Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly.  Book #1 in the Waterfire Saga

Publisher: Disney / Hyperion

Sale date:  May 6, 2014

About the book:

Deep in the ocean, in a world not so different from our own, live the merpeople. Their communities are spread throughout the oceans, seas, and freshwaters all over the globe. 

When Serafina, a mermaid of the Mediterranean Sea, awakens on the morning of her betrothal, her biggest worry should be winning the love of handsome Prince Mahdi. And yet Sera finds herself haunted by strange dreams that foretell the return of an ancient evil. Her dark premonitions are confirmed when an assassin’s arrow poisons Sera’s mother. Now, Serafina must embark on a quest to find the assassin’s master and prevent a war between the Mer nations. Led only by her shadowy dreams, Sera searches for five other mermaid heroines who are scattered across the six seas. Together, they will form an unbreakable bond of sisterhood and uncover a conspiracy that threatens their world’s very existence.

The first in a series of epic tales set in the depths of the ocean.  [Source:  Goodreads]


My thoughts:

It was hard not to think of Disney’s The Little Mermaid while reading Deep Blue. My main exposure to mermaids has mostly been from watching The Little Mermaid numerous times as a child (loved the music!), and seeing her statue in Copenhagen as an adult. (So, really, I don’t have much to go on in terms of mermaid mythology.)

What’s interesting is that according to Publisher’s Weekly, Disney Publishing approached author Jennifer Donnelly with their idea for a mermaid story and she used their “story bible” to help write her novel; a method that sounds more like what would go into developing a TV/movie script, rather than a novel.

I wonder if this is the reason why the novel somewhat feels like three separate stories?

The first part is about princess Serafina’s life at court. This section provides the background information on the politics of their world.

Then the novel switches to Serafina’s journey to find the Iele, a secret group of witches. We get to know her character, and that of her best friend, Neela, a little better. The pacing and events during this part of the book feel a bit contrived, as if these scenes and encounters are mostly to introduce future characters, potential plot points, and themes about the damage that humans inflict on the environment.

Finally, the last part is about the formation of the team of mermaids who will embark on a quest to fight evil forces. This section of the story presents the mermaids as if they are just your typical teenaged girls, albeit with some really big expectations on their shoulders.

The mermaid characters come across as acting younger than their 16 years. Their use of slang is jarring (“merlfriend!), and the additional mermaids aren’t as memorable yet because they enter the story near the end of Serafina’s journey to the Iele. We don’t know much about them aside from what they reveal to Seraphina and Neela.

There are definitely some intriguing characters and I hope they will take on bigger roles as the series progresses:  Queen Isabella, Blue, the Duke of Venice. The antagonist, Traho also needs more of a backstory to him. And I love that the story is about a group of selfless and brave young (mer)women.

So far, this first novel in the Waterfire Saga holds a lot of promise, but feels a bit light. I really wanted more complexity in character and plot development, and a little more subtlety in the expression of themes.

Deep Blue would be better appreciated and loved by middle school/junior high students, so I would recommend this novel to younger teens and pre-teens. I think older teens would find the story simplistic compared to other YA fantasy novels.