The Mermaid’s Madness by Jim C. Hines (2009) – Okay, I broke a few of my self-imposed reading rules when I picked up this book, and I’m glad I did. I don’t usually select a book that’s in the middle of a series, and I tend to skip “reworked” fairy tales when I want to read fantasy. As usual, rules are meant to be broken, and I totally enjoyed this book loosely based on the original Little Mermaid.
In this fantasy realm, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella all live together in Prince Charming’s castle. They’ve apparently had adventures together and continue to support and protect one another. But these are not your parents’ fairy tales. Snow is a sorceress, Sleeping Beauty is a kickass warrior, and Cinderella talks to animals. So, not only are they best buds, they also have special abilities and heroic adventures. Before you think they are some kind of super-heroes, I have to point out that Mr. Hines does a great job of giving them flaws and distinct personalities. Snow is a self-taught sorceress and unsure of her abilities with magic mirrors. She’s also a bit of a tease. Sleeping Beauty is a royal pain in the butt, mean and hostile to everyone and hiding a big secret. Poor Cinderella (they all have real names in the book) feels bad about leaving her toddler son and husband when she is forced to go on an adventure with her sister princesses to save her husband’s mother, the queen.
In Jim’s Libriomancer books, there’s not really a fiendish bad guy. Most of the time, the hero is trying to figure out who is causing the discord in the world, and we don’t get much insight into the villain. The Mermaid who is Mad is a completely different story. She’s mad as a hatter (sorry, different tale), has been brutally jilted by her prince, and wants to destroy all humankind. Poor Lirea is the queen of the merfolk (having killed her father and older sister) and commands them to sink ships and drown as many humans as possible. She already killed the prince who did her wrong, but his soul is trapped in her knife and making her slowly insane. Unfortunately, Cinderella’s mother in law’s soul is also trapped in the knife.
The princesses set out on a journey to find Lirea’s little sister, her grandmother who gave her the cursed knife in the first place, and the knife itself. It’s a quest, but the characters are so interesting that sometimes you forget how hopeless their situation is. We experience Lirea’s seduction and discarding by the jerk prince after she sacrificed her mermaid state to be with him. I couldn’t help but feel sympathy toward her even as the princesses battled her to retrieve the queen’s soul before her physical form perishes.
Well, it seems that the grandmother had a master plan to turn Lirea human and give her her lover’s soul so that their offspring would have souls (merfolk don’t have them apparently). Too late, the princesses discover their new friend is no friend at all.
I kept looking to see how many pages I had left in the book when it seemed that they had managed to satisfy their quest (quite a few), but it was a case of going from the frying pan into the fire. It turns out the Little Mermaid is the least of their problems.
An exciting read (as always with a Hines’ book), definitely non-stereotypical heroines (Cinderella not only has glass slippers but also a glass sword), a very complex and sympathetic murderess, and a very satisfying story.
Okay, I may have to go back and read how they all saved each other and themselves in the earlier books and cross off one of my reading restrictions.