The Mermaid's Madness, by Jim C. Hines (DAW, 2009)

Once upon a time, there were three very special princesses. Each one inspired a fairy tale, and in each case, the facts were either exaggerated or outright fabricated. Even so, there remains an element of truth to Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella. There was a princess who slept for a hundred years, only to be awoken by a prince. There was a princess who fought for her life against a wicked stepmother driven mad with vanity. There was a commoner who fell in love at a ball, rescued from her dreary existence by a prince. But these are not your everyday average ordinary Disney Princesses. Sleeping Beauty is Talia, whose fairy gifts grant her great skills at combat. Snow White is a powerful sorceress, specializing in mirror magic. And Cinderella is Danielle, whose own skills with a magical sword are nothing to scoff at. And now the true story of another fairy tale heroine can be revealed, as they investigate the mystery of The Mermaid’s Madness.

It all starts during routine tribute and trade negotiations, when a band of merfolk unexpectedly attack Danielle’s mother-in-law, Queen Beatrice, grievously wounding her. With that act, the undersea peoples have declared war on the surface, and only Talia, Snow, and Danielle have what it takes to fight the murderous merfolk and save the queen’s life. But their journey will take them over the seas and into profound dangers of all sorts. Learn the fate of the mermaid and her prince, of the sea witch who played such an important part in the whole matter, and why there’s no happily ever after for this particular tale. It’s not what you think. Meanwhile, Snow is learning new ways to use her magical powers, but will she follow the same road as her evil stepmother did? And what’s bugging Talia? The answers all lie within….

In this sequel to The Stepsister Scheme, Hines once again brilliantly remixes fairy tale elements with a modern action/adventure sensibility, as if the Brothers Grimm had been allowed to watch a Charlie’s Angels marathon. The Mermaid’s Madness is fast-paced, energetic, exciting and amazingly fun. Magic, mayhem and adventure combine for a thoroughly satisfying tale. As before, Hines isn’t afraid to put his own personal spin on the characters and stories contained within, drawing inspiration both from the older, darker versions and the more popular, well-known variations. His merfolk are properly alien, given their status as creatures of two realms, both familiar and unsettlingly different.

Of course, the main characters are all sorts of fun, each in their own way, and they work well as a team. (Though that may change thanks to some uncomfortable revelations brought up along the way, here.) I can’t help but root for Talia, whose crush on Snow is obvious to everyone but Snow herself, and whose sexuality, understated as it is, still makes her something of a rarety in the genre. It doesn’t hurt that she kicks ass and takes names with no shortage of style. I look forward to the next in the series, Red Hood’s Revenge, which will apparently focus more on Talia and her homeland.

I have no complaints about The Mermaid’s Madness. This is a spectacular take on fairy tales that I wish I’d thought of first, the literary equivalent of Kingdom Hearts, a fusion of styles that comes off as refreshing, playful, and thoughtful. Hines has a winner. And once again, kudoes to Scott Fischer for his elegant, evocative cover design.

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