The Failock Sea spoke gently.Beneath Cruel Fathoms, Chapter 1 opening
Many thanks to the BBNYA crew, TheWriteReads, and author, Anela Deen, for providing a digital ARC of this book as part of the 2012 BBNYA and following blog tour in exchange for an honest review.
After a violent storm destroys her ship, Isaura Johansdottir knows better than to hope she’ll be rescued from Eisland’s vast Failock Sea. Adrift and alone, her plans to start over lost, it’s a tragic conclusion after the disastrous end of her marriage—until she’s saved by Leonel, one of the merfolk, a creature long believed extinct. In repayment for her life, Leonel enlists her help to investigate the Failock’s mysterious and deadly plague of squalls. But when Isaura discovers Eisland’s ruthless new Lord commands the storms, her life will be in more danger on land than it ever was at sea.
As guardian of the Fathoms, Leonel must find the cause of unnatural storms ravaging the tidal currents and destroying the sea life. There are rumors of dark magic stirring in the Orom Abyss, the resting place of old, vanquished gods who tried to submerge the land millennia ago. Yet without proof, no one in King Ægir’s court will listen to him. And if it’s discovered he broke the Blue Laws to save a shipwrecked landweller, he might not survive the consequences.
As storms spread, Leonel and Isaura uncover secrets as forbidden as the bond that grows between them. Betrayal lurks in the restless sea, and when ancient powers lay siege to Eisland’s coast, the truth may be drowned along with everything else.From Goodreads
Book Content Warnings: infertility, emotional abuse
Anela Dean delivers an engaging merfolk and Norse-inspired fantasy with compelling characters and grounding messages. I originally read this as part of the Book Bloggers Novel of the Year Award (BBNYA) panel last year in 2021, and ended up being so entranced I read the book in a single day. Beneath Cruel Fathoms far surpassed my expectations of a simple merfolk romance. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy this book as a reader in her late 20s, but I believe it has a wide age range of appeal. Middle school me would have been obsessed with this book!
The story alternates between two main characters – Isaura Johansdottir, a human healer, and Leonel, a merfolk and guardian of the sea. Isaura is a gentle but determined spirit, recovering from a failed marriage and on a return trip home when her ship is caught in a bizarre storm. As mentioned in the earlier synopsis, she’s rescued by Leonel as he races to investigate the disturbing storm plaguing the seas. Unfortunately Leonel has a difficult family life, and is barely tolerated by all but one sister. Nevertheless he is committed to his role protecting the ocean life as guardian of the seas. Both characters were compelling and experience great growth through the duration of the book, and when they start to interact more their differences ignite a lovely friendship that blooms into something deeper. Although rocky and unnatural in the start, their relationship eventually starts to build an admirable base of mutual admiration, respect, and trust, with beautiful messages about self worth and reflection. But will it survive the wrath of the recent storms and the dark forces behind them?
The captured lives swam free, tiny starbursts of grateful joy as they passed him. He smiled for it. The scar bisecting the right side of his mouth pulled taut, as ever on an intruding reminder of that long-ago lesson: Dwell not on victory.
Various creatures in the story were also interesting. Not only do we encounter merfolk, but we see sirens, gods and goddesses, and some much creepier beings I’d never heard of before – draugrs, or reanimated bodies of the drowned. The book starts out foreboding and leans into the darker side about a quarter of the way in when these draugrs are introduced and readers get a glimpse of the malicious evil forces behind the storms.
Anela Deen’s writing was also very enjoyable to read. As an example, there’s some beautiful prose such as
The court tittered, laughter shielded behind limpet shells and seagrass fans.
Finally I want to applaud and acknowledge the candor in Anela’s post note in the book. In it she mentions she has PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which causes infertility. She goes on to explain how important it was for her include and represent that in the story, and I appreciated her openness talking about the role that journey has played in her life, transferred into one of the many messages of the book.
I’d recommend this to anyone looking for something deeper than a merfolk fantasy, but still wanting a story in that vein.
We aren’t defined only by our failures and sorrows. I’m starting to believe we’re an assortment. A few big events, but countless smaller details. Little joys that carry us through the days even when those days are hard.
About Anela Deen
A child of two cultures, this hapa haole Hawaiian girl is currently landlocked in the Midwest. After exploring the world for a chunk of years, she hunkered down in Minnesota and now fills her days with family, fiction, and the occasional snowstorm. With a house full of lovable toddlers, a three-legged cat, and one handsome Dutchman, she prowls the keyboard late at night while the minions sleep. Coffee? Nah, she prefers tea with a generous spoonful of sarcasm.
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