When a freak tornado devastates his Oklahoma farm, fifteen-year-old Shea moves to Cape Cod to live with a grandmother he’s never met. Struggling to make sense of his new surroundings, he meets a girl along the shore who changes his life forever.
Kae belongs to an undersea world hidden from drylanders, where bloody war rages between opposing clans. A fragile peace accord hinges on marriage between the royal families, but treachery and magick lurk in every shadow.
With Kae’s help, Shea discovers his true heritage and finds that his destiny lies somewhere far below the ocean’s surface.
I received a copy from Patchwork Press – Cooperative via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
With the ocean covering seventy percent of Earth, the deepest part of the ocean reaching eleven kilometres in depth and most ocean species have yet to be discovered, the ocean is the perfect place to craft an imaginative and mysterious world uniquely different to our own. And mermaids. Everyone knows about mermaids. When I was young, after watching The Little Mermaid, I wanted to be a mermaid. With the palpable absence of mermaids in fiction, Descent by Katie O’Sullivan was a pleasant discovery, and a book I certainly had to read.
Descent was a sweet, lighthearted, and, interestingly, an unexpected read. It follows a simple story of Shea, who discovers that he has merman heritage and befriends a young mermaid, Kae. Though the novel is aimed at a young adult audience, this book reads more as a middle grade book. The prose is pleasantly light and undecorated, and its central narrative explores inner conflict, self-discovery, and negotiating one’s own identity interwoven with fantastical and magical elements.
While the beginning is slow to start, once introduced to the merpeople kingdoms in the ocean, the story takes on a magical quality. O’Sullivan paints an idyllic, summer vista as the setting flits from sunny Cape Cod beaches to the castles in the ocean. The differences between the two physical worlds also offer a charming dynamic between two characters, as one human and one mermaid try and understand each other’s worlds and ways of life as their lives collide.
Subtle lessons are hidden in Descent, its morals focal on the meeting and empathizing between peoples who share different ways of life. The book explores how people amplify and distort the unknown until it becomes a faceless, shapeless enemy, malleable to one’s fears, and how different ways of life can be met with confusion, insensitivity but also shared wonder. The momentary misunderstandings and moments of congruence demonstrate to younger audiences that empathy is a process of patience and tolerance – unfortunately a virtue that many adults forget.
There are these brief moments where Descent is reminiscent of the joys and carefreeness of youth. It also highlights the percipience and wisdom of children, a refreshing contrast to the jaded and the war-hungry characters present in the novel. It is about how a young boy can ascertain righteousness and injustice despite his simplistic and naive worldview. There are times when this sort of perspective is more puerile and irritating than it is positive, but with Descent Shea’s indignant stance is a gentle reminder that, sometimes, not all things are as complicated as they need be; that sometimes children see things clearly and truthfully.
My qualm with this book is its unnecessary romance; Descent could certainly have succeeded without it. The romance between two fifteen year old teenagers was off-putting (and frankly a little awkward) and an unnecessary appendage to the story. For the book’s themes to centre on an individual’s self-growth as well as self-discovery and rediscovery, the underdeveloped romance was more of a detriment rather than a complement to the progression of the story. Shea and Kae’s relationship is built on physical attraction which escalates to proclamations of being each other’s whole world. It’s not that I don’t believe that teenagers don’t fall in love, because they do, but the relationship was contrived and lacked depth. Is their relationship infatuation then? Perhaps, but there is no indication of self-awareness.
Descent is ultimately a lighthearted book that explores the turning points of life in youth, and is written with sensitivity but also with innocence. The story is predictable, but it is its predictability that makes the book heartwarming and fulfilling to its readers. Whilst the merits of Descent can be located and I did enjoy reading it (it filled me with child-like wonder), it is recommended specifically for younger young adults. It is for this reason that I didn’t like it as much as I could have – Descent, therefore, is by all means not a bad book. Descent was a small pleasure to read, and with the ending leaving much room for development of the plot and also O’Sullivan’s world, it will be fascinating to see where the series will be taken next.
Book Name: Descent
Book Series: Son of a Mermaid #1
Author: Katie O’Sullivan
Publisher: Wicked Whale Publishing