Friday, 12 September 2014

Review: Waking the Merrow by Heather Rigney

What's the first image that comes to mind when you think of mermaids? The little mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen? Or the Disney version? Or this painting by John William Waterhouse?

The latter is what I think of when I hear the word “mermaid”. Or used to. Since reading “Waking the Merrow”, I'll be thinking of blood-thirsty, cold-hearted, dismembering creatures with a hankering for human flesh.

I was lured into this book by the promise of historical fiction, my favourite genre. There are, however, various storylines, and while most of them are set in different centuries in the past, the main storyline is set in the present. This did not bother me, though, and even more surprisingly, it was the contemporary storyline that I found the most engaging.

The protagonist in that story is Evie (rhymes with heavy) McFadan, a funeral director who has no illusions about life: “When you're young, you think you'll grow up and know everything. At thirty-eight, I didn't know shit.” When she relates her trips to the playground with her little daughter – how she rather sits alone, observing the other mothers, than engages in chit-chat and gossiping... I've found my soulmate. Fine, she has a drinking problem, but we can't all be chocoholics, now can we? As a (first person) narrator, Evie has a great voice; wry and witty (sarcasm and snarkiness are tricky as they easily come across as trying too hard, but such instances were rare). Her relationship with her husband is refreshingly realistic – no sugary romance here.

All the trouble for Evie begins on that playground. As if being a funeral director, a mother and a wife – not to mention dealing with icy in-laws – isn't enough, murderous merbitches are on a mission to wreck her life. True, she's doing a good job of that all on her own... but when her family is threatened, is she going to just sit back and do nothing? Hell, no. Evie is an everywoman, she's one of us. We need her to come out on top: if she can do it, so can we!

The author has created an interesting twist on mermaid myths, and I wish she had explored that legend a little more deeply. Some of the history bits seem pale in comparison to the contemporary storyline, but I'll blame my high expectations for historical fiction. The writing is smooth overall, there only a tiny bit towards the end that seemed a bit awkward.

“Waking the Merrow” is a dark historical fantasy – with horror and humour. It's been a while since cliffhangers actually worked for me, but there were a couple here that made me want to race through the pages to find out what happens. I managed to snatch this book when Amazon offered it for free. Carefully edited, well written and nicely paced, it's one of the best free offers I've read.

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