In Kelly’s debut middle-grade adventure, a young mermaid princess returns to save her underwater kingdom years after it was taken over by an evil sorceress.
Shortly before the Witch of Darkness conquers the mermaid kingdom and hurls the ruler, Princess Marri-Anna, to the ocean floor via a whirlpool, Marri-Anna’s human lover, Robbie, smuggles their young baby daughter to safety. Out of necessity, he leaves Willamina in the care of his cruel sisters, Lena and Lottie, before going after the witch himself to save the woman he loves. After telling his sisters that it’s crucial the shell locket around the baby’s neck never be removed, he leaves, shortly thereafter getting captured by the witch. The greedy aunts immediately ignore his warning and remove the necklace, assuming it to be valuable, which instantly turns Willamina from her human form into a mermaid. For the next 12 years, they keep her confined to an upstairs bathroom, never telling her the truth about her origins. Besides the fact that she has a tail and can talk to fish, she has no clue what exactly is “wrong” with her other than that her aunts make her sit in a wheelchair and hide her lower half under a blanket when company visits. On her 12th birthday, a nasty cousin after her inheritance pushes her from her wheelchair into the ocean, where she is reunited with her people and learns the truth from the sea wizard, Merlin, about her destiny and the prophecy that says she’ll be the one to free the kingdom from the witch’s rule. Kelly’s zippy, imaginative tale samples elements from the best of both recent and classic YA fantasies and fairy tales. Willamina’s childhood and horrid aunts are Harry Potter crossed with Roald Dahl but with the refreshing twist of a female protagonist, and there is a great deal of The Little Mermaid, particularly Disney’s version, in the under-the-sea happenings. Some readers might find many of the characters a bit too broadly drawn and over-the-top, though the exaggerated style tends to fit the creative story’s fairy-tale tone.
A clever, fast-paced story that should delight young readers hungry for magical stories.