The Mermaid’s Madness is the second in Jim C. Hines’ series featuring re-imagined versions of fairytale characters such as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. (I really need to stop starting series with the second book. Unfortunately, I was not able to find The Stepsister Scheme, which is the first book. I am happy to say that the second book is more or less stand alone and you don’t really need to read the first book.) The re-imagining gives the characters a much tougher, darker outlook in some ways, since the “real history” comes from the original, more disturbing versions of their stories. (Talia, aka Sleeping Beauty for instance is a survivor of rape, fitting in with the original story where the event that wakes her up is going into labor, instead of a kiss. She’s the “muscle” of the group in some respects. Danielle, aka Cinderella got help from the ghost of her mother, instead of a fairy godmother. She appears to be the spokesperson/diplomat/leader of the trio. Snow White…is still Snow White, and also a sorceress.)
The Mermaid’s Madness is based off “The Little Mermaid,” but it’s a “The Little Mermaid” crossed with “adventure on the high seas with political intrigue mixed in” sort of novel. In this version, the little mermaid is a young queen “undine” named Lirea, who has gone insane because of a botched transformation spell powered by the soul of the prince she had been in love with. (It turns out that the prince was just using her, so half the madness is also because she went so far as to try becoming human for a jerk, and then she was forced to kill him.)
Our princess trio is drawn into this situation because Bea, their Queen and patroness, gets stabbed by the same soul-stealing knife that killed Lirea’s boyfriend during a diplomatic meeting between the Queen and the mermaid’s tribe. Snow is able to heal the queen, but it quickly becomes apparent that they need the knife, which is still in Lirea’s possession. This results in a quest to find Lirea’s grandmother, while also protecting one of Lirea’s sisters. (Lirea has been killing or maiming family members because she blames them for what happened, and believes that they are all out to “get” her.)
Their quest becomes a breakneck race against time that is hindered by the machinations of Lirea’s grandmother (who definitely had ulterior motives in helping Lirea become human) and the brother of Lirea’s boyfriend. (Who seems to be under the impression that his cad of a brother had eloped with Lirea.) There is also a dryad sea captain (whose tree had been chopped down and turned into a ship,) a lot of political maneuvering and what looks like a potential budding romance between Talia and Snow.
This is a fast paced adventure story that does strange and interesting things to the ‘re-imagined fairy tale’ genre. It manages to be slightly more dark without drowning in the angst, and silly without ruining the darker bits. I really enjoyed the characterization/re-imagination of the fairytales and the princesses. (I really need to read/find/get The Stepsister Scheme, especially if it explains more of Talia’s story. “Sleeping Beauty” and Snow quickly became my favorite characters of the three, and I’d like to see more of their back story, and how Bea brought them together.) I also liked the way Hines worked in the tacked on “air maiden” happy ending of The Little Mermaid.