Water So Deep by Nichole Giles

Water So Deep by Nichole Giles(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Seventeen-year-old Emma Harris is drowning on dry land.

No one knows what’s happening to her, and she’d like to keep her evolution from human to mermaid a secret, but the truth is getting harder and harder to hide. From her adoptive family, from her friends, and especially from the irresistible James Phelps.

Her time in the ocean is spent dodging a possessive merman, while her time on land is split between caring for her special-needs brother and squeezing in every last possible moment of human life. She soon realizes falling for James is unavoidable when he constantly comes to Emma’s rescue and somehow manages to see through her carefully constructed icy facade to the vulnerability she lives with every day. Everything about James makes Emma yearn for a life on land she just can’t have.

When Emma’s brother disappears on her watch, James is the only person she trusts to help her save him. But even if they can save her brother, nothing can prevent her return to the sea. Whether she likes it or not, Emma is changing—unable to breathe without yielding to the tide—and it’s only a matter of time before she’s forced to surrender forever.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received an ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

One of the things that was the most striking about Water So Deep was the world-building.  I haven’t read a lot of mermaid books but the way Nichole Giles portrays her mermaids makes a lot of sense to me.  Emma, our main character, is a changeling, meaning she appears human now but she’s been gradually shifting into her natural mermaid form.  Unfortunately for her, this means that it’s getting harder and harder to breathe just air; she has to go swim underwater for hours at a time with growing frequency.  In the past, she could last a week without swimming and by the time our story starts, she has to go swimming for a couple of hours every other day or so.  Like I said, this is one of the more ‘believable’ human-to-mermaid stories (inasmuch as a fantasy creature can be believable) and it’s also one of the more enjoyable because it adds just another complicated layer onto Emma’s already complicated life.

The characters were both good and bad.  Emma herself is a great character as are James, her love interest, and Keith, her developmentally disabled brother.  She was nearly raped and beat up a year previously by one of the popular jocks at school so when she starts her senior year she’s a complete outcast.  James, being the new guy, knows nothing of her history and is quite taken with her.  This starts a push-and-pull dynamic between the two, with Emma feeling very conflicted about her growing feelings for James and the knowledge that she’ll have to leave him at the end of the school year because she’ll be a full mermaid.  We also get to see things from James’ point of view as he falls in love with Emma and tries to understand and help her with her problems.  Will he be able to succeed where Gran (who knows the truth about Emma) has failed?

But while those two were awesome characters, my actual favourite was Keith.  Keith is moderately developmentally disabled; he’s quite innocent and sweet and has a bit of trouble with his grade level work but at the same time he’s quite capable of doing things on his own.  What struck me the most about Nichole Giles’ characterization of him was that she doesn’t make him out to be a Magical Disabled Person capable of things above what normal people can do and she doesn’t make him into a Pitiable Disabled Person, someone who can’t do anything for themselves and needs to be helped constantly.  He has his strengths and he certainly has his struggles; it’s a very nuanced human portrayal of an intellectual disability, one that is really quite rare in YA, let alone ‘adult’ fiction.

The only character that was not very good was Merrick, the possessive merman mentioned in the blurb.  Throughout the novel Giles’ portrayal of him is quite good: he sees Emma as a prize, a reward for being the guard to Atlantis as well as one of the very few merfolk that can assume a human form.  And because he feels entitled to her, he also treats her like an object at times, infuriating Emma to no end.  Without delving too deeply into my own experiences, the way she describes Merrick’s gaze, that mixture of entitlement, lust and a bit of anger is so realistic it makes me shiver.  So why did I say Merrick wasn’t a very good character?  I can’t tell you precisely because that would spoil the ending but let’s just say that his character does a total 180 at the end of the novel with no lead up to it and it really doesn’t fit with his earlier characterization.  It just feels odd, like he’s the Deus ex Machina for Emma instead of the antagonist.

And that leads right into the problem with Water So Deep: the plot.  Don’t get me wrong, the plot is absolutely amazing for about 90% of the novel.  It’s slower than your average YA novel because it’s very largely character driven but you never really get bored because we switch between Emma and James to see both of their sides of the story.  That keeps the pacing consistent, if slow and because Nichole Giles has such a beautiful writing style it didn’t bother me in the least.  She is excellent at making you feel the characters’ emotions and sympathize with their struggles, more so than you would with your average YA author.  However, the problem with this novel was in the ending.  Again I can’t say much without spoiling things but the events leading up to the ending were logical but the ending itself was awful.  It made sense in the context of the story in general except for Merrick’s total 180 but it was very abrupt and rushed.  Really, it felt like Giles realized she had reached her word count limit or something and just had to stop.  The problem is that the ending is very ambiguous, which would not be bad if there was a sequel or at least more of a hint of the fates of the characters.

I was so involved with these characters and kind of concerned about the possibility of there not being a sequel that I actually contacted the author to ask if there would be one, to which she replied: “To answer your question, yes, there will be at least one sequel.”  She’s hoping for fall of this year, so thank goodness for that!  It’s a testament to her writing skill that I was so involved with the characters and so concerned about their ambiguous fates that I actually contacted her.  Believe me when I say that I’m so glad that there will be a sequel.  So despite the overly dramatic cliffhanger at the end, I did love Water So Deep and I’m very much looking forward to the sequel.  If anything I’ve said in this review intrigues you, go check out the book!  It officially releases on February 2 of this year.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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