Review: Between the Sea and the Sky by Jaclyn Dolamore

Monday, September 28, 2015
Genre: mythic fiction, young-adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 240 (Nook edition NetGalley ARC)
Published: October 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2/5

For as long as Esmerine can remember, she has longed to join her older sister, Dosinia, as a siren--the highest calling a mermaid can have. When Dosinia runs away to the mainland, Esmerine is sent to retrieve her. Using magic to transform her tail into legs, she makes her way unsteadily to the capital city. There she comes upon a friend she hasn't seen since childhood--a dashing young man named Alandare, who belongs to a winged race of people. As Esmerine and Alandare band together to search for Dosinia, they rekindle a friendship . . . and ignite the emotions for a love so great, it cannot be bound by sea, land, or air.

Sadly, much like Cayla Kluver's Legacy or Tris & Izzie by Mette Ivie Harrison,  this mermaid tale is another case of Beautiful Cover, Big Ol' Mess inside the alluring facade. Though this young-adult novel is technically not a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's famous Little Mermaid, the story is obviously influenced by and similar to that long-loved tale. Both the pain of land, the belt/chastity allegory are all in tune with the familiar story. Between the Sea and Sky is the tale of a bookish teenage mermaid -  though she is soon to be elevated into the exclusive and respected sirens - named Esmerine. Esmerine's tale is about her search for her sister Dosinia, a fellow siren disappeared from the sea abruptly. It's a simple story in a very simple style that somehow manages to still take quite a bit of effort to finish. I have been on the look out for a good mermaid story, but sadly for me, Between the Sea and Sky failed to deliver a well-rounded, interesting, appropriate mermaid tale.

Esmerine is not a very well-rounded or even developed young-woman. Her personality seems too-perfect at best and mismatching or altered to appeal at worst. I never felt invested in the young mermaid; from her dialogue and her actions, she constantly came across as too young and too immature. As "the brain of the family" Esmerine sticks out from all other merfolk: she can read and write, and has even been friends with one of the detested and avoided "sky people". I can't say I really rooted for Esmerine during her search for Dosia- it's a fairly boring trek that seems to consist of Esmerine sitting and waiting while another actually searches for her sister. The role of the sirens as well, that of luring men to their deaths using song/beauty/etc., also seem strangely out-of-tune with the almost MG tone and feel of this novel. Between the Sea and the Sky occasionally borders on uncomfortable side with the random mentions of (and fixation upon) breasts, in addition to the more mature themes randomly mixed into the story.

The "winged people" that Esmerine knows and talks to are the Fandarsee - winged humans that are essentially Mercurys - they transport messages. One reason (among many) that this novel irritated me: the merfolk and Fandarsee resent/avoid/hate the other but no real reason is provided for the animosity between the races. So naturally, when Esmerine has feelings for a 'darsee, they cannot be together because. . .  of an obvious plot device by the author. It's obvious, unreasonable and needed better plotting. Alander or "Alan Dare" is the male love-interest for Esmerine; a friend from her childhood she has since (6 years) not seen. Speaking of which, Alandare reminds me of my second quibble: humans/their normal world are mentioned often throughout the story, but no information is given as to if the mermaids/Fandarsee are known outside of those encountered personally by humans. It just felt like a glaring error: I never knew what the status of the characters were and the worldbuilding suffered. And when I say worldbuilding, I'm being a tad sarcastic. There's barely any time devoted during the narrative to describe or enliven the underwater realm, which seemed by far the most interesting and with the most unique possibilities of all the places in the novel.

I digress, anyway. Back to Alan: in the baldest terms, I did not like him.  I did not like his attitude/interactions with Esmerine for seventy-five percent of the novel. He's grumpy, irascible and supposedly hiding a kinder, better side, but I never saw it. I just saw a really nasty dynamic between them. After Esmerine's extreme blandness, I was hoping for at least an interesting guy to read, but Alan really is just as flat and undeveloped as his friend. but I really dislike the interactions between the love-interests. Their "romance" is hackneyed and doesn't feel valid or real. I can't "buy" a relationship with

  • a. two characters who spend the first 170 pages bickering/fighting/misunderstanding each other or 
  • b. claim to be in love after a. and not seeing/knowing the other for about 6 years of crucial personal development. 
  • c. have zil chemistry between them when they reunite. How do we know these two crazy kids love each other? They say so - that's it. No actions, thoughts or behaviors to reinforce their love. It just is because they're 18 and 16 and they say so!
  • d. annoy me more together than they do apart.

Don't be like me deceived by that bewitching, albeit totally gorgeous and ethereal, cover. For such a short novel, Between the Sea and Sky manages to misfire on so many fronts that I'd suggest passing this one over unless all that (up there!) sounds like your cup of tea. I've heard the author's Magic Under Glass is cute and whimsical - perhaps that's worth a try before this mangled teenage mermaid tale. If you absolutely have to read the tale and see what happens to poor, missing Dosia, my personal advice is to just be patient and wait for the library to just say no.

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