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REVIEW: Son of the Sea by Nancy Holder

Dear Ms. Holder,

/>I’m afraid the merfolk romance is not for me. I’ve never been enchanted by merpeople and honestly, the thought of getting up close and personal with someone who has a fishtail weirds me out. It also makes me crave sushi, which weirds me out even more. I love sushi but not in the context of merfolk cannibal romances. There’s a good reason that market doesn’t exist.

Nia Diakros struggles to run a restaurant while raising her younger sister. Having lost their parents several years before, Nia is surprised when she’s contacted by a woman claiming to be her aunt. Unaware they even had an extended family, Nia’s skeptical at first but eventually decides to speak with the woman. Unfortunately, before that can happen, masked men attack their restaurant and kidnap her sister. Not long after, another group of masked men kidnap Nia herself.

It turns out that Nia comes from a family of guardians who’ve been charged with protecting a magical artifact. In her family’s case, it’s a jar. Two opposing groups want the artifact — the one Nia has been taken by and the one that’s taken her sister captive — and each one hopes to find it before the other. The group Nia is with is led by Erik, a bitter merman Viking chieftain who has lived alone for over a century, ever since his beloved decided she didn’t want to pay the price for his love. As expected, sparks fly between Nia and Erik from the moment they meet.

I fear the story lost me the second Nia and her sister get kidnapped. I can’t help but feel that we’re suddenly tossed into the middle of a plot that’s already halfway over. There’s some mystical war going on that involves guardian families, magical artifacts, and soulmates but for the life of me, I could not figure out what was going on and who were all these people everyone was talking about. I originally thought this was a prequel launching a new series for Silhouette Nocturne but further investigation on the eHarlequin website shows that books were already written in this setting and published through the Silhouette Bombshell line. (New books in the setting will be published through the Nocturne line starting this month.) That would have been helpful to know beforehand. No wonder I was so confused.

The romance between Nia and Erik also failed to work for me, but a large part of that is due to my ambivalence towards merfolk as romantic figures. I also had a few misgivings about Erik’s psychic coercion of Nia in various situations — most notably, during the sex scene. While the fate of the world did rest in the balance, or so the story’s narrative told me, it did make me uncomfortable.

This story illustrates the dangers of writing in an established setting. Authors have to balance keeping their loyal readers entertained while introducing new readers to their world. And in that regard, I think “Son of the Sea” failed. Even after finishing the story, I’m still not sure what the war is about, other than random people fighting over MacGuffins, whose significance remain a mystery. D

My regards,
Jia

This book can be purchased in ebook format only from various online resources including Harlequin.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

28 Comments

  1. Kalen Hughes
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 09:12:43

    I'm still not sure what the war is about, other than random people fighting over MacGuffins, whose significance remain a mystery.

    You used the term MacGuffin. I think I love you.

  2. Keishon
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 09:26:25

    I'm afraid the merfolk romance is not for me. I've never been enchanted by merpeople and honestly, the thought of getting up close and personal with someone who has a fishtail weirds me out.

    A fair question to ask is why did you decide to read and review this book since it has elements in it that you didn’t like?

  3. Jia
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 09:34:14

    A fair question to ask is why did you decide to read and review this book since it has elements in it that you didn't like?

    Because my early copy didn’t have a description and we don’t find out the hero’s a merman until well into the story which, like all Nocturne Bites, is pretty short. It doesn’t even really qualify for novella at that length. More like a short story.

    I am also possibly a glutton for punishment.

  4. SonomaLass
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 13:00:27

    Okay, I gotta ask — if Nia is human and Erik is a merman, how do the mechanics of a sex scene work?? I know I’m probably asking for a spoiler, but I can’t get it out of my head. (Perhaps because one of my fondest memories of when my children were younger is older daughter explaining to younger daughter/Little Mermaid fangirl why Ariel HAD to lose the fishtail so that she and Prince Eric could “do it.”)

  5. Jia
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 13:09:51

    Okay, I gotta ask -’ if Nia is human and Erik is a merman, how do the mechanics of a sex scene work??

    It is a spoiler. But let’s see if I can get the spoiler tags to work in the comments.

    Erik can switch back and forth between merman and human form. The sex scene hinges on the fact that Nia must get impregnated by Erik, which will then turn her into a mermaid. The reason for this is because unless she becomes a mermaid, she cannot recover MacGuffin jar.

    So it’s not quite like the sex scene in Marjorie Liu’s Soul Song, which also featured a merman hero and a human heroine.

  6. Janine
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 13:34:00

    So then, if I understand correctly….

    SPOILER
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    He’s not just psychically coercing her into sex, but also into pregnancy?

    ETA: What spoiler tags did you use, Jia? Mine (the word “spoiler” in angle brackets) didn’t work for me in the comments.

  7. Jia
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 13:49:15

    Janine:
    Yes. After all, the fate of the world is in the balance so that excuses it somehow. I still don’t really understand how exactly all these magical artifacts falling into the wrong hands will destroy the world, but that’s what the text insists.

    As for the spoiler tags, I used < spoiler >SPOILER TEXT HERE< /spoiler > without the spaces. I’m not sure why it didn’t work for you.

  8. Janine
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 13:52:09

    That’s what I did too…. Trying again:

    I can see where that might be problematic…

  9. Janine
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 13:53:53

    I logged into WordPress to see if that will make it work. And the answer is no. Spoiler tags don’t work for me in the comments. I wonder if it’s my browser. I’m jealous.

  10. MB
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 14:25:10

    Since I am fascinated by the ocean and ocean life, I love the idea of a Mer Romance, but I can’t say I’ve ever run across a good one. I keep trying, but no luck so far. Even Soul Song didn’t do much for me.

    …The practicality in me just can’t get over my common sense. After all, if the the bottom half IS a fish, shouldn’t sex be the fish way??? I.e, she lays the eggs, and he swims over them and fertilizes them? (Not very romantic, right?) It makes me laugh!

    Unless, of course you “do it” like some sharks or even snakes. But the idea of shark-like skin and tail takes the bloom off for me as well.

    So, I’m still hoping someone will come up with a good one some time, but I’m not really on the edge of my seat.

  11. K. Z. Snow
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 14:42:11

    The mercritter concept does sound lovely at first — the ocean is mysterious and alluring; fish are lithe, graceful creatures — until one starts thinking about the scales, the slime, the smell, the “where the hell is your weiner and is it scaly and smelly?”

    Whoa. (Sorry. Was that a buzz-kill?)

  12. REVIEW: Sea Fever by Virginia Kantra | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 15:00:49

    [...] thought it would be kind of fun to run this review after Jia’s wherein she expresses some, um, discomfort at merpeople as main characters in a romance. While I have not read many books about merpeople, I can say during [...]

  13. Janine
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 15:01:22

    MB, have you tried Jessica Bryan’s merfolk trilogy? I haven’t read them myself but I have heard many good things and if I recall correctly, Jayne read and enjoyed them.

  14. MB
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 15:06:43

    Janine, no I haven’t. I’ll go take a look at them.

  15. MB
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 15:17:24

    I think what annoys me most about mer romances is that the authors put so little thought into convincing world-building! They are pretty pathetic in that everything revolves around magic. No real thought is put into creating a real and interesting and complicated “world”.

    I want someone of the calibre of Lois McMaster Bujold or Sharon Shinn or Sheri Tepper to take something like this and run. I’m not satisfied with the contrived and implausible stuff I’m seeing.

    Interestingly enough, the best example of this I can give was not a romance. It was a SF novel where a young paraplegic was implanted into another galactic species infant in order to basically spy for the humans. The extra-terrestial was a manta-like creature that “swam” through deep space in atmospheres humans and their spaceships could not withstand. It was a fascinating, fully-developed world with lots of character development. (Caught between two species, divided loyalties, danger, betrayal, etc.!)

