I had lunch with the lovely Judith of Chain Interaction last week, and came home with a massive tote bag full of books borrowed from her extensive library… I couldn’t wait to get stuck into The Seafarer’s Kiss!
Book: The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember
Read before: No
I love mermaids. I once spent about two weeks watching The Little Mermaid every night (when I was about 6) and I dyed my hair Ariel-red as soon as I possibly could. But until recently, they’ve not featured much in my day-to-day life – I don’t have a mermaid tail blanket or a shell eyeshadow palette (though I may still sing Part Of Your World after a drink or two). Anyway. I’m pleased that the mermaid trend has made its way into YA, and I am especially pleased it meant I got to read this!
The Seafarer’s Kiss is sort of a retelling of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, but focusing on Ursula (or as she is known here, Ersel). It’s backstory, of a sort, and I am a sucker for villain origin stories. I can’t give too much away without spoiling it, but this is not a straightforward retelling. There are just subtle hints that maybe, just maybe, Ursula might once have been this passionate girl.
And now we get to the real reason I wanted to dive into this. A canonically bi heroine, with on-page statements of attraction to both genders! I am here for F/F relationships, but it’s so nice to see a character not immediately assume that kissing a girl makes her exclusively a lesbian, when she also has attractions/relationships with men (looking at you, Willow Rosenberg). Though they spent a lot of time apart, Ersel and Ragna were very sweet as they fell in love. I’ve seen a lot of people saying that this was an unhealthy relationship (due to one scene of mutual violence), but I thought that it made perfect sense for these messy, broken characters, and to be honest, much worse has been let slide for heterosexual couples. I won’t get into it heavily, but I think the criticisms against having a genderqueer Loki, and against the treatment of motherhood, are much the same: for me, the pros outweighed the cons.
I thought that the world-building, though lightly drawn, was lovely, and you got a real sense of Ersel’s frustration with this patriarchal society. The addition of the Norse mythology was very clever, as was the feeling of cold that pervaded the book. No Caribbean fiestas down here! It is definitely not “hotter under the water”, Sebastian.
On a side note, can we talk about that cover? I genuinely thought this was an ARC at first – that plain white border is so bleh. I like the papercut part, but the frame just really doesn’t work for me. Especially not in comparison to the two other mermaid YAs I’ve got my hands on, To Kill a Kingdom and The Surface Breaks!
Overall then, this a flawed book, but one I really enjoyed. I will take all your chubby bi heroines and cherish them – especially if they are mermaids.
4 out of 5 cats!