This is going to come as a tremendous shock to you–please brace yourself–but I am actually not the only person who has written an incredibly awesome fairy-tale novel involving the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid.
I know. I couldn’t believe it either.
In all seriousness, while you will have to decide on the “incredibly awesome” part for yourself, I did have a lot of fun writing The Tomb of the Sea Witch, Book 2 in my Beaumont and Beasley series. If you’d like to read it for yourself, you can get it for free by signing up for my newsletter!
Go ahead. I'll wait.
Done? OK, awesome. Originally, I only had one review planned for this week–but by coincidence, I ended up finishing two stories that both involved The Little Mermaid to some degree. And there’s another great Sea Witch retelling that I read a long while ago but never got around to reviewing. So I’m tackling all three of them today. Better grab your scuba gear.
Rise of the Sea Witch
(Just to avoid confusion, while this book is listed as a publication of Anchor Group, the company belongs to Stacey Rourke, so in my opinion it technically counts as an indie novel. I believe Ms. Rourke has self-published her other works directly.)
I only read this book because I was working on a novel featuring Little Mermaid elements, and wanted to make sure I wasn’t writing something too similar to Stacey Rourke’s novel. (As it turned out, my story is very different, so I needn’t have worried.) I was surprised at how engrossing the novel turned out to be. I couldn’t put it down, and I’m now waiting eagerly for the sequel (now available to pre-order for just $0.99). “Rise of the Sea Witch” isn’t just a fairy-tale retelling, it’s an unofficial backstory for the Disney villain–with the names tweaked just enough to prevent any copyright issues. (Ursula, for example, is Ursela.) It does not, however, read like fan-fiction. The quality of the writing, plotting, and characterization are exceptional, and the references to the film are clever rather than obtrusive. Rourke creates a captivating mythology behind the underwater realm of the story and develops the magic into a deeper, more intricate system. Even better, she nails a villain origin story. Those are difficult to tell, but Rourke avoids all the common pitfalls. She doesn’t turn Ursela into a wholly sympathetic, “misunderstood” character (like the Maleficent film did with its titular villainess.) She doesn’t give Ursela a weak motivation for her descent into darkness. And she doesn’t let the book get too dark–there were actually some lines of dialogue that made me laugh out loud. The snark was strong with this one. Even if you don’t think it's quite your cup of tea based on the cover or the Disney trappings, I’d recommend giving it a try anyway. You might find yourself enjoying it a lot more than you’d expected.
The Rise of Ersyla
(Very similar title, totally different story.)
J.M. Sullivan has done a remarkable job creating a fresh take on the character of the Sea Witch with this short story. The set-up was not at all what I’d expected–a land-based tale of dark forests and torch-wielding villagers instead of an undersea civilization of merfolk. But the unusual backdrop works very well. The concept of magic-users hounded by ignorant, superstitious folk is not a new one, but Sullivan wisely provides a believable explanation for the fear of magic in this world instead of chalking it up purely to base instinct. The end is heartbreaking and intriguing at the same time, and could easily work as the set-up for a retelling of the entire Little Mermaid story along the same lines. I’m officially casting my vote for this. Either way, I’m eager to read more of J.M. Sullivan’s stories now.
The Lady and the Frog
Not a similar title. In fact, what in the world does this have to do with mermaids? Spoilers…
As of when I’m writing this review, I haven’t yet read Book 1 in the Pippington Tales series. But since they’re pretty much stand-alone stories set in the same universe, that’s not a problem. The world of the Pippington Tales is essentially an alternate early-twentieth-century Earth, where magic and fantastical creatures are real but hidden from the general public.
The Lady and the Frog revolves primarily around Henry Kingston, an exceedingly proper and sensible young auditor who considers magic to be stuff and nonsense. However, he’s eventually forced to change his views when…
No, he doesn’t get turned into a Beast. Don’t be ridiculous. Who’d write a story like that? Shush.
As I was saying, he’s forced to change his views when the woman he loves is placed under a dreadful curse and his younger brother Jack is transformed into a frog. By a magical golden ball dropped down a well, no less. The story begins with strong ties to The Frog Prince, but this isn’t the only fairy-tale it incorporates. The villain’s backstory is connected to The Little Mermaid (though I won’t spoil exactly how), and there’s even a nod to Pinocchio.
This is a thoroughly entertaining, feel-good story. The characters go through a lot, and the stakes are high enough to maintain genuine suspense, but the atmosphere remains fun rather than dark. Each of the protagonists was taken out of their depth in some way, which made the book all the more enjoyable. Henry’s precise world of figures and columns is disturbed by magic. Evelyn, his betrothed, has to draw on strengths she never knew she had. (I had a small crush on her by the time I’d finished reading.) And Jack is forced to rise above his flighty personality to be heroic, even in amphibious circumstances. Even the villain had unexpected depths–reasons are given for the terrible things she does, making her actions believable but never reducing the threat she poses. The third act is a game-changer that casts the entire story in a new light and builds to a highly satisfying conclusion. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in fairy-tale retellings, or fantasy in general.
Especially if you happen to like fairy-tale retellings in a quasi-modern parallel-universe setting.
Just to be clear, L. Palmer and I have never even interacted or become aware of each others’ books until very recently. Now that we have, however, we are really enjoying the little similarities between our respective universes. We intend to be the pioneers of a new alternate-history-fairytale sub-genre.
Eh, that name doesn’t sound quite right. Parallel-universe-fairytale? Fairy…fae…
YES. THIS IS NOW A THING.
Did I mention that you can download my own Sea Witch retelling for free? I did? Ah well, doesn’t hurt to mention it again.
Know of any other great Little-Mermaid-based fantasy books? Share them in the comments below!