Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Read This! Fathomless by Jackson Pearce
If you ask me, there aren't nearly enough books about sea monsters. And if you know me at all, you know I soak up fairy-tale retellings like a sponge. Fathomless fulfills on both counts.
If you want a lovely little Disney-esque Little Mermaid, stop here. Go watch some animated fish sing. This is a lovely tale, true enough, but the darkness in it goes deep.
Quick synopsis: Celia is the triplet who can see the past, which isn't nearly as useful as the talents of her sisters Anne and Jane, who can see the future and present, respectively. That is, until she meets Lo, an ocean girl who doesn't remember her past as the human girl Naida. (Brief note: love the play on the word "naiad," a type of water nymph.)
Sounds like a sweet tale of friendship, right? Well, sort of. But add a love triangle, familial discord, two characters fighting to live in the same body, missing souls, monsters, and murder, and--well, there's that darkness I was talking about.
Flipping through the book at the bookstore, I saw the narrative is in first person, from two/three characters' points of view. (It's a little complicated.) This always makes me pause, since I frequently have a difficult time either telling the characters apart or caring for both (or all) of them, but Pearce uses subtle differences between how the characters view the world to make the POV switches clear, but not jolting. The well-crafted adventure kept me turning pages, but this clarity kept me from having to turn back.
Celia's voice is matter-of-fact. As a narrator, she offers enough description to get the point across, focusing on the facts she knows and the actions she and those around her take. In her relationship with her sisters, she feels a level of disconnect, but the hurt that causes her is something to be inferred.
Lo, meanwhile, is highly descriptive. Her life under the water is expounded upon in a manner that is very lyrical--without sludging into purple prose. It seemed totally natural for her to live within the ocean, and her home there is definitely the setting I felt the most connection to--after a couple of Lo's chapters, I recognized her home, as well as the unity she feels with her sister-monsters.
Finally, there's Naida. Naida lived in the past, and can only resurface briefly, when Celia helps Lo remember. She was a happy girl. She had a family she loved, a sister she loved, but can't quite remember. Her narration is somewhat stilted for the mere fact that she is only the pieces of herself she can remember--just half a girl now, and one who has lost her soul to the ocean and the "angel" that made Lo what she is today.
All three are desperate for a sense of self, for independence, and for love--a desperation made all the more poignant since only two of them can survive.
My only itty-bitty issue was the physical description of the "angels" that created Lo and the other ocean girls--there is a clear social concept of the creatures they are described as (sorry, no spoilers here) that has no connection I could see to the role they play in the book. However, that was balanced by the fact that I really liked the portrayal of the love interest. I could see what the girls saw in him, and felt a pull to him myself--but the whole love-triangle bit doesn't consume the the entire plot. Thank you, Ms. Pearce, for creating characters to whom a boy can be important without becoming an unhealthy obsession! (Okay, with one possible glaring exception at the end...)
All in all, I'd highly recommend this one, especially if you like your heroines strong and believable. I'll definitely be checking out the companion books soon.