Review: Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown

Monday, February 20, 2012
Title: Lies Beneath
Genre: young-adult, supernatural fiction, mythic fiction
Series: Lies Beneath #1
Pages: 315 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected June 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

Calder White lives in the cold, clear waters of Lake Superior, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids. To survive, Calder and his sisters prey on humans, killing them to absorb their energy. But this summer the underwater clan targets Jason Hancock out of pure revenge. They blame Hancock for their mother's death and have been waiting a long time for him to return to his family's homestead on the lake. Hancock has a fear of water, so to lure him in, Calder sets out to seduce Hancock's daughter, Lily. Easy enough—especially as Calder has lots of practice using his irresistible good looks and charm on unsuspecting girls. Only this time Calder screws everything up: he falls for Lily—just as Lily starts to suspect that there's more to the monsters-in-the-lake legends than she ever imagined. And just as his sisters are losing patience with him.
Finally! A mermaid tail (sorry, couldn't resist a bit of fin, I mean fun) tale that I can finally, actually say I enjoyed reading; one that I didn't hate the main characters, or their romance, or even the mythology behind the sea creatures. Lies Beneath is a success in a genre that has so fat yet to offer many noteworthy titles; this is thanks in part to presence of, as the great Wendy Darling of GoodReads so aptly put it: eeeeevil mermaids. Not the Disneyfied version most common on film and in YA novels (Between the Sea and Sky, I am looking at you) but the twisted, covetous, murderous sirens of Greek mythology. These sirens mermaids have bite; the three females (dominat matriarch Maris, affectionate Tallulah, flawless Pavati) especially typify the kind of mermaid I apparently like to read: vengeful, deliberate and deadly. Lies Beneath also is one of the few all-male POV young-adult novels I've read - unexpected, and very welcome when I realized it.

Calder (have you even seen a caldera? Hmmm....) White is both a creeper and, oxymoronically but believably, a good guy. What's nice about Calder, and reading from his view, is that he's a very self-aware creeper. He doesn't misrepresent his actions (breaking and entering, stalking, etc.) as romance or love, but readily admits his actions are more in line with a "serial killer" than a boyfriend. I liked Calder from the start: his is a strong and distinguished voice from the outset, with just a touch of that self-deprecating humor that I always enjoy. He's obviously and clearly different from his sisters: winter migrations, self-denial disguised as self-control, desire for isolation.  The title itself is also doubly clever when viewed in reference to the male lead character: not only does a monster lie beneath the waters of the placid looking lake, but there are lies beneath his motivations that even he is unaware of. Figuring out Calder's personal history is a recurring subplot throughout, that though it doesn't have the high dramatics of the 'kill Jason Hancock' main plot, has more than enough punch at the end.   

Lily was sadly a weaker effort than her love interest for much of the novel. She found her footing before the end, but on the whole my love for this book is based on Calder, not Lily. I found her wardrobe choices a bit try-hard and the love for Victorian mermaid-espousing poets was a little bit of a reach but I was won over. I was won over and I know the exact moment - it wasn't when Lily slapped Calder's hand for trying to 'hook her hair behind her ear' though I did love it, it wasn't when she was smart and suspicious of the boy she catches following her everywhere she goes - it was when she used a bad Russian accent. Everyone has a bad Russian accent, everyone I hang out with, at least. That was when she stopped being a character and became real. It was also refreshing to read a family with a strong and loving dynamic, one that actually seemed to love each other (the only other recent read I can recall that did the same was The Alchemy of Forever), though that served its purpose as well. Lily's family represents a lot of what Calder lost in his 54( if I mathed that right) 18 years of life: family, love, security, normalcy.

Back to the sisters three most vengeful: Maris, intimidating if somewhat mystifying by the end, Pavati, whose name I read as 'Parvati' nine times before I realized my mistake, and the only-kind-by-comparison Tallulah. (Thematically-relevant/appropriate names? Nice touch, Greenwood Brown.) Their individual characterization is severely lacking, but as a force they are impressive. Even the number of them (school of them? shoal of them? swarm?), three, is reinforced by the Greek legends they pay clear homage to; the most accepted number in tales is between two and five. The girls are born mermaids, as Calder is not. They prey on humans, though not for flesh or for ships as the ancient version did, but for the victim's emotions. They are, as Calder claims to ignorant ears, monsters, not the typical Disney princesses I've come to read and cringe about. Here, in their motivation and craving for human feeling as well as the creation of 'reinvigorated' (made, not born) mermaids, is where Brown diverges from traditional reasoning and branches out into her own version of motives for the watermonsters.To her creative credit, it is both a logical and elegantly simple answer. But first, in order to show why I thought this so great, allow me to wander a moment. This next paragraph may wax slightly spoilery, so avoid if you don't want minor details before reading.

I read a lot of vampire novels; they're heavily published and a lot of my friends, both online and off,  read them as well. They seem to be dropping off in favor of dystopias/post-apocalyptic (or have just adapted, like Darwin predicted) but for a few years there, they were ubiquitous. So either in solidarity (Morganville series) or out of masochistic curiosity (Twilight series), I've more than read my fair share of the genre full of bloodsuckers. Some of those books went out their way to fashion a coherent/unique reason for why the vampires needed blood; others...did not. I enjoyed one type of these books more than the other.  For example, one novel postulated that vampires need the oxygen present in living humans blood to keep their bodies/cells alive 'after death'.  (I don't remember what book this was, but even if it was Twilight, love the concept, hate the execution. But I doubt it was). It was original, it was clever, and it has stuck with long after the book itself was lost. (Someone remind me? Or someone with more powerful Google Fu than I can figure it out?) Anne Greenwood Brown has done something similar with her mermaids: they cannot manufacture their own positive emotions, so they covet and murder and plot to absorb ours/our aura in water. Emotions like joy, hope, excitement, love are more than just sustenance; they're what keep the mermaid/man from falling into an endless depression, and eventually, insanity and death. Clever, right? Without delving into consumption of humans themselves. Random side-note: These Lake Superior merpeople are also apparently somewhat part eel - all four in Calder's 'family' have some electrical abilities both in and out of water that are referred to as 'eel-like' or similar. Major personal kudos for the author and her clever adaptions to the mythic creatures - these are definitely her own version.

Lies Beneath is good, just too short. This is convoluted. This is original and fun and easy to read. It's a fast-paced novel where events happen quickly so this far from a boring read, ever. The conflicts in Calder's life - family versus freedom, nature versus nurture, choice versus requirement, revenge or forgiveness - are all executed so well. His emotional pull between personal happiness and a desire to set something right is never melodramatic. There is a sequel, Water Lily, set for a 2013 release and from Lily's view. All I know is my next mermaid read, Of Poseidon, has a lot to live up to. Also, lastly, superficially: how AWESOME and creepy is that cover with the touch of bloodred? So appropriate and foreboding. Dun dun duuuun. Read this one, guys.

1 comment:

  1. This is a really great review. I also liked how the author explained how the mermaids absorbed emotions. That was a nice touch.


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