  16. Jia
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 15:34:23

    Janine: I’m really sorry the spoiler tags don’t work for you. You never got them to work in the actual posts either, right? What browser are you using?

    Sorry. Was that a buzz-kill?

    No. It did, however, make me laugh a lot.

  17. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 15:38:24

    ::blinks::

    Has no one seen _Splash_?

  18. Jayne
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 15:43:13

    MB, have you tried Jessica Bryan's merfolk trilogy? I haven't read them myself but I have heard many good things and if I recall correctly, Jayne read and enjoyed them.

    Actually I thought the first was okay, the second was good and I couldn’t get past the second chapter of the third one.

  19. Kalen Hughes
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 16:09:23

    I think what annoys me most about mer romances is that the authors put so little thought into convincing world-building!

    This problem isn't confined to the mer people, plenty of vampires, were-creatures, witches, and demons of all kinds share this affliction. Consistent laws/rules that remain true throughout a series and have some kind of functioning logic behind them aren't just a necessity in books shelved in the science-fiction/fantasy section.

  20. PJ
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 19:26:22

    Oh Jia…I suppose this harpoons my novel about the merman sushi chef who is tricked into filleting his girlfriend by the Evil Merman Overlord and travels the world seek dissolution and revenge until the sexy ichthyologist gives him a new reason to live… ::sigh::

  21. Jia
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 20:05:28

    It depends. It could be saved if there is eating of merfolk flesh and someone becomes immortal.

  22. Suzanne
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 22:29:43

    When you mentioned that she owned a restaurant all I could think of was: do they serve fish?

  23. SonomaLass
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 22:53:43

    all I could think of was: do they serve fish?

    Suzanne, I imagine that fish aren’t served there, for health reasons — that “no shirt, no shoes, no service” thing seems pretty widespread in the restaurant industry! (Sorry, could not resist)

    Jia, thanks for the spoiler. I am relieved to know that they aren’t doing it fish-style (as MB says, totally unromantic) or with the fishy characteristics that K.Z. so kindly described (ew, just EW). Erik turning humanoid is probably much more pleasant, although it sounds like I still wouldn’t enjoy it, due to the level of coercion. My boat, force does not float it.

  24. Janine
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 13:25:07

    Janine: I'm really sorry the spoiler tags don't work for you. You never got them to work in the actual posts either, right? What browser are you using?

    The spoiler tags do work for me in the actual posts, but as black stuff that covers up the letters, not as the little show/hide arrow. It’s only in the comments that they don’t work at all.

    My browser is Internet Explorer.

  25. Janine
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 13:27:05

    Actually I thought the first was okay, the second was good and I couldn't get past the second chapter of the third one.

    Sorry Jayne! And thanks for the correction. My memory’s not what it used to be…

  26. Jia
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 19:59:12

    Has no one seen _Splash_?

    Sure. But why should we assume that merman can shift between human and mer form just because one movie used that concept? In The Little Mermaid, the mermaid had to give up her voice to the witch to gain human form. She couldn’t do it at will. Different story, different mythos. If a story depends on another work of fiction to establish its worldbuilding, that’s derivative and lazy writing. Readers can, and should, expect more than that.

  27. Jia
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 20:01:40

    The spoiler tags do work for me in the actual posts, but as black stuff that covers up the letters, not as the little show/hide arrow. It's only in the comments that they don't work at all.

    My browser is Internet Explorer.

    That’s so strange. I used to get the black-out text but it changed to this when Jane updated WordPress and its plug-ins. I’ve tried Internet Explorer and Firefox, and the show/hide works for me in both.

  28. gn
    May 24, 2010 @ 06:00:15

    Hi Jia
    I found your review and subsequent comments by your readers to be in general really helpful – specifically about reality and world-building.

    thanks
    gn

    [mod note: edited to remove OT content by request of OP]

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