This is the second book in a series. I have tried my best to not touch on any points that would spoil the plot of the first book but do have to mention the (obvious) ending and one major plot thread in passing.
I read the first book in this series, The Stepsister Scheme, about a year ago. I’d found a recommendation for it on a blog that I followed at the time and was immediately intrigued. Drawn mostly by the fun but spunky cover art, I purchased it and read it almost as soon as it had been delivered. Though I enjoyed the overall story, I felt like it dragged in places. Despite this, I still wanted to know what happened next so I went out a few days later and bought the sequel… then The Mermaid’s Madness spent the next twelve months sitting on my shelves, watching forlornly me until I was forced to take refuge away from my own living room, which had been invaded by various people who were complaining about me just being in the way, and this was the book I picked to accompany me to my attic reading sanctuary.
Presentation: Mass market paperback. The font is small but spaced. There are 339 pages broken down into 18 chapters.
Story: A year has passed since we first met Danielle, Talia and Snow, aka Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. It is time for the undine, mermaids, to migrate to their breeding grounds for the summer but when the human royal delegation is met with a new undine royal, things quickly unravel. It soon becomes obvious that Lirea, the new undine queen, has murdered both her father and her older sister in recent months. She has taken control of the tribe, announcing that she means to return the undine to their rightful position as rulers of the seas and that they will sink the ships of any nation that does not pay a gold tribute. In the scuffle that ensues, Lirea stabs Queen Beatrice with an enchanted knife, severing her spirit from her body. Neither body nor spirit can survive long separated from the other so Danielle, Talia, Snow, and Lirea’s little sister Lannadae must set out to wrest the knife from a mermaid gone mad.
Toughts and impressions: As mentioned, I enjoyed the first book of the Princess series but felt that it dragged at times when it lost my attention. This second book worked much better for me – maybe it was because I preferred the setting (the sea here vs. Fairytown in the previous book) but I’m more inclined to think that it’s probably because the plot seemed more concise in this one.
Jim C. Hines takes elements from the traditional fairy tales and plays with them, taking them closer to their darker roots, because in life we don’t always get our happily ever after. So Danielle, Cinderella, is probably the luckiest of the characters. Even though her husband was kidnapped in the first book, she and the other princesses managed to rescue him. Talia, Sleeping Beauty, was not awoken by the chaste kiss of her Prince Charming, and Snow’s seven dwarves were a far cry from the jolly men who work in a mine and sing a happy song. In this book we also meet Lirea (anagram of Ariel in case you hadn’t noticed) who begged her human prince to marry her so that she too could assume permanent human form. He refused her and she killed him, shattering her sanity. Not quite “and they lived happily ever after.”
Each of the three princesses brings her own personal added extra to the fold: Danielle can talk to animals; Talia is proficient in combat; and Snow is a sorceress. They all also have very different voices: Danielle’s tends to be caring and pragmatic; Talia’s is guarded and always on the verge of a violent outbreak; and Snow’s tends to be light-hearted fun. Considering the parody nature of these books, I think Snow’s is my favourite voice. Also, Snow was the character who seemed to undergo the biggest character growth in this book. There was a lot of focus on her coming to control her magic powers but also facing the reality of what she’s doing to others with them (I adored the passage about the ship’s cook refusing to make breakfast after the peas, screaming in agony, had tried to climb out of the pot the previous evening.)
I found Lirea to be an interesting foe because of the way that she could never really control herself what with the voices of her madness whispering to her. I much preferred her to the stepsisters in the first book. I’ll admit that I also felt sorry for her because, despite her actions, she is ultimately the victim of other people’s madness and prejudices.
Style: On the whole, light-hearted. It is engaging and soon draws you in.
Final verdict: I’m definitely a fan of this one and will be finding the time to read the third book, which I already have, when possible – hopefully before autumn 2012! 4 stars
Extra notes: One or two cases of mild swearing. No sex. Themes of homosexuality and coming to terms with it (also present in book 1.)