I think there’s something fundamental in fairy tales, either in the way they see the world or provide a lovely story that has magic, but also depicts reality. So when I read fairy tale retellings, or explorations into folklore, I am immediately interested. Leslie Conzatti’s Princess of Undersea was like this, grabbing me from the start.
1. Thoughts on the plot
The original Hans Christian Anderson Little Mermaid is not quite the light and pretty story of the Disney movies, and I think that Princess of Undersea is perhaps more in line with the original. However, it manages to combine both versions into something even better, merging a quest for wisdom and strong leadership into a love story that saves the ocean and the sea.
The story follows Ylaine, a mermaid princess, who is trying to prevent a war. She grows curious about the humans and seeks the help of her godmother, Nayidia, to let her spend time amongst the humans to better understand them. In the course of this, she meets Nathan, prince of Overcliff, who is being prepared to step forwards and rule. There are threats, though, to both their realms and they must work together to prevent these terrible things from happening.
I really like the way that Ylaine and Nathan move the plot forwards without it seeming contrived. There is more to this story than the pretty undersea princess trying to win the heart of a human, and this features in the story to a point where the love story is almost secondary, but not enough to dismiss it entirely. The combination of these two motivations and plot lines really works well, I think, to create something deeper than the original fairy tale while still holding to its origins.
2. Thoughts on the characters
I really like the fact that the merpeople are not just humans with fish tails. They have their own culture and way of life, anatomy and practises, and I think Ylaine is the perfect example of this. She is very devoted to her father, and by extension, the wellbeing of her people. But she is also curious about the humans and the things that they might offer the undersea kingdom. As far as characters go, I think she is certainly the most interesting. There were a few points when she was first interacting with Nathan that I thought her a bit silly, but I think most of that comes from being, literally, a fish out of water. It did not detract from her at all.
I will admit, though, that I didn’t much care for Nathan until the latter half of the book. At first, he seems a bit…shallow. His attitude is dismissive and he doesn’t really seem like someone who Ylaine would find interesting or worthy. However, this changed dramatically in the second half of the book. In fact, a good portion of the plot was centred on his development, and I think this works really well. So, while I didn’t immediately like him, I did find him a good character in the end.
3. Favourite part
I think my favourite part is probably to do with the culture and lifestyle of the merpeople. I found it quite fascinating and enjoyed the descriptions of their life, their thoughts on fish and sharks and such, even the way that they bowed. It really managed to make them seem like a distinct people rather than just humans with tails who live in the water. It was also really nice to see the interaction of that culture with the human culture.
I think my only real critique is that parts of the love story seemed to move a bit quickly near the end. I understand that this was meant to be the moment of realisation, rather than an insta-love situation, but it moved a touch quickly for my tastes. However, given all the other plot points, I would say that this was not really a terribly big issue and that the story did not suffer at all for it.
Overall, I would say that The Princess of Undersea is a very good retelling of The Little Mermaid, only with intent and depth as opposed to the original (and later interpretations). The story managed to be both entertaining and poignant, while still retaining the connection to the original and providing the familiar ground that comes from fairy tale retellings and reimaginings. Very good.