The Surface Breaks is Louise O’Neill’s retelling of The Little Mermaid. I have a love hate relationship with her writing but I thought her foray into fantasy might not be as bleak. The mermaid in question is Gaia, daughter of the Sea King, who is fast approaching the age where she can be married off.

The Sea King is all your misogynistic dictator stereotypes rolled into one. He believes that maids should be for looking at and making babies. He’s a classic abuser personality, his daughters must choose their words carefully around him and he pits them against each other. He trades his youngest daughter to a war-mongering friend to help cement his position in court. Gaia is 15, her husband to be is an old man. It’s really quite a grubby thing to read about.

I shall be passed from one man to the next, ownership transferred with the ease of a handshake, and I will be expected to smile as the deed is done.

On her birthday Gaia is permitted to swim to the surface despite the fact that her father hates humans and blames them for taking his queen. Not that him being a massive jerkwad would make her want to leave him. Gaia sees a human boy and saves him from the Salka, their mortal enemies. She is instantly besotted with him and can’t stop thinking about him when she returns home.

I suppose the instalove represents a desire to escape her abusive home, but he could just as easily be as horrid as her betrothed, just younger. Anyway, you know the story, she gives up her voice so that she can go ashore. This isn’t a pretty fairytale though and what she must endure to be with a man she doesn’t know is extreme. The second half of the book is much stronger, it dwells a bit too long on the awfulness of merfolk society before it really gets going.

Slowly Gaia starts to question her choices. I loved the ending, it really rescued the book for me after wondering if it was just going to be another depressing outlook for women. I liked all the revelations and what Gaia finally chooses for herself. If you’ve ever worn shoes that have ripped your feet apart but continued to wear them, you will sympathise with Gaia, who puts up with pain in order to have the legs she thinks Oliver desires.

The only time I was ever happy under the sea was when I was singing, and I sewed my mouth shut in the hopes that a boy I barely knew could kiss it open again.

I do feel that feminist fiction can focus a lot on terrible things that happen to women. Why can’t they be about amazing things women do or just lovely worlds where we have equality? I know the point of this is to show how the original story sets a terrible example, that you shouldn’t be sacrificing yourself for a man you barely know, but it was a bit heavy-handed getting that point across.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 40. Your favorite prompt from 2015 2016, or 2017: Based on a Fairytale
Science Fiction vs Fantasy Bingo: Re-Telling

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Book Source: Purchased