The Last Mermaid
by Shana Abé, historical (2004)
Bantam, $6.50, ISBN 0-553-58497-9


Well, how long has it been since Shana Abé's last book? Three years? How apt that on this site's fifth anniversary, I will reviewing a book by an author whose book was the very first that I reviewed when the site began. Talk about me coming unintentionally to a full circle or something. Is that deep or what?

The Last Mermaid is more appropriately described as an omnibus collection of three stories that revolve around romance and the legend of the sea sirens (or mermaids to you and me). This book has plenty of magic, overwrought romance and passion, and plenty of lyrical writing that often comes close to being too flowery, but I am left unmoved because the characters are tried-and-true stock stereotypes of paranormal romances. It is one thing for an author to put her spin on tried-and-true fairy tales, but in this case, it isn't a spin as much as a rehash.

The story starts in year 512AD. The Legend sees our mighty Prince Aeden of some kingdom that will be located in Scotland today being tossed into the sea by his enemies. These idiots don't just kill him even if they want him dead, oh no, they toss him into the sea. Be it 512AD or 2004AD, villains in romance novels can remain eternally contrived. Our siren Ione's duty is to comfort and guide drowned souls into the next world, but one look at this badly wounded guy (who manages to retain a perfectly formed regal nose and sensual lips despite being battered to near-death), she is overwhelmed with lust, sorry, love and takes him back to the magic siren island of Kell. Oh no, that is Against The Law!

Aeden enjoys Ione's brand of complete hands-on, mouths-on bedside healing but alas, he has to leave Kell to Smash the Villains and Kill The Traitors, woo-woo, even if Ione tells him that she will die if he leaves her. She should have thought of that before she gets taken by a big... nose. But Aeden leaves anyway, being the brave and mighty hero who must do his macho thing and all that. Oh no, what will poor Ione do now?

Since this is a romance, it must have a happy ending, so Ione doesn't suffer the fate of that silly nymph that fell in love with pre-Helen-of-Troy Paris. She is such a silly creature however and Aeden is almost laughable as a stereotypical prince of all princes, a man beyond the power of superlatives to describe, et cetera, that I can't view this story as anything but an overwrought fairy tale.

Next is The Hero. It is now 1721. Leila de Sant Severe is an assassin. But no, wait, she doesn't simply kill. She has some psychic ability to touch someone and quickly sense whether that guy is pure or evil. Yes, people, Leila kills only evil people. She's probably better off being a butcher then, although I'm sure Leila will only end up crying hysterically because lambikins are cute so she can't chop up and sell mutton. Or something. This story of yet another fake "bad girl" has Leila falling for her target, Ronan the Earl of Kell (the mermaid island, remember?), because he is hot and he is good and did I mention that he is hot? Ronan has the blood of sirens in his vein, so he's not an easy man to kill. That is, if I'm convinced that Leila can actually kill, that emotional peamush-brained woman that she is. Of course, she will turn up sweet and nice if her past isn't so bleak or if Che Rogelio, her mentor, doesn't make her that way. Ms Abé tries too hard to make me love Leila to the point that this story comes off as completely unconvincing. Leila is unconvincing for an assassin. Make her a yogurt seller and I may change my tune.

Present day. The Siren. A mysterious man, Iain McInnes, takes our heroine Ruri to Kell to show her that she's descended from the sirens. This is a standard "I fall in love with my father figure" story that is pleasant but far from hard-hitting.

There is a nice concept here, but all three stories are actually standard and unimaginative takes on familiar premises in paranormal mermaid, siren, selkie, or other sea critter romances, complete with stereotypical characters. The Last Mermaid is a pleasant way to pass the time, but it doesn't have that extra magic - compelling characters, poignant plotlines, gut-wrenching raw emotions - to grab me. Everything about The Last Mermaid just feels too tidy, too neat. It is as if Ms Abé is just happily replicating everything she thinks a reader wants in a paranormal sea-creature romance without putting any extra effort to make the story uniquely hers.

Rating: 70


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