Book Reviews

Mermaids and other mysteries of the deep * Paula Guran

MERMAIDS-600The sea is full of mysteries and rivers shelter the unknown. Dating back to ancient Assyria, folkloric tales of mermaids, sirens, rusalki, nymphs, selkies, and other seafolk are found in many cultures, including those of Europe, Africa, the Near East and Asia.
Dangerous or benevolent, seductive or sinister – modern masters of fantasy continue to create new legends of these creatures that enchant and entertain us more than ever. Gathered here are some of the finest of these stories. Immerse yourself in this wonderful—and sometimes wicked—watery world!
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I came across this book after looking for other things Paula Guran has gathered after the beautiful Obsession Stories. And I got really excited to see the line-up of authors and stories featured in the book:

Elizabeth Bear Bear • Swell
Samuel R. Delany • Driftglass
Neil Gaiman • The Sea Change
Delia Sherman • Miss Carstairs and the Merman
Margo Lanagan • Sea-Hearts
Christopher Barzak • The Drowned Mermaid
Genevieve Valentine • Abyssus Abyssum Invocat
Seanan McGuire • Each to Each
Sarah Monette • Somewhere Beneath Those Waves Was Her Home
Peter S. Beagle • Salt Wine
Caitlín R. Kiernan • The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean
Amanda Downum • Flotsam
Cat Rambo • The Mermaids Singing Each to Each
Anna Taborska • Rusalka3
Chris Howard • The Mermaid Game
Gene Wolfe • The Nebraskan and the Nereid
Angela Slatter • A Good Husband
A. C. Wise • Letters to a Body on the Cusp of Drowning
Jane Yolen • The Corridors of the Sea
Lisa L. Hannett • Forever, Miss Tapekwa County
Catherynne M. Valente • Urchins, While Swimming
Tanith Lee • Magritte’s Secret Agent

As I read on, I realized that I knew little about Mermaids, with the exception of the story of the Little Mermaid which I so loved when I was a little child. These mermaids were vicious creatures, beautiful and bold, mouth lined with rows of teeth, creatures to be admired and feared.
The tales are indeed fantastic but I can’t say I felt the same deep fascination as I had felt before. I think the only ones I really liked was Margo Lanagan • Sea-Hearts and the story from Genevieve Valentine • Abyssus Abyssum Invocat. Even these were so truly weird I cannot say whether I will ever read them again.

Tales have been told since ancient times of marine beings who were tricksters, brought misfortune, or lured humans to certain death. Some had wondrous voices, but to hear their enchanting songs or charmed speech could be fatal. Yet in other stories they were said to save sailors from drowning, grant wishes, or bestow treasure. Even if their actions were disastrous for humans, merfolk seem amoral rather than evil. Since they are not human, why should they even comprehend our ideas of ethical life? Humans who understand such standards, often ignore them—especially when it comes to their conduct with mermaids, selkies, and others.

Margo Lanagan • Sea-Hearts

_seahearts-1365745179WINNER: CBCA Book of the Year, Older Readers, 2013
There is something different about the inhabitants of Rollrock Island. They have come to an unusual power – to conjure beautiful, enchanting women from the very soul of a seal and to trap them as housewives. This is the story of a child born to such a beautiful mother and how he managed to get the coats back to all the women on the island and for all their children.

Rollrock Island is raged yet invigorating landscape, with Lanagan’s atmospheric prose deftly recreating an island exposed to the harshness of the elements. Her ability to convey the power of the community and the landscape, isolated in many ways, is incredibly absorbing as Lanagan’s narrative sweeps the reader along.

Genevieve Valentine • Abyssus Abyssum Invocat

1edb736ed749080fcde66f04142de9b8Once, a mermaid fell in love with a prince who fell from his ship in a storm; when he had ceased to struggle, the mermaid took his face in her hands, passed her fingertips over the lids of his closed eyes, pressed her mouth against his mouth. Then she delivered him to the surface, where he was safely found.

But the salt of a man’s lips was sweeter than the salt sea, and the memory of it drove the mermaid nearly mad, until at last she left behind all she knew to find the prince again.

She gave her voice to the hag in the grotto; the hag gave her a knife and said, “Very well.”

She swam until her home waters were far behind her, until the prince’s castle was in sight and she could swim no farther; then she lay at the edge of the water, and cut at her flesh until it was cleaved in two.

She was not allowed to wash her hands clean (she was not allowed to ask anything again, of the sea); when the men found her in the morning, they saw a naked woman holding a knife, up to her elbows in blood.

They hanged her from the first tree they found, so young that it sagged under her weight.

It’s grown crooked ever since; I can see it from my window, as I tell you this.

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All in all, it’s a good read, not a great read. And it has kept me busy during my lunch breaks for the last month. One story a day, one different mind to tap into.



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