~by Jim C. Hines
2010 British Fantasy Award Nominee
I have been a Jim C. Hines fan for a couple of years now. I generally like to support local authors, but Hines makes it easy because his books are so entertaining and offer great twists on standard fantasy tropes. I am steadily working through his goblin trilogy (I only have Goblin War left to go) and have more or less been keeping up with his newer princess series as the books are published. The Mermaid's Madness is the second book in what is currently planned to be a four volume cycle. Despite my avid love for water, I never developed a particular interest in mermaids. But, I did thoroughly enjoy the previous book in the series, The Stepsister Scheme. And as I already mentioned, I knew I enjoyed Hines' work. I also loved the characters and looked forward to spending more time with them. As an added bonus, Scott Fischer has once again provided wonderful cover art. And then the novel made the longlist for the British Fantasy Award. Really, there was no question that I was going to pick up The Mermaid's Madness.
After rescuing her prince and foiling the plots of her stepsisters, Danielle Whiteshore (aka Cinderella) was looking forward to settling into a peaceful life and raising her son. But when the annual ceremony celebrating the undine's return from warmer waters goes horribly wrong she finds herself in a race against time to save the life of the Queen of Lorindar and prevent a war. Along with Talia and Snow (aka Sleeping Beauty and Snow White), she must face the mermaid queen Lirea (aka The Little Mermaid). Lirea's descent into madness threatens human and undine lives alike. Broken and betrayed, she trusts no ones; only Lirea knows the full truth of her own story.
I'll get this out of the way now: I absolutely, and always will, adore Talia. So, I was certainly very happy to get more of her backstory in The Mermaid's Madness. I do like Snow and Danielle quite a bit too, and Hines' secondary characters are also marvelous (I was particularly impressed with Captain Hephyra). All of the characters have their own quirks and ways of saying things or little "throwaway" details that greatly enhance the depth of the story and worldbuilding. He's also not afraid to be mean to his characters and things don't always work out as they would like. Hines' descriptions and writing of fights and action sequences have improved over his previous books and are now much easier to follow. Additionally, they comes across as realistic (the fact that he studies Sanchin-ryu karate probably doesn't hurt). Also, Hines' research into seafaring definitely paid off and it shows quite well.
Even though I expected to like The Mermaid's Madness I was actually quite surprised by just how much I enjoyed it. I really feel that this is the best book of Hines' that I've read so far. Usually it takes me a few chapters to really get into his novels, but The Mermaid's Madness captured my attention almost form the very beginning. And then it kept it. The pacing and action of the plot is excellent, right up to the last chapter. The tone of the book is mostly serious and quite a bit darker than Hines' goblin books, but he still includes wonderful moments of humor. Although part of the series, The Mermaid's Madness actually stands very well on it's own (Hines seems to be particularly good at this with his books). While not necessary to read The Stepsister Scheme before The Mermaid's Madness, it does add some nice details and further depth to the story. I've definitely been enjoying the princess novels so far and am eagerly anticipating the publication of Red Hood's Revenge.