Review: The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember

The Seafarer's KissThe Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having long-wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the mermen’s glacier. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.

Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from Loki. But such deals are never as one expects, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies.

Warnings: non-consensual sex, domestic abuse, mentions of torture

The Seafarer’s Kiss is a wonderful mash-up of The Little Mermaid (well, Ursula, mostly), Captain Hook (yeah yeah, I could’ve said Peter Pan but he is NOT in this book) and some Norse mythology thrown in. It is a story of a girl who sets out to free herself from her oppressive society but then ends up making a deal with a trickster god that goes sideways. In Ersel’s kingdom, the mermaids all have to be graded when they come of age for their, uh, fertile wombs, like some chattel. Obviously, she is NOT DOWN with this, and longs to escape out into the open sea, preferably south where she is freezing her tail fin off. As the Grading draws closer, she is worried about her future, and increasingly escaping onto the ice shelf where she has some peace from all the bullying by her female peers.

While one such outing, she comes across Ragna, a warrior girl with a magical map on her body in ink, who she connects with. But when she gets caught with her, she gets trapped by her childhood friend into agreeing to be his mate. Which is pretty shitty of him, because dude knows she is not interested in being his mate, and moreover any interest in being trapped in producing eggs just because she is deemed extremely fertile. To avoid her fate, Merida style, she calls upon a god, and makes a deal with them. Hints of The Little Mermaid can be seen here as the deal requires voices as payments, and the first mermaid whom she asks for a voice is a coral-haired mermaid (who incidentally is also her bully). Things go horribly wrong because Loki likes to play tricks and likes to explore loopholes. (And here is where we should be glad that the sea witch actually gave the little mermaid HUMAN legs) Now to undo that, she is drawn into a further deal with the trickster, but only if to outwit them, which is a dangerous thing.

One of the things I loved about this book include the fact that we have a chubby lesbian mermaid! Like it even subtly calls out the fact of the skinny smooth skinned mermaid trope – Ersel and all the merfolk have fully scaled skin, and they encourage sapphic relationships (but the ultimate goal is still to have them receptive to mermen touch, so well, that gets cancelled out). The king is a tyrant but he is a tyrant in a matriarchal society that still somehow places undue importance on the value of a girl’s fertility. Ragna, meanwhile is a lesbian ship captain who is a stand-in for Captain Hook (there is even a crocodile reference!), and like Ersel, is not innocent. But most of all, I was glad to see Loki being acknowledged as genderfluid in the book, and the use of they/them pronouns throughout.

What I did not like is the fast pace of the plot. Things were being rushed throughout – even the development between Ragna and Ersel felt lacking. Meanwhile, Ersel and her friend sort of resolve their differences pretty quickly, but that was at least given good development. The ending was also rushed fast into the last 10% of the book, and we barely know what happened about Loki (did they let Ersel be?) – I like to imagine the trickster went on their merry way causing more havoc for the other gods.

Overall, though, this is a pretty interesting story and a good twist on the old tales.

View all my reviews

2 thoughts on “Review: The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember

  1. Pingback: December 2017 Wrap-Up | YA on my Mind

  2. Pingback: Stacking The Shelves #19 | YA on my Mind

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