Title: Sand and Ruin and Gold
Author: Alexis Hall
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Pages/Word Count: 48 Pages
At a Glance: An interesting twist on mermaids in a dystopian-esque setting.
Blurb: Once upon a time . . . that’s how the old stories always begin.
Once upon a time there was a king of a fallen kingdom. He was just and he was beloved. Or so the numbers said. One day, he gathered together the greatest, wisest minds in all the land—not sorcerers, but scientists—and he bade them fashion him a son. A prince. A perfect prince to embody his father’s legacy.
The scientists each brought the prince a gift: beauty, strength, ambition, intellect, pride. But they must have forgotten something because when he saw the mermaids dance at the Cirque de la Mer, he ran away to join them.
For a year, he trained them, performed with them, thought he was happy. For a year he thought he was free. But then Nerites came: A merman who refused to be tamed. A captive from another kingdom. A beast in a glass cage.
The old stories always end with happy ever after. But this isn’t one of the old stories. This is a story of princes and monsters.
Review: Most readers will probably be able to read this short story in an hour or two, but even though it’s so short, I thought it was a good read with a fresh approach to the legend of mermaids.
Set in what appears to be a dystopian world, the story is told in the first person narrative, but the narrator never gives his name. In fact, none of the human characters are named. There are, if I remember correctly, eight named characters in the entire book, and they are all mer creatures. There isn’t even any dialogue. The entire story is written as a reflection by the narrator on his experiences with Cirque de la Mer and the mer creatures.
I must admit the cover drew me in. It’s stunning. And when you read the book, it’s clear that the artist paid attention to the author’s description of the merman Nerites because all of the details appear to be there. It’s beautiful.
There are many different takes on the mermaid mythos, and this one adds a new twist to it. At least new to me. In what I’ve read, mer creatures are beautiful, intelligent creatures capable of human speech and complex, human-like relationships. Not so in this story. Sure, they’re beautiful, mystical creatures that draw crowds, but they’re monsters. Beasts. They have a matriarchal society, but they behave as other wild animals do. They are violent. Vicious. They do not speak. They are caged animals in a Sea-World like environment where they perform for the crowds on a daily basis.
While this might sound like it wouldn’t belong in the M/M genre, the author has twisted the story. Somehow the narrator and Nerites form a bond and while it may not be love, they certainly lust after one another. The narrator may not understand what is happening, but as a reader, you see that the caged animals may not be complete animals at all. Just different from humans.
As I read this, I couldn’t help but think about the whales and dolphins that are kept in aquariums around the world. They are intelligent in their own way, even if we cannot understand them. Is it right to keep them caged like the mermaids and mermen in this story? Perhaps not.
It’s amazing how such a short fantasy story about a prince who neglected his duty and ran off to work with mermaids got me thinking so much in such a short span of time.
You can buy Sand and Ruin and Gold here: