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“Whatever you do or dream you can do—begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it,” Vrăja. –Deep Blue
Waterfire Saga #1
by Jennifer Donnelly
AR Test, Diverse Characters, Strong Female Character
Serafina has always knows that she will eventually rule her nation, located deep in the Mediterranean Sea. She needs to prepare for her Dokimí, when she will be introduced to the Mer people as their future ruler and will announce her future husband. But rather than worrying about her Dokimí, Serafina is obsessed with the strange dreams of sea witches that have been haunting her.
Everything changes when, during her Dokimí, a poisoned assassin’s arrow strikes her mother, and her father is killed. Now, Serafina must embark on a quest to find the assassin’s master and prevent a war between the Mer nations. Along the way, Seraphina will meet five other mermaids; will the six mermaids be able to discover who is behind the conspiracy that threatens the Mer world?
Many readers will pick up Deep Blue because of the beautiful cover image of a mermaid; however, the story is not as intriguing as the cover photo. The mermaid world has a complicated history and a confusing number of characters (both gods, humans, and mermaids). Much of the mermaid world is mundanely similar to the human world and there are overly long descriptions of clothing. Another negative aspect of the story is the main character Serafina, as her character is inconsistent. In some scenes she is fearful and runs from danger. Other times Serafina shows bravery, but that bravery makes her make stupid choices that endanger others. Serafina never takes the advice of more knowledgeable mermaids, even when she should.
Throughout the story, six mermaids must meet and make it to the sea witches’ lair. The six mermaids eventually find each other; however, readers will question how the mermaids come together at exactly the right landmarks that lead to the witches’ lair. The action slows down considerably as the characters talk about the history of the mermaids and much of the dialogue feels stilted.
In the end, Deep Blue is a typical story about a beautiful princess who loses everything including her parents. She takes a difficult journey, which teaches her some important lessons. Serafina must learn not to believe other people’s cruel remarks and that everyone makes mistakes. She also must overcome fear. Vrăja tells her, “You fear you will fail at the very thing you were born for. And your fear torments you, so you try to swim away from it. Instead of shunning your fear, you must let it speak and listen carefully to what it’s trying to tell you. It will give you good counsel.”
Even though the story has some positive messages, Deep Blue will leave readers slightly confused, disappointed, and wondering why anyone would want the whiny Serafina to rule their realm. Readers looking for a good mermaid book may want to try Atlantia by Ally Condie instead.
- Serafina overhears a conversation about her fiancé’s girlfriends.
- When a mean girl tells Serafina that her fiancé has a girlfriend, Serafina says she isn’t upset because, “I just hope she’s done a good job with him. Taught him a few dance strokes or how to send a proper love conch. Someone has to. Merboys are like hippokamps, don’t you think? No fun until they’re broken in.”
- Serafina thinks back to when her fiancé kissed her. “It was lovely, that kiss. Slow and sweet.”
- She finds her fiancé and one of his friends “lying on their backs. Mahdi had a purple scarf tied around his head and a smudged lipstick kisses on his cheek. . .” Someone had drawn a lipstick smiley face on Mahdi’s friend.
- A merboy says that “Merl’s so hot, she melts my face off.”
- Three human girls continue to fight over a boy, even though the girls are dead. Someone explains, “Must be something irresistible about rivers to sad girls. They just have to throw themselves into them. I’ve seen a lot of river ghosts.”
- A man grabs an eel and “bit into it. The creature writhed in agony. Its blood dripped down his chin. He swallowed the eel. . .”
- In the past “Kalumnus had tried to assassinate Merrow and rule in her stead. He’d been captured and beheaded, and his family banished.”
- During a ceremony, men attack. An arrow “came hurling through the water and lodged in her mother’s chest. . . Her mother’s chest was heaving; the arrow was moving with every breath she took. It had shattered her breastplate and pierced her left side. Isabella touched her fingers to her wound. They came away crimson. . . The assassin, barely visible in the dark waters, fired. The arrow buried itself in Bastian’s chest. He was dead by the time his body hit the seafloor.” Both of Serafina’s parents are killed as well as many merfolk.
- As the invaders try to capture Serafina, they blow up a wall. Serafina “looked up, still dazed, just in time to see a large chunk of the stateroom’s east wall come crashing down. Courtiers screamed as they rushed to get out of the way. Some didn’t make it and were crushed by falling stones. Others were engulfed by flames ignited by lava pouring from broken heating pipes buried inside the wall.” Serafina is able to run away.
- The invaders use a dragon in their attack. “The dragon bashed her head against the palace wall and another large chunk of it fell in . . . the dragon knocked more of the wall down. The creature pulled her head out of the hole she’d made, and dozens of soldiers, all clad in black, swam inside. The leader pointed toward the throne . . . Arrows came through the water . . . Isabella spotted a dagger next to the corpse of a fallen Janiҫari. She conjured a vortex in the water, and sent the knife hurtling at the invaders’ leader. The dagger hit home, knocking him to the floor.” The Janiҫari “gurgled, drowning in his own blood.”
- When Serafina and her friend were hiding in a cave, a merman appeared demanding “rent for staying in his cave. He signaled to the morays. They swam to the mermaids and began divesting them of their jewelry. . . One of the eels had dropped the necklace he’d taken from Serafina and had thrust his head down the front of her gown to retrieve it. Sera, lashing her tail furiously, caught another eel with her fins, and sent him spinning into a wall. He hit the stone hard and fell to the cave’s floor, motionless. The other eels were on her immediately, snarling. Tiberius sank his teeth into her tail fin. Sera screamed again, and tried to pull away.” The mermaids are sold to soldiers.
- Soldiers capture Serafina and her friend. “They shackled Serafina’s wrists with iron cuffs and blindfolded her. They forced an iron gag into her mouth and wrapped a net around her. Then, one of the soldiers slung her over the back of his hippokamp and rode fast. . . The ride was agony. The net’s filament bit into Sera’s skin. The gag, with its bitter taste of metal, made her retch.” When they arrive at their destination, Serafina and her friend are put in prison with another mermaid. “Her face was bruised. She held her manacled hands close to her chest. Blood swirled above them, pulsing from the stump of bone where her left thumb used to be.”
- While in prison, Serafina and her friends are immobilized with a metal collar that is padlocked to the wall. Serafina sees her friend, who was “chained to another pole only a few feet away. Her eye was swollen and bruised. Her skin was a sickly gray-blue.”
- A merman frees Serafina and her friends from prison. During the break-out, “the guard’s throat had been cut. He was arching his back, flailing his tail. His eyes, pleading and desperate, found Sera’s. She gasped and backed away.”
- While Serafina and her friend are hiding out, men appear and try to capture them. A man points a spear gun at Serafina. “Luckily, the duca lunged at the man and grabbed his arm. The gun went off. Trailing a thin nylon line, the spear hit a wall and fell into the water. . . the duca threw a punch at him, but he deflected it, grabbed the duca, and hurled him against a wall. The duca crashed to the floor, motionless.” Two mako sharks are mortally wounded. A merman who was helping Serafina was shot with a spear gun. The speargun hit “with a sickening thunk and exited his body under his collarbone. His attacker yanked on the line attached to the spear, pulling the cruel, barbed head into his flesh.” Later Serafina learns that several were killed during the fight. The scene takes place over five pages.
- When Serafina enters the mirror realm, Rorrim tries to keep her there. When Serafina tries to leave, “He grabbed her hair and yanked her back. The pain was electric. She screamed and tried to pull away, but he only tightened his grip.” Serafina cuts off her hair and is able to escape.
- Serafina’s friend, Ling, gets caught in a fishing net. When she is caught, Seraphina sees Ling’s “eyes wild with terror, mouth open in a scream.” Ling’s friends are able to free her.
- As Serafina and her friends are traveling, they see “on the seabed below, maybe twenty feet off the ship’s port side, were bodies. At least a dozen of them. . . They were dead. Some were lying on their backs, others facedown. Some had the kind of open, gaping wounds that were made by a spear gun. Others had bruises on their faces.”
- When Serafina sat against a tree, “she was jerked against the tree roots. She heard a snarl and smelled a gut-wrenching stench. She screamed and tried to pull away, but was pulled back.” Serafina’s friend took out her blade. “The blade came down to the right of Sera’s head. An instant later, she was free. . . and a human arm was lying on the ground. She whirled around to see what had attacked her. It was a terragogg. Or what was left of him. He was dead . . .” Someone had used forbidden magic to “reanimate the human dead and make them do their bidding.”
- Three river witches are in a circle, casting a spell to keep a monster in his cage. “Blood streaked the lips of one, and dripped from the nose of another. Bruises mottled the face of a third. Sera could see that the magic cost them dearly. . .the monster grabbed the witch by her throat. She screamed in pain as its nails dug into her flesh. It jerked her forward, breaking her grip on the incanti at either side of her. The waterfire went out.” Serafina and her friends try to help the witches. “With a warrior’s roar, she (Astrid) swung her sword at the monster, the muscles in her strong arms rippling. The blade came down on one of its outstretched arms and cut off a hand. The monster shrieked in pain and fled into the depths of its prison.” The scene takes place over five pages.
Drugs and Alcohol
- Serafina’s fiance, Mahdi, is rumored to be a party boy.
- “Good gods” and “Oh gods” are used as an exclamation several times throughout the book.
- The villain and his soldiers are often referred to as sea scum.
- Some mermaids have magic. “Magic depended on so many things—the depth of one’s gift, experience, dedication, the position of the moon, the rhythm of the tides, the proximity of whales. It didn’t settle until one was fully grown.”
- Magic is used throughout the story. One spell is a vello spell. The mermaid said, “Waters blue, Hear me cast, Rise behind us, Make us fast!”
- The story has several human ghost that live inside mirrors. “Ghosts lived inside it—vitrina—souls of beautiful, vain humans who’d spent too much time gazing into it. The mirror had captured them. Their bodies had withered and died, but their spirits lived on, trapped behind the glass forever.”
