Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
Raef’s mother brought him up on tales of true love and humans when he was young. Now grown, Raef, a lonely merman, spends his days watching the dashing Lord Haverford from afar and dreaming of romance. The current chief of their tribe forbids any contact with humans but Raef refuses to give up his romantic dreams and spends his time watching for his prince. When Haverford is robbed by a pirate, Raef vows to reclaim the stolen goods, hoping his victory will buy him the happiness he yearns for with Haverford.
Jon Kemp is not your ordinary pirate, something Raef finds out when he steals aboard Jon’s ship in an attempt to recover Haverford’s stolen goods. But what happens next is surprising to all and leads the young merman on an epic quest to right wrongs and find true love…for merman and pirate, whether they want it or not.
Truly, this is a tale that should start off “Once upon a time, there was a lonely merman who longed for love” because this story, The Merman and the Barbarian Pirate by Kay Berrisford has all the hallmarks and qualities of the classic fairy tale. Stories of mer folk, especially gorgeous mermen abound these days and each offers its own take on the mer folk lore and myth.
Rafe in The Merman and the Barbarian Pirate harks back to the littlest mermaid, that timeless story whether it be Hans Christian Andersen’ original fairy tale or Disney’s version. Here as the story opens we find the young Rafe listening to tales of love from his lovelorn mother. They enchant him and fill the babe with visions of a forever love and humans, dreams that increase their hold on him the older he becomes. Those bedtime stories gain increasing value when his mother dies, leaving Rafe is alone in a tribe turned restrictive and cold by a new chief with his own pain and agenda.
I loved that Berrisford captured the spell woven by Rafe’s mother at that young age and the loneliness felt by the older Raef who is unable to let go his romantic yearnings. This fits so beautifully into the fairy tale trope, from the lyrical quality of the narrative to the “casual adult cruelty” that drives Rafe to break the rules and strike out for love.
You have the beautiful prince observed from afar, someone surely worthy of love or so Rafe thinks with only his stories to go by. Pirates or Kluggites as they are called by the mer folk are horrible things, to be avoided at all costs. So when one appears to have stolen something from the beauteous prince, Rafe thinks he must not only get it back but feels he has an avenue made to approach his prince and find true love. Rafe’s naivete is both charming and typical of the fairy tale hero, who are usually sort of clueless about the realities of the world around them. Again, Kay Berrisford is sticking to the rules of the classic tales, albeit with a LGBTQ twist or two or four.
The romance is light, fun and frothy. The adventure they set out on is fraught with peril, an adorable merman as well as virtuous maidens who need saving (including one that is more than capable of saving herself), cannons firing on the high seas, and more scary rescues and escapes to satisfy those readers who require that in their tales of pirates and love. I had such fun reading this story. It was enjoyable quick read and wonderful entertainment.
The only issue that brought it down for me was one that could have been left out all together. In a fairy tale, I don’t need any mer folk natural history lessons or rational for species. In fairy tales, they just are. However, Berresford felt the need to include her take on why they can shift into human form and then back again. It involves procreation and, quite frankly, makes no sense what so ever. Look at all the mammals living in the seas. They certainly don’t need legs to further their species, they do just fine as they are with the appendages they have. That much detail just doesn’t work in something so lighthearted. Yet, Berrisford returns to this again and again. And the more she does so, the more illogical her “mer folk biology” created for this story appears. At certain points in the story, I spent more time mentally poking holes in her world building than I did focused on the story. Not something an author wants to hear.
But, that aside (and buried deep under the conch shells where it belongs), this is a lovely, lighthearted fantasy escape. Rafe is a joy and Jon, a charmer who steals the heart of a young merman and readers alike. The secondary females characters are strong, layered people with surprises of their own for the readers. I loved them too.
If you are in the mood for a lovely, frothy, fairy tale romance, then Kay Berresford’s The Merman and the Barbarian Pirate is just the story for you.
Cover Artist Julie Wright. What a gorgeous cover. It drew me in with its lush design and wonderful characters. Loved it.
ebook, 214 pages
Published July 30th 2014 by Less Than Three Press (first published July 29th 2014)
original titleThe Merman and the Barbarian Pirate