Having long wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the merfolk’s glacier. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: Say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.
Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from the divine Loki. But such deals are never straightforward, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies.
This was such a good story. I enjoyed Ms. Ember’s voice and how she weaved a story I got invested in and characters that were wonderfully developed. The first half of the story wasn’t as exciting as the second half. However I still enjoyed it despite it being a bit slow paced. The second half I completely devoured and loved every minute of. Ersel’s journey through the story as she learned about herself and found out who she is was such a joy to read.
Ersel was young and a bit self centered at the beginning of the story. She focused on her happiness and how things affected her. She was quick to react and didn’t fully consider how her actions affected others. It made sense for her upbringing and the society she lived in. But once she had those first interactions with Loki she grew up quickly and learned to think more about others and to choose more wisely. You could feel her heartache throughout the story quite clearly. That ache changed based on how she grew and as her priorities changed. But it took her the whole story to truly find her happiness.
Ragna is a minor character in the story, however she is fascinating all the same. She has a background we only get a glimpse of. Her past seems like it was a happy one despite recent circumstances. Ragna was a strong character that handles any situation thrown her way. Her markings were a fascinating plot line that wasn’t as explored as I had hoped. She is someone I would love to see more about in a future story.
I loved how everyone’s reaction to Ersel’s relationship with Ragna was never about Ragna being a female. It was always about Ersel choosing a human over someone from her merclan. Havamal didn’t care if Ersel picked a female. He was hurt by her picking a human over him. It was especially amazing how Ersel maintained throughout the story she wasn’t ever doing anything for or making deals with Loki about Ragna. Ersel was consistently working towards her own happiness.
Ersel’s relationship with Ragna wasn’t the focus of the story. It was a thread she followed to find contentment and as a way to be happy with her life. I enjoyed seeing Ersel advocate for herself and figure out how to enjoy her life before she was able to start a relationship with Ragna. I would love to see a sequel where Ragna and Ersel’s relationship is explored more now that they both are in a place they’re ready to be together. There’s a clear happy ending for Ersel in the epilogue. I’m hoping there’s more to come for both Ersel and Ragna and also by Ms. Ember. I’d gladly read more set in this world and with these characters. Plus any new stories she writes.
Four and a half
I am excited to have Ersel join us today. She’s here to talk about a typical day in her life. Her day sounds exciting, though I imagine doing the same thing every day can get dull. Read and enjoy!
I’m Ersel, a mermaid at the North Point Ice Fortress. I’m going to tell you a bit about my routine.
Life in the Ice Fortress has a predictable routine. All of our meals are served at set times in the central dining hall. Our meals consist of locally caught fish, crustaceans, ice algae and occasionally seabirds. We also kelp and powdered clam shell for flavouring. Arctic cod is a staple food for us when things get scarce. We don’t eat mammals or other marsupials under any circumstances. Even though sometimes, when the seals wake me up at dawn, I’m tempted to catch one. We have treaties with most of the whale pods and unlike humans, we can communicate with them.
I don’t really like to socialize with the other mermaids, so I usually scarf down my meals as fast as possible.
I finished school last year, so I no longer take lessons in the taverns at the heart of our iceberg. Instead, I spend most of my days exploring the shipwrecks near the Ice Fortress. I learned recently that the humans call our area of the sea “the trap” because our icebergs snare so many ships. We’re not supposed to collect human contraband, but I do it anyway. My collection is up to over a hundred pieces.
Every day, mermaids have to visit the surface in order to recharge our scales. Although we also eat food, we also metabolize light. Our scales can store energy from the sun and we use that energy to keep warm in the depths of the Arctic ocean. It can be difficult to find places to surface, so I’ve made friends with one of the local beluga pods. The belugas take it turns to churn up the ice so that the whole pod can find somewhere to breathe. It can be dangerous for them, though, because the ice bears sometimes stalk their breathing holes. The ice bears have no respect for anyone other than themselves.
In the evenings, I return to the fortress. Everyone has their own cave within the iceberg. I live with Mama in a cave near the edge of the fortress. Every year, we have a lottery to see where everyone gets to live. The best living spaces are at the heart of the glacier. They’re more protected from the sea, and the chambers are larger. Mama and I never draw well. The King says the lottery is random, but everyone knows he picks his favourites. We hollow out crevices and ledges in our caves to sleep on.
Taking a deep breath to steady myself, I poked my head above the waves. My hair, gone limp and heavy with the air weighing it down, instantly flopped across my face. I pushed it aside and looked at the human through a parted curtain of wet blue locks. Its rippled form came into focus, and, even under the animal furs, I could make out a tapered waist and curves. A female. She stared back at me; her brown eyes widened. Her crystal breath came fast behind her mask. Then, she screamed.
I froze in the water. The high-pitched sound chilled me worse than the cold sea. The human’s gaze drifted skyward, as if she prayed to Odin. Her scream grew louder and louder. I laid a hand on the edge of the ice, ready to hoist myself out and try to calm her, but her harpoon whizzed past my ear. I shrank back. The human still howled, but her eyes had taken on a predatory focus.
I grabbed the weapon by the shaft. The tip of the spear grazed my palm, making a shallow cut. I ignored the pain. Easing back into the water, I stopped kicking my fins to stay afloat. My body sank deeper, and I kept my grip on the weapon.
With nothing to grab, the human couldn’t steady herself on the slick ice. She let the harpoon go, and I dropped it into the ocean; I hissed as salt water lapped against the wound on my palm. As the weapon sank, the relieved whales rose. Each of them gently brushed my hip as they took a breath, thanking me in their soft, dignified language of touch.
The belugas’ leader swam under me and nudged me up over the ice’s lip. The sudden weight of my body as the whale pushed me into the air made me groan with exhaustion. The human girl scurried backward. Even though her feet slipped clumsily on the ice, she put distance between us as fast as she could.
I wanted to study her, but glorious sunlight coated my scales. I tilted my head back as the heat seeped into me, making me drunk and dizzy with pleasure. The human watched me silently from twenty feet away. My body gleamed from my head to the tips of my fins; each of my scales glistened like gemstones. I should have been concerned about the human, but the blast of heat inside me blocked fear. As soon as I ate, all would be well again.
When my scales reached their absorption capacity, the fog in my mind started to clear. Usually, I might crawl inland and look for foxes to watch. But today, I didn’t dare stray too far from the water. If the human was brave enough to hunt a whale, I didn’t want to leave myself too vulnerable. I lay back on the ice and kept my eyes trained on the girl.
I’d never seen a female among the drowned bodies that littered the northern seafloor. How had she survived the shipwreck? She looked so small and fragile compared to the sailor I’d tried to save. How had she made it back to the surface and through the cold water when he could not?
She continued to scoot backward across the ice. My gaze followed her to a makeshift cave of splintered wood and wet furs. She must have saved some things from the ship, which might explain her survival. Crawling inside the shelter, the human braced another harpoon across her knees and squared her shoulders as if daring me to come closer. But the hostility in her posture didn’t quite hide the look of wonder in her wide brown eyes.
Julia Ember is a polyamorous, bisexual writer and native of Chicago who now resides in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Seafarer’s Kiss is her second novel and was influenced by her postgraduate work in medieval literature at The University of St. Andrews. Her first novel, Unicorn Tracks was published by Harmony Ink Press.
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