- A witch uses a mirror to beckon Serafina. When Serafina looks at the mirror, she raised her hand slowly, as if in a trance.” Someone else enters the mirror, and the witch leaves.
- Serafina and other mermaids can use songspells. “Canta mirus was a demanding type of magic that called for a powerful voice and a great deal of ability. . . Mirus casters could bind light, wind, water, and sound. The best could embellish existing songspells or create new ones.”
- A mermaid can cast a bloodsong which shows someone else their memories. When a mermaid causes herself to bleed, “the crimson swirled through the water like smoke in the air, then coalesced into images. As it did, Serafina saw the bloodsong—the memories that lived in her teacher’s heart.”
- Several times throughout the story mermaids use transparensea pearls. “The songspell of invisibility used shadow and light and was notoriously difficult to cast. Spellbinders—highly skilled artisans—knew how to insert the spell into pearls that a mermaid could carry with her and deploy in an instant.”
- In order to help Serafina and her friend escape, a mermaid uses magic. “She pulled wind down into the water and spiraled giant vortexes one after another, until she’d raised a wall of spinning typhoons. She was no longer a mere mermaid. She was a storm system, a category five. And she was bearing down on the enemy.”
- In order to escape, Serafina and her friend go through a mirror, where thousands of ghosts live. Many of the ghosts in the mirror realm are lifeless because they, “craved admiration. They become listless without it.” While in the mirror realm, Serafina meets Rorrim, who feeds off of dankling. Rorrim explains, “It’s a little piece of fear. They burrow into backbones. A few of them will infest a nice strong spine, and then as the bones weaken, more come. . . There’s nothing, absolutely nothing as tasty as fear. Doubt is delectable, of course. Insecurities, anxieties—all delicious, but fear? Oh, fear is exquisite!”
- One mermaid was omnivoxa and could speak and understand any language.
- A river witch uses a bloodsong to show Atlantis being destroyed. “People ran shrieking through the streets of Elysia, the capital, as the ground trembled and buildings fell around them. Bodies were everywhere. Smoke and ash filled the air. Lava flowed down a flight of stone steps. A child, too small to walk, sat at the bottom of them, screaming in terror, her mother dead beside her.” The story is retold over four pages.
- The sea witches teach Serafina and her companions magic. One mermaid cast a spell trying to make waterfire. “Whirl around me/Like a gyre, /This I ask you, /Ancient fire. /Hot blue flames, /Throw your heat, /Cause my enemy/To retreat.”
- One of the mermaids has the power of prophecy and sees visions of the future.
- Serafina and her companions perform darksong. “Canta malus was said to have been a poisonous gift to the mer from Morsa, in mockery of Neria’s gifts. The invocation of the malus spells could get the caster imprisoned: the clepio spells, used for stealing; a habeo, which took control of another’s mind or body; the nocérus, used to cause harm; and the nex songspell which was used to kill.” A bloodbind is forever and if a mer breaks it, they die. The mermaids perform the bloodbind. The girls cut themselves and share their blood. “As the last notes of the songspell rose, the blood of all five mermaids spiraled together into a crimson helix and wrapped itself around their hands. Like the sea pulling the tide back to itself, their flesh summoned the blood’s return. It came, flowing back through the waters, back through the wounds. The slashed edges of their palms closed and healed.” The spell is described over four pages.
- A witch tells the mermaids about silverfish who live in the mirror realm. “Tell it where you need to go, and it will take you.”
- A witch, who is helping cast a spell says, “Gods help me!” As the witches are attempting to cast a spell, a witch says, “Come, devil, come. . . you’re near. . . I feel you.”
- Serafina must face Alitheia. She is told, “The gods themselves made her. Bellogrim, the smith, forged her, and Neria breathed life into her. . . When Merrow was old and close to death, she wanted to make sure only her descendants ruled Miromara. So she asked the goddess of the sea, Neria, and Bellogrim, the god of fire, to forge a creature of bronze.” The creature must taste a meril’s blood to determine if she is a descendant of Merrow.
- Serafina “prayed to the gods” that her magic would work.
- The history of mermaids is told. When Atlantis was falling into the ocean, Merrow “saved the Atlanteans by calling them into the water and beseeching Neria to help them. As the dying island sank beneath the waves, the goddess transformed its terrified people and gave them sea magic. They fought her at first, struggling to keep their heads above water, to breathe air, screaming as their legs knit together and their flesh sprouted fins. As the sea pulled them under, they tried to breath water. It was agony. Some could do it. Others could not, and the waves carried their bodies away.”
- After Serafina is questioned, the villain tells her, “Gods help you if you’ve lied to me.”
- When Serafina and her friends are freed from prison, Serafina says, “Oh, thank gods!”
- Serafina was told a story about the sea goddess, Neria, who “fell in love with Cassio, god of the skies. She made a plan to steal away from her palace and meet him on the horizon. Trykel found out and was jealous. He went to Fragor, the storm god, and asked him to fill the sky with clouds so he could hide in them, pretend to be Cassio, and steal a kiss. . .” The story is not completed.