“The Mermaid’s Madness” is the second book in this series about three princesses who aren’t quite the ones you know from the fairytales and the Disney movies. The first book, “The Stepsister Scheme” brought together Snow White and Sleeping Beauty as agents of Cinderella’s new mother-in-law, the Queen Beatrice of Lorindar. Snow is a sorceress with a slightly ribald sense of humour, Beauty (never call her that to her face) is a trained assassin and the Cinders, who now has a young son, has a magic sword and an ability to lead.
“The Mermaid’s Madness” gives us a different look at what the story of The Little Mermaid looks like if you drop the soft-focus and treat the mermaid at the centre of the story as a real person. The story starts with the Undine/merfolk, who are lead by the most senior female undine, breaking a long-standing truce with Lorindar and attacking and wounding Queen Beatrice.
As the Undine will only treat with women, the three princesses set out to try and end the war with the Undine and save Queen Beatrice’s life.
The Undine, as Jim Hines imagines them, are not just humans who can swim underwater, they are an aquatic species with their own culture, gifted with significant magical abilities, especially via their voices, who are able to communicate with humans. When an undine princess falls in love with a human prince who betrays her, she goes mad with grief and everything else follows.
Like it’s predecessor, this is, at least on the surface, a boisterous, trope-twisting, witty romp of a book but beneath that shiny surface is something much darker. There is a vein of sadness that runs through the book whenever we get to how the young women in the story have been treated by the powerful, especially powerful men. The book is filled with strong women but almost all of them have been damaged or at least wounded by their encounters with people who fail to see them as fully human.
I admire Jim C. Hines’ ability to write a rollicking tale with mermaids and selkies and sea battles that has a fast pace and is lubricated with humour and yet still bring the reader back time and again to real sources of pain.