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Readers Advisory: Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly

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Disney-Hyperion, $17.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 1423133161, May 2014

Deep in the ocean, in a world not so different from our own, live the merpeople. Their communities are spread throughout the oceans, seas, and freshwaters all over the globe. When Serafina, a mermaid of the Mediterranean Sea, awakens on the morning of her betrothal, her biggest worry should be winning the love of handsome Prince Mahdi. And yet Sera finds herself haunted by strange dreams that foretell the return of an ancient evil. Her dark premonitions are confirmed when an assassin’s arrow poisons Sera’s mother. Now, Serafina must embark on a quest to find the assassin’s master and prevent a war between the Mer nations. Led only by her shadowy dreams, Sera searches for five other mermaid heroines who are scattered across the six seas. Together, they will form an unbreakable bond of sisterhood and uncover a conspiracy that threatens their world’s very existence.

If you’ve read Jennifer Donnelly in the past, you might be surprised at the amount of fluff and puns in this uneven start to a new series about magic and mermaids. On the other hand, given Disney’s history with mermaids, it’s perhaps unsurprising that this story feels a little bit like Little Mermaid fanfic at times.

While the blurb makes the story sound serious and action-packed, Donnelly has actually struck something of an awkward balance between the epic and the satirically silly. Serafina and her friend Neela are princesses on the run (on the swim?) from the forces of darkness out to kill them and rule the ocean, but they run into a lot of goofiness, like a mirror world whose lord speaks in mirror writing and a crazy cat lady who’s actually a crazy catfish lady because, you know, underwater world. Some touches seem whimsical, such as Sera’s seashell bed or Neela’s ocean candy with its various weird names, and some seem nonsensical. Mermaids in dresses? Let’s all think about the logistics of trying to swim in a long skirt.

Definitely a departure for Donnelly, this series seems unsure what it wants to be.

Recommend to: middle grade and younger teen mermaid fans

To buy or not to buy: Additional purchase unless your kids are clamoring for mermaid stories or the author is popular at your library

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