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Columbine: The Flots are a family of merpeople – Albert, Gaynor and their daughter Eliza – who live in a dank cave under a pier. It sounds unhealthy, and they are not a very healthy lot, but they are friendly, jolly and generally good sorts. In this fresh and funny book they befriend Toby, an orphan who lives and works at the Grand Hotel, and when it seems their cave could be discovered, he suggests they move into the hotel.

Mr Harris, the hotel manager, is a a mean and sneaky fellow, but his cousin Margot is a sweet old lady who helps Toby arrange wheelchairs and accommodation for the new guests. Eventually, of course, Mr Harris discovers their secret, and like many greedy humans before him plots to put them on show. When his son Nigel bravely points out that the Flots will not like being exhibited, he replies: “Who cares? They’re only fish.” I mean, how rude. You will be glad to know he ends up a laughing-stock and Margot takes over the hotel.

Only at the very end is the secret connection between Toby and the Flots revealed, and I will not spoil it by revealing it here. That is Eliza you can see on the cover of the book. What you cannot see is that the tail and the water are all silver and glittery.

Robin: Gaynor reminisces about the time there were more mermaids about: “Back then, you didn’t have to worry. People thought it was good luck to see a mermaid – now they’d think they were losing their minds.” She remembers the full moon parties and sun bathing with the seals. The other mermaids have since gone off to find somewhere better. “Those that stayed all met an unpleasant end. Fishing nets or…” She changes the subject, but later mentions a mermaid who was put on a leash and made to dive for fish.

Deep Water Columbine: The stories about Buffy the Vampire Slayer quite naturally deal mostly with blood-sucking vampires and demons from sundry hell-dimensions, and rarely mention the natural creatures of our own dear dimension. Also naturally, they tend towards the tenebrous, not to mention the grisly, gory and generally icky. This book, it must be said, is quite similar in that regard, but it does have one rather more charming element – the selkie girl lost on the beach. Selkies, of course, are seal-people; seals most of the time, they can shed their skins to become virtually indistinguishable from humans.

Buffy’s friend Willow is an ELF – not one of us, but a member of the Emergency Local Force – and as such is helping out sea birds and other creatures caught in a massive oil spill when she sees a little girl crying and hugging an oil-soaked ‘coat’. Experienced in the weird, Willow recognises her as not quite human and takes her to the school library, where she and Giles work on spells to clean the oil from the sealskin, as they guess chemicals might affect its transformative magic. Oddly enough the library is the centre of Slayer activities, though of course handy with the books for research – it is the Celtic mythology section that proves most use in this case. The little girl, whom they decide to call Ariel after the little mermaid in the film, even speaks a sort of Gaelic, though communication is difficult at best. Nonetheless, the team do decide that the folkloric suggestions that selkies are harmless, gentle creatures are most likely right.

Rumours that the Sunnydale vampires are being harassed, even savaged, by creatures from the sea, not to mention the appearance of half-eaten human corpses, makes Buffy wonder. The appearance of Dr. Lee, who was once married to a selkie and has reasons of his own for mistrusting them, adds to the worry.

It is not selkies to blame though, but a disgruntled band of merrows. These merrows are described as green-skinned and seaweed-haired, sea-dwelling but with legs, and as having a pronounced if generally frustrated taste for human flesh. Apparently the tribe used to attack boats and drown sailors, but modern boats are just too hard to sink. Annoyed by human poisoning of the sea, the oil being just the latest example, they decide to do a bit of invading of their own. The malefic influence of the Sunnydale Hellmouth is probably at work too.

The Slayer’s team, taking the little selkie girl home, almost gets caught in the middle of a big battle between merrows and vampires, “alpha predators” fighting over territory. In the end the merrows are driven back into the sea and Ariel makes it back to her family, and all is (relatively) normal in Sunnydale again.

Robin: There are tales about mermaids drowning sailors, though usually inadvertently while being playful, and certainly not for eating. “Merrows” are usually believed to be very similar to mermaids, and I never heard they had legs instead of tails, though certainly there are some underwater beings who do.

Eager and the MermaidRobin: Dulcie has seaweed-like hair, green eyes and a blue tinge to her skin. She has an elfin face and a voice like honey. She may sound like a fairly conventional mermaid, but unlike all the other fantasy mermaids I have read about, she is a robot. She was engineered by humans to act as a spy. But in using dolphin cells to make her tail (which is therefore smooth rather than scaled like a fish’s, making her a delphine type of mermaid) they gave her an affinity with sea mammals which overcame her programming, and she became one of the rare self-aware robots.

Dulcie has a rather abrasive personality and does not like humans at all, regarding them as selfish, greedy and deceitful. She particularly objects to the way they treat the sea and its creatures. She goes so far as to say that she prefers to deal with sharks. It galls her to have to trust some humans to protect her from others. This is a true reflection of the way some real (or perhaps I should say, non-robotic) mermaids feel. There do not seem to be any other mermaids in this world, although it is interesting that the sea mammals accept her so easily.

This book is one of the Eager series, about the cute self-aware robot EGR3 (hence – Eager) who learns by experience like a human child and feels emotion. In the former books the government had imposed a ban on self-aware robots, worried about a threat to humanity, but in this book the ban is lifted and Eager can come out of hiding.

The mermaid, although glimpsed in the prologue, does not fully appear until more than halfway through the book. Eager has been invited to join a robot think-tank to help solve the problem of the lack of rainfall in the world which is causing serious water shortages. When he and the other robots meet Dulcie and realize she is being held against her will, they decide to set her free. With the help of Eager’s human friends, they succeed, and discover that she holds the key to the very problem they were asked to solve.

Dulcie knows from her conversations with the sea mammals that the sea needs to be healed by whale song, but human noise pollution prevents it. Eager promises to find a way to stop the noise for one morning while Dulcie swims to inform the whales.

A romantic friendship develops between the two robots, despite their belonging to different elements. Eager is fascinated by her from the first, thinking her the most beautiful entity he has ever seen. Later he comes to appreciate more: “The water, her graceful movements, and the air above were as much a part of her as her tail. He began to understand why she longed for the vastness of the ocean.”

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.

The Tide Turner by Angela McAllisterRobin: The Tide Turner creates a truly believable underwater world. The mer people here are called Delphines; they have smooth tails like dolphins and must occasionally take a breath of surface air. There are different groups of Delphines, including Silvertails who farm the sea bed, and Bloodfin hunters from the cold waters of the North. The Delphines refer to humans as “Crawlers” and are rather fascinated by the human artefacts which fall into the sea. They live in “pods”, small family-based settlements, although there are also some loners and nomads. They have legends about the Merrows, guardians of the sea under the auspices of the Sea Spirit, who are believed to be no more.

Cal, a Silvertail girl, is investigating the mysterious disappearance of her mother when she meets Jake, a sea foundling who has just lost his human foster parents. When a sudden sea fury wrecks Jake’s boat, he is amazed to find that he can survive underwater, and communicate in Cal’s strange language. This mystery is gradually unravelled, and the pair become closer as they try to outwit the fierce Bloodfin.

The enigmatic outsiders, Orcara the witch-like healer, and Tarian the trader with a dangerous pet octopus, both help Cal and Jake at times – but whether they are true allies only time (and perhaps tide) will tell. Skimmer, the giant manta ray who comes at Cal’s call is perhaps my favourite character.

The underwater geography is convincingly described, and the map on the inside cover adds interest. The cover itself is rather clever – though at first sight a simple picture of blue-green weed and fish against black ocean, at a certain angle a beautiful face can be seen imprinted on the black, perhaps the Sea Spirit herself. (It is no use squinting at the picture here – you will have to look at the actual book)

Escape from the Carnivale coverColumbine: This exciting story is part of the Never Land series introduced by Peter and the Starcatchers. In this book the mermaids of Mermaid Lagoon have golden skins with green hair and tails. They are telepathic, but have learned to speak Mollusk and English. They have a beautiful and stern leader, Teacher. Surf and Aqua are playful young mermaids, identical except for their hair decorations.

Surf is looking for pearls with her twin sister Aqua and her friend Little Scallop of the Mollusk Tribe when she is captured by the crew of the Carnivale. The Carnivale is a carnival ship, a travelling show, and the captain plans to keep the mermaid as a star attraction. He imprisons her in a tank on deck along with various freakish sea creatures. Surf is especially scared by a scissorfish which tries to cut her long hair.

Little Scallop devises a clever plan to free her, using dolphins to distract the crew while James of the Lost Boys climbs aboard the ship. Meanwhile Hook and his pirates, currently shipless, build a raft with the intention of taking the Carnivale for themselves.

Columbine: The short but haunting and elegaic book will charm all ages.

Capri Beach Club is deserted one baking August except for 12-year-old best friends Hailey and Claire, and Raymond, the student who runs the snack bar. A fierce storm swamps the swimming pool and leaves behind a mermaid, Aquamarine. Hailey sees her huddling in a corner when she takes a swim in the murky pool, and sprinkles some marinated herring in the pool to tempt her to the surface. Aquamarine takes exception to being stared at, and is rather rude to the girls. However, she needs their help as she has fallen in love with Raymond, the first human boy she has ever seen – it is a bit of a weakness with mermaids…

“Her voice was as cool and fresh as bubbles rising from the ocean. She was as beautiful as a pearl, with a faint turquoise tinge to her skin and eyes so blue they were the exact same colour as the deepest sea.” She has silvery hair and tail, and slight webbing between her fingers.

The girls tell her she must go back to the ocean as the pool is due to be drained, but “they couldn’t know that a mermaid in love is more irrational than a jellyfish and more stubborn than a barnacle.”

The girls manage to arrange a date for her with Raymond, pretending she is a cousin of theirs, and find a wheelchair and a dress for her so that she can disguise her mermaidness. After that, Aquamarine promises, she will leave. Raymond is immediately enchanted by her, and Aquamarine gives him a shell, saying he need only speak her name into it and she will hear. He sees her next day and realises what she is: “Raymond’s eyes shone even brighter when he looked at her.”

