Book Reviews

Review: The Selkie Scandal

You should probably know, if you’ve been here a while, that I love little more than a good fantasy of manners, and this fun novella is a great start to a new series that looks like it’ll be exactly my cup of tea!

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Book Reviews

Review: Beneath Cruel Fathoms

This stunning Norse-inspired fantasy has everything going for it: great cover, exciting plot, and amazing character development!

Book: Beneath Cruel Fathoms by Anela Deen

Read before: No

Release date: 17th May 2020

Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by author. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: Violence and injury (including stitches); discussions of infertility; familial abuse, both emotional and physical; mentions of spousal abuse; scenes of near-drowning.

Beneath Cruel Fathoms is a gorgeous fantasy suffused with Norse mythology and full of phenomenal characters. When the story begins, healer Isaura is heading home to her father’s house, reeling from the break-up of her marriage, when the ship she’s traveling on is caught in a sudden storm and destroyed. There’s no hope of surviving the wreck – or there wouldn’t be if not for Leonel, the last of the merfolk, who saves her life. But Leonel doesn’t rescue her out of the goodness of his heart, and this is not the Little Mermaid retelling you’re imagining… Rather, he needs Isaura’s help to prove that there’s something sinister and unnatural behind these storms, and he’s willing to break all the rules of the sea to prove it and finally earn the respect of his divine parents and siblings. Their forbidden partnership could have dangerous consequences for both of them, but something else builds between them that may well prove to be just as valuable as the answers to Leonel’s investigations.

There’s a remarkable amount packed into these 350-odd pages, and it’s a real testament to the writing that I never felt like the different elements were fighting for attention; every part of the world bolsters something else. We have the mystery of the storms, and the dangerous magical war they herald, but even while I was thoroughly engrossed in the investigation, I was watching a sweet and rewarding love story develop. And every step of the romance was twined intimately with the character development of Leonel and Isaura – and every part of their personal journeys drew on the worlds they grew up in. I loved how fully realised this world feels, and how the mythological and magical aspects weave through everything – it’s a really vivid setting that will stick with me for a while. There’s also a good measure of humour, particularly when the book leans into the classic mermaid tropes and explores Leonel’s attempts to adjust to land habits like buttons and trousers!

The lover of court fantasy in me adored the scenes at the underwater palace of Leonel’s father, King Ægir. Ægir and Ran, in Norse mythology and here, are the parents of nine daughters who are the personifications of the waves, and I loved their vicious, formal family dynamic – it’s not a family I’d want to be in, for sure, but I loved reading about them. Leonel is not a figure from mythology, so it’s really interesting to see how he fits in (or doesn’t!) to the family and the world – he’s Ran’s son from another relationship, though he has been adopted by Ægir, and no one ever lets him forget his status as an outsider. This is of course compounded by the fact that he’s the last of the merfolk, and feels very disconnected from his heritage – I thought his struggles with wanting to be self-sufficient, but also battling intense loneliness, were very well depicted, and as much as I love a palace, I was immediately rooting for him to find something he could more accurately call home.

Where I think Deen really excels is in her characters, which is what tends to make or break a book for me. You can have all the clever world-building ideas you want, but a book won’t truly sing unless the characters feel like living, breathing people, and Beneath Cruel Fathoms is a fabulous example of this. Underneath all the adventure and romance is a really heartfelt message about finding a way to believe in yourself after years of thinking you’re worthless, and it’s beautifully done. Both Isaura and Leonel have a huge amount of self-loathing – him because of his mortal nature and his constant belittlement at the hands of his family, and her because of her broken marriage and struggles to have children – and their growth throughout the book feels realistically difficult, but also extremely satisfying. Isaura’s emotional journey in particular is beautifully nuanced, and will resonate with a lot of women who have felt their self-worth is tied in some way to their fertility – I’ll reiterate my content warning from above and say to watch out if this is a sensitive subject for you, as it can be intense. As I say, this is just such good character work – Isaura and Leonel both have to realise that they are so much more than single facets of their identity, which wouldn’t work at all if the reader didn’t also believe that! Though this is definitely more fantasy than romance, the attention to the subtleties of how two people can grow separately and together is worthy of the best romance novel.

Overall, I suppose this is quite a dark book, full of the grim realities of humanity (and divinity) and with plenty of dramatic violence, but something about it feels very hopeful. Isaura and Leonel can make a difference to the world, and not just in the heroic sense, but in small, domestic ways too, creating happiness in each other and the people around them. It seems silly to call a book that’s so full of icy sea-spray and battle “cosy”, but it has that comforting, uplifting, optimistic quality that really makes me adore a book. I actually think it perfectly captures the vibe of Norse mythology – wild and dangerous but with a real sense of place and community.

This is the first book in a trilogy, but it looks like focus will switch to Isaura’s brother, Jurek, and Leonel’s sister, Ava, in the next book. Isaura and Leonel’s story wraps up in a very satisfying way, while still leaving the wider world open for the sequel – and wow, did that ending leave me excited for Between Savage Tides, which is coming out in August! Five out of five cats!

Book Reviews

Kitten Corner: Books About Feelings!

This time on Kitten Corner I’m featuring a selection of books that look at a range of emotions, good and bad, through sweet animal stories. If you’d have asked me a couple of months ago, I would have said that was quite a narrow niche to find books in, but it just so happens we’ve read quite a few recently! As always with these posts, any books I received for review will be marked with a *, but the fact they were sent to me doesn’t affect my opinions.

Love by Emma Dodd*

Board book published on 14th January 2021by Nosy Crow

Oh, this is one that will make you cry if it hits you on the right day! This is a sweet, simple rhyming book that describes lots of different things that love is all about, accompanied by beautiful art of two rabbits, a baby and an adult. There are no genders assigned to either rabbit, and no explicit mention of who the adult rabbit is to the child (except in the blurb, where it says “mummy”, but I wouldn’t tend to read that with a child), so this would be a beautiful one to read together no matter what your relationship to your young reading partner is – mum, dad, grandparent, or any other caretaker, this book makes it clear that love is simple and pure and brilliant. It’s a beautiful book in both sentiment and illustration, and one I’ll be buying for many people, I think.

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Book Reviews

Kitten Corner: Non-fiction For Babies!

For this instalment of Kitten Corner I wanted to highlight some of the beautiful non-fiction books we’ve been enjoying recently. While I do love a good story, there are some wonderful books out there that look at interesting topics like wildlife and history, and they can be just as gorgeously designed and illustrated, and just as captivating, as fiction!

As always with these posts, books marked with a * were sent to me free of charge by the publisher.

The Castle The King Built by Rebecca Colby, illustrated by Tom Froese*

Published 14th January 2021 by Nosy Crow

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