see how bad it is.

  8. That’s too bad! I was so excited to see that she had a new book coming out because I normally like her writing so much. That being said, I’m always skeptical of mermaid stories and whether or not I will like them at all. I’ve always thought of that kind of infodump as a “sequel infodump” – the kind of “this is what happened in the previous books.” The fact that it has that kind of intro and it’s not a sequel does not bode well.

  9. Yikes. I am really glad I passed on this book now! If you want to read a better book on mermaids try Tera Lynn Child’s Forgive My Fins. It is not a five star but but there is no info dumping and you do connect to the characters and care what happens. Also, I never felt it resembled The Little Mermaid, which also would’ve been a big fat no for me.

  10. Aw, no, do they actually say “As you know, Serafina”? I was getting all ready to make a joke in the comments about B-movies where the scientist characters are all “As you know, Dr. Samuels…”

    I shall now go and listen to “Kiss the Girl”. That is such a good song.

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