But no mermaid can stay long out of the sea and Aquamarine comes close to fading away before the girls carry her back to the ocean.

Columbine: The first book about Fred the mermaid loses no time in establishing that this is a series aimed at more mature readers, with its crude references to mating and its frequent salty language. It is that curious hybrid, a modern romance novel.

Fred (Frederica really) is a rather gruff, graceless heroine. No sitting on rocks and singing in the moonlight for her. At 29, a marine biologist working at the aquarium in Boston, she is not looking for love. But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to come knocking.

Fred has known that she is a mermaid most of her life – the kind that has legs on land, as it seems is usual for merpeople in this particular fantasy world. As well as the tail, her mermaid heritage has given her green hair and made her super-strong. It also enables her to speak to the fish telepathically, which is handy in her work, although they can be rather demanding.

Sleeping with the Fishes opens with an embarassing conversation between Fred and her parents. Both her parents are fully human, so it comes as no surprise to her to learn that her biological father was just a passing fancy of her mother’s, who just happened to walk out of the sea one day. It came as a surprise to me that she hadn’t bothered to find out before she was 29, but I suppose that’s because she’s generally so taciturn and self-involved.

Her best friend Jonas is the only one outside the family who knows her secret, until she is spotted in the aquarium tank by a new colleague working late. Fortunately Thomas adores mermaids. Though he’s not too keen on Prince Artur of the Black Sea, a merman who claims Fred as his subject, but that’s probably just rivalry over Fred.

The two of them insist that Fred joins them in their endeavour to discover the cause of the pollution in Boston Harbour. Which turns out to be quite disgusting, by the way – though I cannot see how it drew Prince Artur to Boston, as it seems too local a matter. It is a familiar plotline too – fairy and human teaming up against the wicked developers.

This should be a light and entertaining read, but it’s not really. Or not for everyone. Even overlooking the crudity and “ickiness”, the plot is too thin and unconvincing, and the characters generally unlikeable.

Swimming without a Net, the second book in the series, is set partly in the Caymans, where Fred the mermaid finally meets more of her kind, and I’m not sure she’ll like what she sees. It’s hard to please that girl. Prince Artur and the “water-fellow” Thomas are still hanging around, and Fred is still undecided whether to be romantic with either of them. (yawn)

The big question of the book is – should merpeople, of whom we learned there are about a million worldwide, go on leading a secret existence or proclaim themselves to the world in the interest of saving the oceans? Surely humans wouldn’t continue to foul the waters if they knew people, even if somewhat fishy, were living in them? Hmmm…

If you liked the first book, you might bother reading this one – unlike me…

Columbine: This is the background to the series: Back in the mists of time, Neptune, the King of the Merfolk, fell in love with and married a mortal. Because it ended badly, the tempestuous monarch forbade all relations between merpeople and humans, insisting that any humans who had contact with them should be given a memory drug to make them forget. The ban has done little to lessen the attraction between the two peoples – on the contrary, young merpeople find the “forbidden love” especially romantic.

Over thirteen years before The Tail of Emily Windsnap starts, a couple of boats had got lost and capsized during a regatta yacht race. Some mermen helped the humans to land, and somehow, despite the rules, this was the beginning of a series of meetings which led to love and marriage for one couple, Jake, a merman poet, and Penny, a girl from the seaside town of Brightport. The illegal marriage could not be kept secret, and Neptune was furious. Jake was thrown into underwater prison and Penny heavily and repeatedly dosed with the drug.

These books are about their daughter Emily, who is quite unaware of her heritage.

Sometimes when there is a first person narrator, that person seems to know or understand about lots of other things that are going on and be extra-specially perceptive. But not Emily Windsnap. As Emily speaks through the books, her preoccupation with her own interests and worries narrows the focus of the fantasy. This perhaps adds to the books’ strong appeal, explaining why young readers have said it is like being there yourself.

There are several ingenious and improbable parallels between the undersea and land societies, with courts, and prisons, and especially, of course, “Mermaid School”, which is quite entertaining, with its classes in Shipwreck Studies with Geography Reef Trips, Diving & Dance, Beauty & Deportment, Siren Stories &c. I also liked the young mermaid’s bedroom with a big pink sponge instead of a cushion! But there are also some brief but haunting descriptions of the beautiful underwater world.

The other characters, although interesting, are rather sketchily drawn, all through Emily’s eyes. Emily is impulsive and insecure, with strong opinions about people. It was amusing to see Emily herself through Mandy’s eyes in the second book! Emily’s more foolhardy actions can be hard to understand – I found myself crying “No, don’t do that!” quite a few times – and sometimes have awful consequences. But on the whole she is pretty lucky! All three books end in hopeful reconciliations.

The books in the series are:
The Tail of Emily Windsnap
Emily Windsnap and the Monster from the Deep
Emily Windsnap and the Castle in the Mist