Drown by Esther Dalseno

My Rating:   5/5 stars

“Seven emotionless princesses.
Three ghostly sirens.
A beautiful, malicious witch haunted by memories.
A handsome, self-mutilating prince.”

And with that, I knew I had stumbled upon something special. I found Drown in my Goodreads recommendations and although it normally takes a trusted-reviewer for me to pick up a book, I decided to take a chance on this one. And, oh boy, am I glad I did. Somehow it only has a hundred or so reviews on Goodreads, and that really needs to change. So here I am.

Drown is a dark retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” but not the Disney version. No, you won’t find any singing and composing crabs here. The Disney movie deviates quite a lot from Hans Christian Andersen’s original TLM, with the only real similarities being a mermaid who falls in love with the human world and its prince, and consequently gives up both her voice and tail to be with. If you’ve read the original, you’ll know that there is a lot more to it than that.

Keeping most of the elements that the Disney movie abandoned, while also providing her own unique twists, Dalseno’s Drown is a much more faithful and intriguing adaptation. The history on how the mermaids came to be is quite a compelling take that helps with our understanding of the culture they created and why the mermaid society operates with as little humanity in it as possible.

Throughout Drown we follow our nameless protagonist, the little mermaid–youngest of all eight mermaid princesses. Everything about the eighth princess is different. She questions everything with her strange alien way of thinking, holding views that no one else shares; in fact, she seems to have human-like values.

When she reaches “her most momentous birthday,” it is time for her to surface as a rite of passage. Naturally, she finds the human world fascinating–especially its prince. Quickly becoming obsessed and engrossed with it all, she decides she must join them and seeks out the dreaded sea witch who can make her dream come true. Her wish is granted in exchange for her voice and that every step she would take would feel as if she were walking on a bed of knives.

From there on we follow and learn through her eyes:

“Everybody made faces around here. Human beings, she discovered, could not maintain the stony, frozen expressions of the merfolk, not for an instant. There was not a moment where their faces remained blank. There was always a light in their eye, and the light, like red wind, would flare into a raging fire without notice.”

That’s all I’m going to say for now, as I think it’s best to go into this book not knowing what to expect. I recommend this book to anyone who appreciates when an author can take a familiar story or idea and reshape it into something completely their own, or to those who loved the movie Pan’s Labyrinth–both are twisted fairy tales that share a similar atmosphere. (And to those who read Drown and enjoyed it, definitely give Pan’s Labyrinth a try.)

“I brought you here to tell you this: sometimes what we are searching for does not exist. We may sacrifice for it, even bleed for it, but it was never meant to
be ours.”

You know it’s a good book when the characters still occupy your thoughts from time to time after finishing it, and you still don’t even know their names.

– Taylor

Please leave a comment if you’ve read Drown or are planning to! I’d love to discuss it 🙂

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