Drown: A Twisted Take on the Classic Fairy Tale
By Esther Dalseno
Publisher: 3 Little Birds
Seven emotionless princesses.
Three ghostly sirens.
A beautiful, malicious witch haunted by memories.
A handsome, self-mutilating prince.
Belonging to a race that is mostly animal with little humanity, a world obsessed with beauty where morality holds no sway, a little mermaid escapes to the ocean’s surface. Discovering music, a magnificent palace of glass and limestone, and a troubled human prince, she is driven by love to consult the elusive sea-witch who secretly dominates the entire species of merfolk. Upon paying an enormous price for her humanity, the little mermaid begins a new life, uncovering secrets of sexuality and the Immortal Soul. As a deadly virus threatens to contaminate the bloodstreams of the whole merfolk race, the little mermaid must choose between the lives of her people, the man she loves, or herself.
A complete reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale, this is a magical-realist fable that captures the essence of sacrifice and the price of humanity.
I am unsure as to where I should actually start with this one. I am conflicting internally on how to present this review for various reasons. I want to convey my exact concerns and loves about this story without deterring others or promising too much. Openly, this will not work for everyone. But as the same holds true for all books, that is acceptable. After all, no matter how many times we say it, it will never be more true. Reading is an individualized experience.
Drown is a retelling that has managed to continue with the very format and style that effectively made so many beloved childhood stories exactly that. Loved. There is a certain amount of elegance and poeticness to the writing that contributes a great amount to what makes every page feel like an actual fairy tale. There is an air about this story that is reminiscent of childhood books and comfortingly familiar. However, I feel this style of writing will not agree with everyone. It is heavily descriptive and somewhat elaborate at times. Personally, I felt it held true to all that encompasses real fairy tales.
The story that is being retold is that of The Little Mermaid. Aside from countless children’s films and books that all seemed to follow suit with Disney’s rendition as opposed to Hans Christian Andersen’s, this was my first true encounter of an actual retelling. In fact, this was my first mermaid oriented book. I did not hold particular expectations as I approached this title. I was excitedly jumping into the “deep” unknown. And it is beautiful. As I mentioned above, the writing leaves little to be desired. The story, as it always has been, is one of passion, seeking out that of which the heart wants and the sacrifices we make. Interpret how you will, it is one of the few love stories I will always hold dear. But this one has been contorted.
“I brought you here to tell you this: sometimes what we are searching for does not exist. We may sacrifice for it, even bleed for it, but it was never meant to be ours.”
― Esther Dalseno,
With its gorgeous cover art and fitting title, Drown offers up a new side to this classic tale. Serving a twisted and dark version as implied. And it is very savory. Perhaps what drew me in the best was the rich and depressing lore behind the Sea Witch and how the merfolk came to be. Their very existence is defined and portrayed in a vain and almost sinister manner that sheds new light on a once happy and enticing tale. The author has managed to dehumanize and paint this race in an extreme contrast to humans and the land above.
“Everybody made faces around here. Human beings, she discovered, could not maintain the stony, frozen expressions of the merfolk, not for an instant. There was not a moment where their faces remained blank. There was always a light in their eye, and the light, like red wind, would flare into a raging fire without notice.”
― Esther Dalseno,
While Drown is not terrifying (although at times I swore I would never swim in the ocean again), it is full of bleak and dismal moments, leaving behind all traces of the gleeful and lightheartedness that we have originally associated with our little mermaid’s story. And with that, the story has been transformed. I do believe some may struggle to find a true appreciation with this transformation though. As I admittedly did in the beginning. Holding so very true to the original concept at times, it almost read as a classic veiled within a shadow. But as the story progressed I was able to recognize just how much more was happening.
I am refraining from revealing too much, as it is the sheer unexpectedness of it all that seems to tie this story together so skillfully in the end. Do not mistake this for your childhood favorite. This is for fans seeking out an incredibly raw spin on the classic as it was told by Hans Christian Andersen.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2
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