Intimate Enemies

A Kiss at Midnight

The Promise of Rain

A Rose in Winter

The Secret Swan

The Truelove Bride

 
The Last Mermaid by Shana Abé
(Bantam Books $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-58497-9
****
The Last Mermaid consists of four loosely linked love stories, spanning the time from before recorded history to the present day. All are set on the Scottish island of Kell, and all tell stories of Kell’s mermaids, but each of the three main stories can stand alone. The fourth, a mere 24 pages out of 581, is a wisp of a story, interwoven into the three long stories and apparently included to set the scene and to tie together the other three.

The first of the three, “The Legend”, got me off to a slow start. The year is 512 A.D., and Aedan, the heir to the Scots kingdom of Kelmere, is ambushed by a band of Pictish raiders as his party returns to his castle at Kelmere after a lengthy journey. Badly wounded and semi-conscious, two of the raiders take him out to sea to dump his body. (Why? Why not finish him off right there while he’s helpless? This sort of contrived plotting pulls me right out of a narrative.) This is not Aedan’s day to die, however. As he drifts down through the waves, a mermaid, Ione, breathes life into him and takes him back to her castle on the enchanted island of Kell.

This is a no-no. Sirens like Ione are supposed to comfort the drowning, not bring them back to Kell, but Ione is seduced by Aedan’s “straight nose, strong jaw, curving lips that suggested splendor to her, masculine and sensual.” Ione nurses him back to health, but despite his instant love for her, Aedan yearns to return to Kelmere. When Ione tells him that his father has died, he starts building a boat out of the wreckage of boats that have sunk on Kell’s enchanted, treacherous reefs. Ione refuses to help him at first but, when he sets out and she sees that his boat is about to strike the reefs, she relents and surreptitiously guides his patchwork boat to safety. He will need more help once he returns to Kelmere; he faces a fierce struggle for the crown.

Unfortunately, I was indifferent to Aedan’s and Ione’s adventures; neither character came alive on the page for me. While Ms. Abé is a competent and sometimes a lyrical writer, Aedan and Ione remained stock characters. Aedan was a Hero…fierce and determined, willing to sacrifice his happiness for his cause…and Ione was his True Love…beautiful beyond compare, wise, and ready to sacrifice herself for his cause. Ho, hum. What a contrast to the protagonists of the second story: Leila and Ronan. This lively pair involved me from the first paragraph.

“The Hero” is set in England in 1721. Leila de Sant Severe is an assassin with a special gift. If she touches anyone, skin-to-skin, for even a brief moment, she sees into their heart and knows them for what they are, whether they are evil or good. Che Rogelio rescued, or perhaps kidnapped, her when she was ten and trained her in his profession. Much to Che’s annoyance, Leila will not carry out an assassination until she has touched their victim and assured herself of her target’s viciousness.

Leila and Che are in England to kill the Earl of Kell. A ‘Mr. Johnson’ has paid in gold to have the Earl murdered, saying that he is a monster who has killed innocents, kidnapped children, and burnt villages to the ground. The Earl is making an unusual appearance in London, but Leila will not kill him until she has touched him and determined his guilt. To give her that opportunity, Che has forged invitations to the Duke of Covenford’s ball. Mr. Johnson will also be at the ball and will point the Earl out to Leila.

The Earl of Kell is in London only because someone is trying to kill him, and he means to find out who it is and put a stop to it. Ronan left Kelmere, and the deserted island of Kell, very reluctantly. Not only is he the Earl of Kell, he is the siren of Kell, and he dislikes being separated from Kelmere, and from his beloved island, for long. Only the necessity of eliminating the threat to himself…and, through him, to his people…has brought him south.

From the moment when Leila and Ronan meet at the Duke’s ball, the story took off. Neither Leila nor Ronan are what they appear to be, which added an additional – and intriguing – intricacy to their romance. Somewhat to my surprise, after the slow start to “The Last Mermaid,” I found myself neglecting other activities to finish Leila’s and Ronan’s story.

The third story, “The Siren,” is set in present day California. This generation’s siren is a young woman who fears the water. As a child, Ruri almost drowned in a swimming pool and has no idea that she can’t drown in the ocean. Iain McInnes, the current owner of Kelmere, has flown from Scotland to Pasadena to change that. He intends to lure Ruri back to Kell and introduce her to her heritage.

“The Siren” is the slightest of the three main stories; its charm comes from the paradox of a siren who knows nothing of her heritage and unusual abilities and from Iain’s mysterious goal…mysterious to Ruri, that is. We are in the delightful position of knowing exactly what he is about and so enjoying Ruri’s confusion.

I rated Aedan’s and Ione’s story a three-hearter, Leila’s and Ronan’s a five; and Ruri’s and Iain’s a four. Overall, that makes The Last Mermaid a four-heart read and perfect for the beach. So, go ahead, smear on the suntan lotion, get comfortable, and start reading The Last Mermaid. I won’t tell if you just skim Aedan’s story.

--Nancy J. Silberstein


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