April 11, 2016

Review | Drown by Esther Dalseno

Review | Drown by Esther DalsenoDrown: A Twisted Take on the Classic Fairy Tale by Esther Dalseno
Publisher: 3 Little Birds Books, October 2015
Pages: 260
Format: Ebook
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Seven emotionless princesses.

Three ghostly sirens.

A beautiful, malicious witch haunted by memories.

A handsome, self-mutilating prince.

Belonging to a race that is mostly animal with little humanity, a world obsessed with beauty where morality holds no sway, a little mermaid escapes to the ocean’s surface. Discovering music, a magnificent palace of glass and limestone, and a troubled human prince, she is driven by love to consult the elusive sea-witch who secretly dominates the entire species of merfolk.

Upon paying an enormous price for her humanity, the little mermaid begins a new life, uncovering secrets of sexuality and the Immortal Soul. As a deadly virus threatens to contaminate the bloodstreams of the whole merfolk race, the little mermaid must choose between the lives of her people, the man she loves, or herself.

A complete reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale, this is a magical-realist fable that captures the essence of sacrifice and the price of humanity.

The merfolk are an unfeeling, gruesome sort of people. In a world of black and white, love is nonexistent, emotion is frowned upon, and committing horrible acts to feed one’s family is an everyday way of life. But there’s one who doesn’t fit in: the little mermaid.

Unlike her sisters and her father, the king of the sea, she has questions, curiosity, and a deep longing to learn about everything, including souls and what merfolk call humanity’s “Great Condition”. She doesn’t tell anyone about that weird flutter she feels in her chest, the one that no one else does. When she takes her first trip to the surface on her birthday and spies the gorgeous castle perched by the sea and the equally handsome prince inside, she’s willing to give up any and everything to go to land.

This isn’t your typical fairy tale.

Drown was definitely an unexpected retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. Dalseno’s creative decisions to differentiate her retelling from others yet keep elements from Anderson and the Grimm Brothers fascinated me, but nothing more so than her narrative.

It was simply spectacular. Dalseno created an unexpected narrator to tell the little mermaid’s story, empowering the narration itself to be entirely unique. It was a slow, lyrical prose that painted scenes and emotions in beautiful watercolors: a slow creation of each scene that gave me enough detail to imagine myself there, but transparent enough to remind me it’s a third person narrator.

I was enchanted that Dalseno never gave her characters a name. They were the little mermaid, the prince, the sea king, and so on. It built up the narration and gave my imagination a little more free rein.

The mermaid’s determination to reach shore cost her many things: her tongue (she couldn’t speak), her pride (although she isn’t a prideful person by nature) since she arrived on land without a stitch of clothing, and her ability to walk without pain. Each step felt like knives cutting into her feet, but her optimism and determination to make the prince fall for her was so great that she overlooked all of this. Seeing the human world through her young, somewhat naive, eyes was both at once fascinating and heartbreaking.

Her pursuit of the prince, once romantic in my eyes, changed in Dalseno’s Drown. It reminded me of watching others go through the pangs of first/unrequited love after I had, seeing the signs and wishing I could warn them for what was to come.

The most potent scene was near the end when Dalseno described what could be and what happened. The emphasis on her choices and the path they took her down was so emotionally charged.

Drown isn’t a fairy tale to share with kids or to read in hopes of a Disney version, but it’s beautifully written, incredibly emotional, and simply a good story.

4 Stars

Posted April 11, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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