Book Review: Jim C. Hines’ The Mermaid’s Madness

And back to our regularly scheduled programming!

The whole Puppygate fiasco is still ongoing, and I might weigh in on it a little later down the line, but honestly, there are people out there providing far better commentary than I ever could. Not to mention that letting them hack out the issue is a lot easier than wading through Puppyist propoganda myself.

An as an added bonus, I’ve had a lot of time to read lately, so I’ll be posting a couple of new book reviews in the near future. Woo!

And the first of said reviews is on Jim C. Hines’ The Mermaid’s Madness.

Revamping fairy tales is nothing new. There’s the ongoing Fables comic, that 10th Kingdom miniseries that was on NBC like twenty years ago (does anyone else remember that?), Grimm and Once Upon a Time are both on TV (and I honestly couldn’t tell you the difference between either of those shows), and the occasional “Ten Disney Princesses Reimagined as Steampunk Superheroes” article on Buzzfeed or whatever. Funnily enough, I’m not sure if there’s a proper name for this sub-genre- “fairypunk” doesn’t quite seem accurate.

Whatever you want to call it, Jim C. Hines’ Princess books fall firmly in this category. The premise is pretty simple; after marrying her prince and moving towards Happily Ever After(tm), Cinderella has whacky magic adventures to save the kingdom alongside Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Of course, what makes it more interesting is Hines coming up with ways to make the various princesses kickass. Danielle (a.k.a. Cinderella) can talk to animals and has an unbreakable glass sword. Snow inherited her stepmother’s magic mirror and tomes o’ spells. And Sleeping Beauty is a ninja who is secretly in love with Snow. It makes sense in context, I promise.

The Mermaid’s Madness is actually the second book in the series. I read the first, The Stepsister Scheme, some years ago. I enjoyed it for a fluffy little adventure, and then pretty much forgot about the series until I saw the sequels on the shelf at the local used bookstore. I had some store credit to burn, and so here we are!

In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, The Mermaid’s Madness brings The Little Mermaid into the mix. See, Not-Ariel has been driven insane by the spell that gave her legs, and so she pretty much stages an underwater coup and starts murdering people and otherwise causing trouble. In the process, she stabs the Queen (and also mentor to the Princesses) with a magic knife that steals her soul.

Thusly, Charlie’s Princesses set out on a quest to save the Queen and prevent war with the mer-people. There’s sea battles and sea witches and a Dryad ship captain and generally fun swashbuckling all around.

Hines uses the fairy tale of The Little Mermaid as a stepping board to get into some rather dark territory. I mean, in the original story, The Little Mermaid abandons everything she’s ever known for some shipwrecked guy she just met…it’s not the sort of thing you’d expect to end well, and in Hines’ hands, it doesn’t.

Even with these ideas, The Mermaid’s Madness comes off as a little…shallow. (I’m not apologizing for that joke). The plot putters along in a fairly straightforward A to B fashion, with various battles and adventures thrown in. Honestly, I almost feel like a chapter or two could’ve been cut from the last third of the book without losing too much. Really, Danielle/Cinderella is kind of a dull character- she loves her husband, loves her infant son, and would do anything for her Queen…she’s pretty much the standard boring fantasy protagonist, in that sense. Just genderflipped from the typical knight errant, so that’s something? I’d rather read about Snow and Talia/Sleeping Beauty having whacky adventures and bicker-flirting in some sort of sword-swinging screwball comedy.

Furthermore, Hines does an odd thing with the setting. It’s based on a take on ‘our’ stories and fairy tales, but these all take place in Ye Olde Generic Fantasyland. There’s even a map on the inside cover!

This would be fine…except for the fact that Hines also mentions priests and churches and crucifixes. They’re not major elements of the setting, but it just seems a bit too close to ‘our’ world to come off right. That’s the weird thing about fairy tale re imaginings- if you set them in another world, how have the legends come to ours to begin with?

Really, just as there’s ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Science Fiction, depending on the plausibility of the science involved, I imagine one could make a case for ‘hard’ vs. ‘soft’ Fantasy, depending on the amount of thought put into the world of a given fantasy novel and the various magic stuff that ensues. So the ‘hardest’ fantasy might be nearly identical to a well researched historical novel, just with funny names for the characters and countries, while a ‘soft’ fantasy novel would be filled with elves and wizards running around just because the author thought it’d be cool. It goes without saying The Mermaid’s Madness falls on the softer end of this spectrum…and honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that.

All and all, I enjoyed the read for what it was. I’ve even got the sequel Red Hood’s Revenge (I’ll let you guess what that one’s about) sitting on my shelf for eventual consumption. I’m not expecting Hines to blow me away, but I’m always game for a well written fantasy adventure. And heck, I kinda want to see if and how Snow and Talia finally deal with their feelings and stuff, because I’m a bit of a sap sometimes.

Lesbian shipping doesn’t mean I’ll automatically love a particular work…but it helps. I understand Hines kind of jumped on the Korrasami bandwagon himself, or he at least wrote a rebuttal to one of John C. Wright’s ludicrous rants about the Korra finale, and that just brings us back to puppygate again. Oops.

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