THE SEAFARER’S KISS
AUTHOR: JULIA EMBER
GENRES/ SUBJECTS: FANTASY, LGBTQIA ROMANCE (F/F), MERMAIDS, OWN VOICES, YA
Having long-wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the mermen’s glacier. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.
Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from Loki. But such deals are never as one expects, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies.
Read this book! That’s all.
Okay, more seriously, I loved this story. On the face of it, this is a combination of a The Little Mermaid retelling with elements of a villain’s (Ursula, or the Sea Witch, depending on the version) POV origin story. When Ersel meets Ragna, a stranded Viking warrior, we get a lovely “meeting of worlds” style romance.
And honestly, if all it was was a cute mermaid romance, it would still be a great story. But Ember has managed to create some things so much more than that.
Ersel is a fantastic heroine, both for the representation she provides (unashamedly bisexual and full-figured) and for her character. Ersel is a more nuanced version of Ariel, evolving her further from the original Anderson version. She’s brave and clever, determined but with a strong moral compass. And most importantly, she makes all her choices and sacrifices for her own dreams, not (only) for love. It helps that Ersel has a great role model. Her mother is quieter, more content with her lot, but still brave. I love the strong mother-daughter relationship in this story.
The world-building here is stunning. I imagine creating a convincing underwater world is fraught with difficulties, being so different from our own. But Ember has considered everything, weaving the details throughout the story as needed – from the mermaids biology in freezing waters, to how food would be stored, to the politics and societal structures at play in the mermaid kingdom.
Not to give too much away, but the mermaid culture as it relates to reproduction is crucial to the plot, providing a push factor to compliment the pull of the romance with Ragna. Intentional or not, with the adaption of The Handmaids Tale coming out, and the attacks being made on women’s health in the U.S. by the Trump administration, Ersel’s struggles to choose her own future feels incredibly relevant.
A must read, full of action and emotional blows.