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4.1 10
Young Adult Fiction 464
Surprisingly good
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There's something about mermaids and the suspension of disbelief that is harder than other paranormal literary endeavors. Despite that, mermaids are absolutely in right now. They have been for a while (ever since, I believe, Stephenie Meyer announced she'd been sitting on a thousand page mermaid manuscript at home), and the YA market is thoroughly suited for it. I've been meaning to read one of these new mermaid books for a while, and I'm glad that, in the end, I chose this one in particular.

LIES BENEATH, by Anne Greenwood Brown, begins in the Caribbean. That's where Calder escapes to when the waters of Lake Superior get too cold. It's the only time he's able to leave his adopted sisters, Maris, Pavati, and Tallulah, to whom he is bound whether he likes it or not, pulled by a migratory instinct back into their waters every year as the cold gives way to summer.

He's gone about six months without killing anyone, which is some kind of record. Mermaids (and mermen, of course) are predators, after all. Not for meat, but for human emotion. They cannot find happiness on their own, so they must take it from others. But the act kills, and Calder is tired of being a killer.

When Maris calls to tell him to come back home, he would like to ignore her. But beyond the migratory pull, the unbreakable link between him and his sisters, there's only one other thing that would bring him back. They've found Hancock, the son of the man responsible for their mother's death, the man who owes them the debt of his own life, the one man Calder could kill - and will kill - with pleasure.

So begins this particular mermaid story. Returning as quickly as he can to the waters of his first transformation, Calder rejoins his sisters to plot Hancock's death. But his plans quickly unravel when he meets Hancock's daughter. Lily is nothing like anyone Calder has ever met. She's loyal and fierce and quirky and beautiful ? and she's not buying a single inch of his charm.

LIES BENEATH somehow manages to overcome the peculiar difficulty mermaid stories have of suspending disbelief. Mermaids, after all, belong to the world of fairy tales and sailor stories. They don't do well on land. But the novel overcomes this by developing two excellent characters in Lily and Calder. Tentative at first, it's worth pushing past the first introductory chapters till the narrative gets going. There are awkward moments at first: The description of Lily when we first meet her doesn't entirely mesh with her character after she warms to Calder, the moments when Calder has to dash from the car to the water sans clothing seem like they'd be trickier than they are, and anyone getting caught stealing pastries probably wouldn't get hired by the person who caught them a few days later ? even with paranormal charm. But these moments aren't much more than awkwardnesses, and they're overcome by the progression of the love story which draws beautifully on the poetic tradition of Tennyson and Yeats.

That is the strength of the book, in fact, those moments that drop into Victorian poetic allusion. And perhaps this is just because of my fondness for Tennyson, and Elaine of Astolat in particular, but the scenes that reference his "Lady of Shallott" are darling and precious. And the use of his mermaid poems are more than clever. They give the whole novel a richer heart. Here's part of one to leave you with:

Low adown, low adown,
From under my starry sea-bud crown
Low adown and around,
And I should look like a fountain of gold
Springing alone
With a shrill inner sound,
Over the throne
In the midst of the hall;
Till that great sea-snake under the sea
From his coiled sleeps in the central deeps
Would slowly trail himself sevenfold
Round the hall where I sate, and look in at the gate
With his large calm eyes for the love of me.
And all the mermen under the sea
Would feel their immortality
Die in their hearts for the love of me.
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