Quick review for a somewhat elongated read (I ended up reading this in ARC and audiobook form, the audiobook narrated by Rae Miller). "Deep Blue" by Jennifer Donnelly is the first in an ongoing series about a mermaid whose kingdom falls into enemy hands, and she must rise above her circumstances to take back what was lost, with a little help from comrades she meets along the way.
To be honest, instead of classifying this as YA, I would almost say this feels like a middle grade book (though there are some dark, intense scenes in this and swearing that wouldn't necessarily belong in MG, so - it's kind of a toss-up for consideration.) There are a ton of puns and references, so much that they weigh down the story more than I would like, but for the sake of the narrative, I went with it.
Serafina (Sera) starts the book off a somewhat spoiled princess struggling to prepare for her coming of age ceremony and come to terms with her abilities (song spells) in order to take hold of the kingdom reins. She strives to meet her strict mother's expectations as well as that which her role as a Principessa (Princess) calls for.
But things take a turn for the worst as Sera's kingdom is invaded, and she is on the run for her life along with her friends Neela and Ling. In all, there are a group of six destined mermaids fighting against a ruthless enemy, using their abilities and rising to the respective calls - this narrative is just a precursor to their ongoing battle.
I'll say that this book was a struggle to get into, at first. I think it was because it took so long to actually get to the moment where the book hit the ground running with surprisingly brutal events, especially for the book's leading character. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this novel for many reasons - the diversity of the characters and their relationships, the very detailed worldbuilding, the losses the characters feel and brutalities of war among the mermaid realm that they encounter along the way.
But I also feel like this book could've flowed a bit better throughout the narrative - part of it I think was because it took so much time to set up the world and didn't flow with it as well as it could've. There were also some points where the narrative would lag in the journey between harder hitting moments. While the characters were many and diverse, I did feel like I was held at a distance from them in places, except for Sera, who showed a great deal of growth from where she started in the narrative to the ending point. I was glad to see that she was a character that learned from her mistakes and had plenty of opportunities to see her inner turmoil, both from the incidents and revelations she encounters, as well as moments where she's called on to rise to challenges.
By the end of the novel though, I can't say that I felt satisfied with it as a branching point into the next story. It didn't feel like a complete arc/standalone for the journey it offered, and I'll admit it was jarring to me for it to end on that note. Still, I'm intrigued enough to pick up the next work from Donnelly, for the level of development and offerings that were provided here. It's one of the better adapatations of YA mer novels I've picked up, but it did have more than a few caveats that I hope are addressed in the next book.
Overall score: 3.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Disney Book Group.