By Julia Ember
Reviewed by SA
Friends have been telling me for ages that I absolutely needed to read Julia Ember’s books. Unicorn Tracks has been a favorite in my bookworm groups, and people won’t stop telling me how fantastic her YA writing is. So when the opportunity came to read her new book, The Seafarer’s Kiss, I leapt at the chance. And, excuse my all caps here, THIS BOOK WAS INCREDIBLE!
Having long-wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the mermen’s glacier. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.
Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from Loki. But such deals are never as one expects, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies.
If you were to combine The Littler Mermaid with The Handmaid’s Tale and Norse Mythology, you might have something that looks a little like The Seafarer’s Kiss. It tells the story of a young mermaid who finds a shield-maiden who’s been shipwrecked near her ice craves, and their relationship as they both deal with separate objectifying societies. Ersel the Mermaid lives in a restrictive and patriarchal society, where women are valued only for their fertility due to te harsh cold of the icy northern waters. Ragna was born blessed with moving tattoos, making her a prize catch for rival clans.
The worldbuilding in this novel was exquisite. Everything was carefully thought through and relevant, managing to surprise the reader at every turn. Including Loki as a main player in the novel – who has they/them pronouns, which I thought was a nice touch – elevated the story to a complexity you don’t always get to see in YA novels. This is not a simple retelling of the Little Mermaid, it’s so much more than that. It hast real magic running through it.
Ember has created a society for the merpeople that makes sense in their context, something not modeled off human society as you might expect. Explaining how their biology has adapted to the cold was brilliantly done: the scales that trap the heat and keep the merpeople warm when they dive deep, or how they eat to grow their blubber. It was funny to me that Ersel’s first thought when she saw Ragna was how scrawny she was.
Not only was the character development masterfully crafted (Ersel’s growth was perfection) but the relationships were relatable and compelling as well. There were so many different kinds of love here: maternal love, friendship, romance… beautiful bonds that explored relationships both healthy and toxic.
If I was a little ticked off, it was by Ersel’s “I’m not like other girls” mentality. She loves to explore shipwrecks, is/was best friends with a guy, and doesn’t want the life of eternal motherhood that everyone else her ages does. She’s sometimes cruel and mocking towards others of her age. But can we really blame her?
And if you’re into YA for the romance, then you’re going to love the relationship between Ersel and Ragna. Their friendship that grows into something more, their fierce independence and respect for each others worlds… and not to mention their insane cuteness. Love them!
Please read this book! If you love YA, you’re going to love Ersel and Ragna. But make no mistake: this book is crazy dark. Dark, beautiful, and powerful. An instant favorite you won’t be able to put down.