Author: Tracy Deebs
Title: Tempest Rising
Publisher: Walker Books (2011)
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“Tempest Maguire wants nothing more than to surf the killer waves near her California home; continue her steady relationship with her boyfriend, Mark; and take care of her brothers and surfer dad. But Tempest is half mermaid, and as her seventeenth birthday approaches, she will have to decide whether to remain on land or give herself to the ocean like her mother. The pull of the water becomes as insistent as her attraction to Kai, a gorgeous surfer whose uncanny abilities hint at an otherworldly identity as well. And when Tempest does finally give in to the water's temptation and enters a fantastical underwater world, she finds that a larger destiny awaits her-and that the entire ocean's future hangs in the balance.” GoodReads blurb
Two things I want to get out of the way: first, the above blurb has a mistake, as the “gorgeous surfer” is Kona and not Kai. Second, this book is structured in five parts, but when you’re reading it actually boils down to two – the first was solidly entrenched in the four-star rating, but then the second part happened.
Okay, let’s try to do this with some semblance of organization (something I’m not well known for, but anyway). I’ll try to explain why I liked the first half or so and then move on to why it went downhill for me. This time, there’ll be some spoilers even though I usually try to keep them out.
Tempest is a mermaid, daughter of a famous surfer and a surfer herself. She was abandoned when she was a child by her mermaid mother along with her father and kid brothers, with nothing but a warning that she’d have to choose her place at some point, and she has never managed to mature past that. She holds a bitter resentment towards her mother and a sickening fear about the choice looming on the horizon for her. She loves her family, and her friends, and her boyfriend and she wants to stay with them as a human but even though she lives in denial, things are happening. Dark things that scare her because she can’t understand them, and suddenly the sea where she sought refuge is not her friend but her enemy. She’d like nothing better than hide from all those things that scream the legacy of her mother, but she can’t: she needs to mature enough to face the situation, she needs to gather the courage to face it head on, and she needs to learn to accept herself.
If those conflicts had been the goal of the book, I’d have cheered every single page of the way. Not only because I think it’s a more than interesting plot, but because Ms. Deebs is really a master (a mistress, I guess, though that sounds bad somehow) of portraying the emotional wreck that is Tempest. I could sympathize with her and feel her fear and her rage, derived from her powerless situation. The introduction of Kona was a nice touch too, as someone who also is part sea, part earth and has managed to deal with his own nature. It’d have been nice for some romantic tension and it’d have made a perfect companion for Tempest’s voyage.
I was fairly happy up to Tempest’s birthday, which is the moment her mother told her she would have to choose. Then, magic made an appearance. Still, it was kind of subtle and acceptable. It was the catalyst to a catastrophe that would put Kona on the line and give Tempest the push (or shove) she needed to accept her mermaid self. I liked that, and by this point I was glued to the pages.
But then she follows Kona, who happens to be a Selkie. Not only a Selkie, but a... Hawaiian one. And a prince, heir to the Selkie kingdom. Which is in a parallel dimension of sorts reached through the bottom of the sea. Then, she discovers her mother is the most powerful mermaid priestess and advisor to the Queen. Then, she discovers that there’s an Evil Thing called Tiamat who seeks to win her over to her side in the epic battle that’s been fought for millennia under the waves of the Pacific. Then, she discovers that her mother abandoned her and never returned because she was busy fighting that thing and that there’s a prophecy naming her as the one person who can tip the balance of war.
Personally, I did not like the whole save-the-world turn of the story. Not because I have something against the concept (I may or may not have it) but because Tempest was so far away from a point where, character-speaking, that would make sense. She’s still a kid. She’s still concerned with her life, her family, her future. She can’t forgive her mother, even though she now knows why she left. She can’t even accept Kona, because he reminds her too much of the mermaid part of her soul. She stays that way until the very end. And... somehow, she’s supposed to save the ocean? I think she needed to undergo some development before that.
Also, and this is a personal pet peeve so you all are excused of sharing my views, I found the myth treatment poorly handled. For example: Tiamat is the Babylonian goddess of salt waters. Up to that point, fair enough. But she’s also the Mother of Life, as it was from her broken, chained body that creation sprung forth. She gave shape to Heaven and Earth, and her tears fuelled the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Did she really fit in Californian shores, leading an army of octopuses against the peaceful folks in the Pacific? Another example: Mermaids are faeries and as such have no souls. Therefore, they have no religion (they are the worshipped more than the worshippers, as a matter of fact). They very concept of priesthood is foreign, and it was unnecessary to move the plot forwards so the reference cannot be excused that way. Finally, Selkie legends are rooted in the northern seas and they tend to be lonely faeries. Like Kelpies, they live alone – and form no kingdoms.
Okay, the Selkie part is mostly unimportant but I just love Selkies... I had to point it out.
So, back on track, I think the book could have been great if it had stuck to the strength and originality present in the first half. As it is, though, it is a light, entertaining novel. I’d recommend it if you love mermaid stories (and by the way, mermaid are not sirens, no matter what the book says) or if you want something easy to read.
And in spite of what I just said, I’ll get the second part if/when it is released: Tracy Deebs certainly has the talent to create great narrative. The first half of the book is proof enough of that. I think she can get the series’ quality up again, just with a little bit more of care and research.