Las Sirenas CoverTitle: Las Sirenas
Author: Bell Ellis
Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Length: 44 pages
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Review Summary: A deep attachment across a deeper divide makes a bittersweet ending for this human and merman couple.
Andrew’s lived all his nineteen years on the Pacific coast, working odd jobs and spending his free time in and on the water. Maybe he’s drifting through life, but it’s been enough, until the day a sudden surge knocks him off his friends’ boat and something—or someone—tosses him back. Now Andrew spends all his free time searching the water for a dream, and to keep it, he's willing to give up everything.
A Bittersweet Dreams title: It's an unfortunate truth: love doesn't always conquer all. Regardless of its strength, sometimes fate intervenes, tragedy strikes, or forces conspire against it. These stories of romance do not offer a traditional happy ending, but the strong and enduring love will still touch your heart and maybe move you to tears.
Bell Ellis sets this story, whose title means "the mermaids," in a small coastal town on the Pacific shore, where the water is chilly enough to need a wetsuit at least part of the year. The locals depend on the ocean, whether to draw the tourists that are the mainstay of the economy, to provide a livelihood, or to go out and leave the rest of humanity behind. Andrew, the protagonist, has never known any life away from the water, but also knows that the sea doesn't care if it kills you.
Andrew, who has no sense of purpose beyond showing up for work more or less on time, enjoys the few cigarettes per day he can afford, and going out on the water with his friends John and Shane, the only humans who actually care about him. He's hard to like at first, living a drifting life, spouting half-baked philosophy, but grows more interesting when his attention is actually engaged. Ellis' prose sets the atmosphere and characterization, which changes subtly once Andrew finds the being that threw him back into the boat. Kris, the young merman, meets him again in the water by the cliffs, singing in the ways described by legend.
He couldn't understand the language, but the song was so beautiful that it had to be about something wonderful, something pure, something that had nothing to do with gritty, dirty beaches and old sandals left as trash along the surfside, something shining and true and meaningful.
Every possible moment after that Andrew spends with Kris or searching for him, and while Kris remains an enigma, Andrew gets glimpses of a hidden society with rules and rituals. His friends worry about him, fearing what those sea-cast eyes portend, but it's Kris' people who are truly enraged. Whether it's the discovery or the relationship, or both, we cannot know, but their wrath falls on Kris. The two youths are both flotsam of their societies now, and have no one to turn to save each other.
HEA-requiring readers have probably left the building by now: this is a Bittersweet title, meaning the ending is perfect for what it has to be, but not happy in any traditional way. I happen to like stories of this sort very well, but not everyone shares this taste.
The whole tone of the story drives toward this ending, the ennui of Andrew's life turning to interest in the mysterious Kris, and they find something that may be love. They are on opposite sides of a gap wide as the ocean, unable to truly communicate. The one sexual scene shows this beautifully: they find a tidal pool, because Andrew cannot stay long under the water, nor can Kris survive long out of it. The poetry of Ellis' language made me accept the ending as inevitable, required, and it was only hours later that the enjoyment took a jolt, when the physical reality set in and I began to question Kris' volition. Andrew's actions make sense in a self-centered and somewhat emo way, but did Kris consent?
This story is a tragedy in the classical sense, in that the conflict arises from the heroes' fatal flaws. In this case, the fatal flaw is daring to care for someone who cannot survive in the other's natural element. But it is certainly a love story. 4 Marbles