Title: Lost Voices (Lost Voices Trilogy Book #1)
Author: Sarah Porter
Genre: YA fantasy
Where I Got It: Bought It
Score: 4 out of 5
This summer of big reading lists has gotten off to a good start. I ended the last couple days of finals week re-reading Chalice by Robin McKinley because I needed something short, light, and sweet to get me through grading. Then I dove into The Hunger Games trilogy at the behest of my friend (which I reviewed here). And now I’m beginning the long haul through all the books I’ve bought or received since the semester started. Purely on a whim, I started with Lost Voices by Sarah Porter, which came out in July 2011 (but I didn’t buy it until it came out in paperback about a couple months ago), and which is the first in a forthcoming trilogy.
In Lost Voices, fourteen-year-old Luce is abused by her uncle and ignored by her classmates and other adults in the little town in Alaska she has been stuck in since her father (who was a thief, but still a good father), died in a shipwreck. Finally, her heart grown cold by her uncle’s treatment, beaten and left for dead on a cliff over the sea, Luce falls into the water and transforms into a mermaid. There she is gathered in by a tribe of mermaids, all young girls who were abused, abandoned, or unloved by the adults who were supposed to care for them, including their queen Catarina – the most beautiful and best singer of the tribe. Luce loves being a mermaid, loves the beauty and the freedom and the joy of it, but she is tortured by the fact that mermaids feel a compulsion to sing to ships, causing them to wreck and then killing all those on board. She loves her new-found voice, but she doesn’t want to use it to murder humans, no matter how badly they may have treated her and others like her. As she struggles with this, things grow increasingly more tense and violent among the tribe, loyalties are questioned, and Luce must make choices about what she will follow: the rules of the tribe, or her own conscience.
What I Liked:
This was a very enjoyable book, and a fast read. The premise is classic: a cross between the mermaid myth and the siren myth, in which beautiful unearthly mermaid-girls sing to men on passing ships and lead them to their deaths. These mermaids are not the innocent, peaceful creatures from The Little Mermaid. They are beautiful and unearthly, but they are also angry, bitter, and often violent. The moral dilemma of the story is pretty gruesome, though Porter does not dwell in descriptions of gore or death (this is a YA novel after all), and the fact that even the main character participates in several of these murders makes the morality even more complicated and uncomfortable.
But Porter balances these elements fairly well in the character of Luce who realizes what she is doing is wrong but feels a physical compulsion to participate, and is desperate for some way to fight it. And I like Luce as a character. She’s sweet and intelligent, and she is at heart still a good person despite the things she does. She’s also very naïve, and is pretty slow on the uptake when things start to go seriously south and others are plotting against her. It was frustrating, because the reader sees it all coming and she never does, but it was also a believable trait in a girl who is barely fourteen, and did not have the best socialization before she became a mermaid, let alone after.
The most important secondary character, the mermaid queen Catarina, is also a very intriguing character. Not likable, exactly, because she’s jealous of power, paranoid and suspicious, and a little unstable. But she is also beautiful, powerful, protective, and passionate. Catarina is a hard to pin down, and hard to like, but she was interesting to read, and her unpredictability kept both the other characters and the readers on their toes.
Almost all of the other mermaids, on the other hand, were just irritating. Bitter and angry, for understandable reasons one-dimensional degrees; or whiny, selfish, and brainless. Take your pick. Except for one, who was also conniving and a text-book psychopath (but I won’t tell you about that one, you’ll see her coming if you read the book).
Parts of the novel where also beautifully written. For instance, this bit right after Luce has changed into a mermaid and doesn’t yet understand what is happening:
“Up above, the moon was golden and wide-eyed, and it watched Luce tenderly. Its light gleamed like floating coins all over the tops of the waves, and a slab of shining ice bobbed past. A misty glow covered the smooth side of the cliffs just behind her, and then Luce realized that all those dreaming people were on a ship, and that the ship was coming toward her, and toward the cliffs, as fast as a train driving out of a tunnel. Still the music throbbed on, coating the night with its bliss, while the ship’s sharp metal prow sped straight at her forehead.”
However, the writing is also uneven and inconsistent. Parts of it are very lyrical and beautiful, and other parts are a little awkward and clunky. This is a clear sign that this is Porter’s first novel (which it is). But it’s not the end of the world, and doesn’t completely ruin the novel or anything like that.
What I Didn’t Like:
Okay, so the clunky prose isn’t my favorite thing in the world, but it’s not too big a problem. The insert of dream sequences, on the other hand, bug me a bit. They are, like all dream sequences (even the ones I occasionally find myself writing) unavoidably overdone, and in this case, don’t really do anything for the plot. Yes, they are meant to show Luce’s state of mind, but her state of mind seems pretty well explained without the dream sequences. Once in a blue moon, a dream sequence is either so well-written or so informative that it cannot nor needs to be avoided. But in most cases, including in my own writing, they should usually be left on the cutting room floor at some point in the editing.
Again, most of the other mermaid characters were WAY one-dimensional, and REALLY irritating. I imagine at least a couple of them should be fleshed out some more in the book #2, but only time will tell.
Also, the ending SUCKED. Okay, this is the first of a trilogy. I get that. Really, I do. And some kind of cliff-hanger is often unavoidable in a series. But this ending was just plain ridiculous. It just sort of STOPPED. In the middle of nothing. With no real point, no direction, and no hint at what might be coming next. Drove me nuts! It really did a lot to ruin the experience for me. I still like the book, and I do recommend it. It was fun. But the ending really bothered me.
In conclusion: Yes, I recommend the book. Especially if you like mermaids and don’t mind a darker twist in the premise. And yes, I will be buying the sequel when it comes out. I just want to make sure you’re all aware that this book is not perfect. It has some flaws. You’ll still enjoy it, though, I promise.
(For the curious, the next book on my agenda: Fool Moon, book 2 of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher)