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Columbine: This is a little trilogy of books printed in a single volume, Mermaid Magic, Rani’s Sea Spell and The Shell Princess, all about Rani the red-headed mermaid. The trilogy is by the author of the Fairy Dust books, but unlike them it has no humans at all, being set wholly in the underwater world. The group that Rani lives with are on Tingle Reef, a safe haven from the Deep Blue which has sharks, sea spiders and yellow-back jellyfish, all very dangerous for mermaids. In the second book she goes to a family party in a shipwreck completely covered with white limpet shells, right out in the Deep Blue, and in the third she ventures far, far away, to visit mermaids living actually under the sea bed in a series of caverns.

Rani is different from the other mermaids she knows, having red hair, orange scales and golden eyes instead of blonde hair, green scales and blue eyes. Her adoptive family found her in a Great Clam Shell when she was a baby. Now she is discovering other differences too – she hears sounds they cannot, and can heal herself. When she is advised to visit the mysterious sea-witch, Morva, she is astonished to discover Morva is a red-and-orange mermaid too, and especially to learn she is herself a magic mermaid. There are even more surprises in the second two books of the trilogy, to do with Rani’s original family.

The little sea horse you can see on the cover is Rani’s pet, Roscoe, who often gives her good advice. There are other talking sea creatures, including Octavius the learned octopus, a sly oyster who refuses to show his pearl and an irascible whale who is annoyed by the noisy party. The only land creatures Rani sees are the white swimming bears she helps in The Shell Princess, and Morva says that nobody knows exactly where they live. It seems that these mermaids live in very deep water, and find that going upwards eventually makes them unbearably dizzy. (It is tempting to suggest that this could be a explanation for the silly behaviour of those mermaids who do come to the surface – that they are just light-headed from the altitude!) You can also see Rani is wearing an amber pendant – she gets that in Rani’s Sea Spell, and it holds a very surprising secret.

There is a lot of charm and humour in these stories, magic often saves the day, and Rani’s behaviour throughout shows she has been very well brought up indeed.

Robin: Invisibility or some shapeshifting glamour, flight or at the very least the ability to move quickly – these are the gifts the folk of Faerie need to travel safely among the human masses. None of these are available to the mermaid stranded on land. She must rely on unchancy human kindness, and bide her time until she can be back in her element.

In Ragboy, also called Ragboy, Rats and the Surging Sea, which is set in a British port in the nineteenth century, the injured mermaid Luiulia (Ooli for short) is rescued by a kind poor boy called Silas who works collecting rags and bones for factories. He lives with his grandfather, who is also charmed by Ooli and welcomes her as part of the family. He calls her “the lass”. They feed her and look after her until she is quite well again, and she decides to repay their generosity by helping the boy find lots of fish which he can sell off a barrow.

That might have been the end of the story if this had been a picture book for littlies, but unfortunately… Jasper Dredge and his son Albert enjoy making Silas’s life a misery, and, suspicious of the fish, they spy on him at the beach. When they discover the mermaid, they think only of sideshows and profit, and promptly kidnap her. Silas has to go into some very unsavoury parts indeed to rescue her, and even then the vile pair will not give up. Silas has to talk Ooli out of using her mermaid siren powers to drown them in the sewer (which they do richly deserve, but she is not at heart that sort of mermaid so he was probably right).

It really is quite hard to read about the nasty things that Jasper and Albert do, and even though Silas’s cheery sailor friends intervene, and Silas and his grandfather end up sailing into the sunset, the unpleasantness takes a while to fade. These are just the sort of characters which should persuade mermaids to avoid the land altogether.

Columbine: Wild Blood is the third in the Switchers trilogy. In the other two, Switchers and Midnight’s Choice, there is no mention of fairies, although the children, Tess, Kevin and Martin, have a fairy gift, the ability to shapeshift, or as they call it, “Switch”. As Tess and Kevin learn in the last book, they are in fact descendants of the Tuatha de Danaan, the Irish Fair Folk. From their fairy blood comes their ability to assume the shapes of animals and other creatures, although they will lose the ability once they reach the age of fifteen. At that time they have to choose a permanent form.

While in the first book the Switchers save the entire world from ice death and in the second they save Dublin from a future plague of vampires, this book is a more muted family affair. Tess goes to stay with her cousins in the Irish countryside just before her fifteenth birthday. She is still undecided about what form to take, and hates the thought of losing her gift: “her human mind was wondering how she would survive when she couldn’t Switch any longer. Like stepping back into prison, it would be. For a life sentence.”

She goes into a wild wood near a cliff looking for privacy to Switch, but is quite unnerved by its strange atmosphere. She thinks she sees a shadowy figure with antlers, and hears a voice whispering her name. Another time, looking at the moonlit wood through the farmhouse window, she sees mysterious flashing lights. Tess’s aunt believes that there are fairies in the wood, but she tells her cousin Orla “there’s no such thing as fairies…They’re just old stories. From a time when people were… less sophisticated”.

She has to think again though when she meets her uncle’s twin brother Declan. He was a Switcher who chose to become one of the Tuatha de Danaan when he reached fifteen. He is now eternally young, lives in a sidhe, and has mastered several fairy powers, such as the power of illusion or glamour, transforming other people and things, and controlling the weather. Tess finally realizes: “life was full of inexplicable happenings. And in their insistence on concocting ‘logical’ explanations, people tried to force their world into the confines of a set of laws that made it seem much smaller and less interesting than it really was.”

Declan tries to persuade Tess to join him, and takes her to a fairy gathering in Ben Bulben. But Kevin, who is camping nearby, is convinced she should stay human, because only humans can make a difference in the world. He feels they have a responsibility to protect the animals and the wild places, and that having been Switchers has given them the strength to do it.

A recurring theme in this trilogy is “rats are amazing!” Switching into rat form and enjoying the feelings of rat strength, courage and comradeship is one of the best experiences the children have. Kevin seriously considers remaining a rat. In this book he plays Pied Piper and draws the rats away from danger, although the spoiled farm-rats don’t much enjoy their new life in the wild wood! Tess also turns into a hare, goat, kestrel, jackdaw and other birds, making the most of her last days. If you could only take one form, I wonder what you would choose?