Friday, March 29, 2013

Review: Florence, by Ciye Cho

Released: July 1, 2012
Ebook, 336 pages

Goodreads description:
Seventeen-year-old Florence Waverley is out of her depth. Literally. Kidnapped and taken below the waves to the mer world of Niemela, she is the ultimate gift for merman Prince Kiren: a human familiar tied to his side. But nothing is what it seems amid the beauty and danger of a dark ocean.

Every Niemelan has a role to play, from the mermaids who weave towers out of kelp to the warriors who fight sea monsters. But in trying to survive, Florence will end up in the middle of a war between the mer and the Darkness. A conflict that will push her between two brothers: Kiren, the charmer inexplicably drawn to both her and the monsters; and Rolan, the loner who has been pushing her away since the day they met. But in order to take a stand--and find out where she belongs--Florence will have to risk it all: her life, her heart... and her very soul.

The following review is based on a copy I was given by the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

This was my first mermaid book, and after enjoying it as much as I did I’m now resolved to read more in the genre! The world Ciye Cho created was captivating and renewed my interest in what lies beneath the ocean. After a somewhat bumpy start, Florence and I got on well and I found myself rooting for her throughout the novel!

Florence is a very shy 17-year-old girl who had a somewhat unusual, lonely upbringing and thus finds it hard to connect to people. Everyone at her school still thinks of her as the new girl, even though it’s been four years now. Florence prefers hiding behind her camera to experience the world and tries not to stand out. On a school excursion to the beach, Florence dives too deep and is captured by a merman to be a present for Prince Kiren at his coronation ceremony. She is the only human in Niemela, a mer kingdom so deep down in the sea that it has not been detected by humans. Florence can breathe by means of a polyp that attached itself to her on her neck and must now try to navigate a culture she knows nothing about and where she stands out simply because she is human, and no humans should ever be brought to Niemela.

Beneath the harmonious surface of Niemela, where everyone seems to have their place, lies a web of political intrigue and envy as well as the ever-present threat of the creatures lurking in the Darkness that surrounds the Niemelan realm. If she wants to survive and maybe return to the surface, Florence has to grow into her full potential, stand up for herself, and make a choice: she can support Kiren, who has shown an interest in her but has questionable motives, or she can back his older brother Rolan, who has declined to rule and is a loner she nevertheless feels a connection to. Either choice will have great repercussions for both herself and the whole kingdom.

As I’ve already mentioned, I didn’t immediately like Florence or connect to her. Back in her own world, she was so awkward that I sometimes found it hard to believe and was a little frustrated. However, as soon as she arrives in Niemela, she begins to actually grow a spine and becomes a much more confident and courageous person. In this respect, I have to mention the short prologue of the book, which was a bit of a double-edged sword. It offers the reader a glimpse of the confident person Florence will become and thus motivated me to keep reading because I knew Florence would eventually change. However, it also shows her with Rolan, which immediately caused me to prefer him over Kiren when they were introduced and made me suspicious of him despite his seemingly perfect exterior. The prologue-situation is vague enough not to give away any of Florence’s reasons or the actual problem though, so I didn’t mind.

What made this book really stand out to me is the amazing world building! Even though Niemela is very foreign, I could imagine it very well thanks to the beautifully written descriptions of this extraordinary place! I can’t compare it to other mer-books because as I said I don’t know any but it was very imaginative to me and all the details formed a coherent whole of a functioning (though not perfect) society. Cho made me long to see this luminous, colorful place for myself! There were also explanations for how the Niemelans survive, how the dolphins and whales can breathe underwater despite being mammals (they also have polyps) and how the society is organized, as well as its history. All of this was managed without being info-dumpy because the reader learns alongside Florence.

The characters are well fleshed out, not just Florence but also the other main characters like Kiren and Rolan as well as their sister Yolee, as well as most of the more minor figures. I really enjoyed the close friendship developing between Yolee and Florence! It was good for both of them. The reader also gets some flashbacks when Florence thinks of her childhood and that way we learn about her parents and how she came to live with an employee of her mother’s whom she calls her uncle. There are still some open questions for me about these glimpses, and I hope they will be addressed in the sequel. Florence adapts well to Niemela, but she doesn’t fully belong and is unable to do many things that are normal to Niemelans. Then again, she never fit in that well on the surface either. One of the main conflicts in the book is thus whether or not Florence will fight to return to the surface and how much she is prepared to do for that in return when it is offered to her under certain conditions.

I can’t really say more about the plot here because it would be very spoilery. Let’s just say that there were some things that I figured out before the characters do, but also a lot of twists and surprises I didn’t see coming at all, among them the ending itself! The romantic elements are there but they do not take overhand. The story starts out a bit slow but once Niemela blossoms to life I found myself captivated and eager to keep reading, especially when the actual showdown happens.

I think this novel will appeal to readers who are new to books about mer creatures as well as those who already know and love them. It is a well-crafted coming of age story set in a place of both wondrous beauty and dangerous hidden motives. I am very curious to see what will happen with Florence after the ending and definitely want to read Luminaire, the next book in the series.

What do you think? Could this novel be something for you? Do you read many mermaid books, and if so can you tell if/where this differs from the genre? Share your thoughts in the comments :)

1 comment:

  1. I'll definitely be checking this one out! As much as I love the idea of Mermaids and ANYTHING to do with the sea, I don't think I've ever read a Mermaid book. I have a few on my reading list but the way you described the vivid world building, the intrigue (political!) and the well-developed characters, I can't help but feel like I'd really enjoy this one!

    Thanks for the insightful review & for bringing this one to my attention :)