Saturday, July 21, 2012

"The Vicious Deep," by Zoraida Cordova

The Protagonist: Tristan Hart. A young lifeguard at Coney Island who discovers he's half-merman after he mysteriously survives a tidal wave.
His Angst: He's not just ANY half-merman - he's the grandson of the King of Sea, who wants Tristan to take his place.

The Secondary Cast:

Maia: Tristan's awesome mum. Formerly a mermaid princess before she fell in love with Tristan's dad.

Layla: Tristan's childhood friend, who's been with him through thick and thin. Unfortunately, Tristan's feelings towards her are starting to feel a bit more than friendly.

Maddy: Tristan's heartbroken ex-girlfriend, whom Tristan cheated on.

Sea King: Tristan's merman grandfather, who wants Tristan to compete to be heir to the Sea Throne.

Elias: Tristan's rival for the crown - and a right royal douchebag he is, too.

Gwen: Elias' fiancee, a cunning mermaid princess with secret talents of her own.

Nieve: An evil seawitch (and technically Tristan's great-aunt) who's willing to go to any lengths to destroy Tristan and his loved ones and secure the crown for herself.

Angst Checklist:
  • Crushing On Your Best Friend
  • Parents Keeping Secrets
  • How to Be a Good Boyfriend
  • Family Ties
  • Sudden Responsibility
  • Canadian/Italian/Irish Cousins
  • I Have To Save The Ocean And I'm Only 17
  • My Dick Disappears When I Grow a Tail and That Deeply Troubles Me
  • Oh? There's a Pocket For It? Why Does That Not Comfort Me?
The Word: Tristan Hart has a pretty awesome life. He and his loving parents live in Brooklyn, and he gets to work as a much-oogled be-Speedo'd lifeguard at Coney Island for the summer. He's got sand, surf, a group of good friends, and school is almost over.

He's still got angsts, though - like how his revelation that he's got Speedo-feelings for his best friend Layla has come at the most inopportune time ever (right after his current girlfriend Maddy caught him cheating with another girl). But it's nothing a few months tanning on the beach won't fix.

That is, until tidal waves swamp the beach and Tristan gets knocked out trying to rescue a drowning swimmer. When he wakes up on the beach, three days have passed and no one knows how Tristan survived - least of all Tristan himself. Once he gets home, he starts experiencing strange changes and heightened senses and ultimately sprouts a giant blue fishtail.

Turns out his parents have a lot of explaining to do. His mother is actually a true-blue mermaid princess who was stripped of her tail after falling in love with Tristan's father - and despite wrangling a promise from her old man (the King of the Sea) that Tristan would never sprout fins, dear old Grandad (who's planning to retire) has decided that Tristan will be his heir and champion and sends two of Tristan's merfolk cousins to retrieve him for the challenge.

Yes, challenge - because other well-finned members of the Sea Court will also be submitting champions for the crown. Oh, and a millenia-old seawitch may be trying to kill him.

I had supremely mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, Tristan is charming and I loved his voice and perspective. He's a teenage boy, so his reactions are, well, very much like a teenage boy who's had a lot of good things handed to him, and his observations are often incredibly funny. Even so, he's already on the cusp of manhood and starting to question the way he's been living his life and the irresponsible reputation with girls that he's earned for himself - especially in the eyes of Layla, his lifelong best friend, with whom he's starting to realize he's in love. But how can he win over the girl who's witnessed all the stupid shit he's pulled?

I also liked Tristan's family dynamic - especially once he turns into a merman, which is a source of much humour. In fact, I enjoyed most of the scenes and dialogue that take place on land. Cordova really brings Coney Island to life, with the sand and greasy fried foods and tourist traps, bringing to mind a tarnished teenage wonderland. Tristan's background and community felt incredibly fleshed out to me.

But that leads me to the parts I didn't like - namely, the fishy parts. While not exactly inconsistent, the worldbuilding for the seakingdom and marine life seemed shaky and underdeveloped. While the human side of the story is evenly explored, we get a lot of fantasy exposition really quickly and not all of it makes sense - for example, the Sea King's decision to choose oblivious half-human Tristan as his heir despite his multitude of experienced merfolk grandsons "because Tristan's mom was his favourite daughter" seemed a particularly flimsy excuse, especially considering how much is at stake.

I want to be a little more charitable with this because I suspect more might be explained in subsequent books, but for now, the worldbuilding is pretty but not particularly in-depth or interesting. I also felt the book left far more loose ends dangling than I like to see in first novels. 

Finally, I feel I should mention my mixed reaction towards Layla, Tristan's best friend and primary love interest. Her character comes across as a deliberate attempt on the author's part to create a strong female character who isn't just a token female, someone who can look after herself and doesn't rely on the protagonist to rescue her. Which is good!  

Except for the fact that more often than not her "Strong Femaleness" translates into "acting like a boneheaded moron with no regard for consequences" who winds up having to be rescued ANYWAY when the situation blows up in her face. Quite frankly, when it comes to female characters I much preferred the cunning and cynical Gwen (the mermaid princess betrothed to one of Tristan's rivals), who, while less in-your-face, knows how to use what resources she has to achieve her desired result in an effective way.

The Vicious Deep shows definite promise, but its narrative could have afforded to be a little more developed and organized.

You can purchase The Vicious Deep here.

No comments:

Post a Comment