Book Review: Jennifer Donnelly’s Deep Blue

Posted May 3, 2014 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Jennifer Donnelly’s Deep Blue

Deep Blue

on May 6, 2014 and has 340 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

First in the Waterfire Saga paranormal fantasy series for middle grade readers. The focus is on introducing us to the overall series problem and all the merls taking part.

My Take

It’s cute with a blend of a fantasy mermaid world + teen angst + performance anxiety compounded by what Serfina sees as her fiancé’s betrayal. It’s tension, horrible tension that will soon seem as nothing when Serafina’s world is blown apart.

I loved the description of Serafina’s room and her shell bed, although that mattress sounds kind of ookie…ick… It’s the scene that fully awakens me to this undersea world. And her pet octopus…oh, boy, he’s definitely tricksy with some smarts even if he isn’t particularly diplomatic. But then Serafina’s world changes, and she has no time to process events as she flees the palace and embarks on a journey that takes us throughout the mer kingdoms, introducing us to her world as she and Neela struggle to survive and evade. That last bit of her trip is silly, a bit formulaic, and a bit adventurous as the girls encounter the other merls who will join in their crusade. The puns are cute: currensea, transparensea, Sue Nami, badwrasse and jackwrasse, among others. There’s the cranky, recluse merl with her school of catfish. You can’t help but laugh as she bids the girls goodbye, lol. I enjoyed Neela’s comment about telling the monster to use his words. Definitely points up that this story is intended for young kids.

I liked Donnelly’s world building. She’s built a sweet world for the mermaid species based on the destruction of Atlantis. I also liked the values Donnelly encourages in this. Thalassa’s reassurance about true magic coming from the heart. Her confession about her own childhood. It’s a nice message: please yourself, not the people around you. Part of the back history includes all the covering up that was done in the past. It’s sweet that Serafina, Neela, and Mahdi have their passions — and I suspect Donnelly will have them achieving them in some form in the series.

I suspect that Serafina is going to have a rude awakening about Mahdi — not to his detriment, but that it will embarrass her for her judgments. She’s amazingly naïve and so ready to believe the worst about people. Surely she’s had experience with people exaggerating and lying about others? Although I’m ticked at Mahdi. What? He can’t behave for a couple of days? Jerk.

Some of my niggles include my irritation with Serfina’s mom. She feels it’s important to say that she’s left the city in Vallerio’s hands for an hour. What? The city can’t function for a whole hour on its own? She also expects so much from her daughter and refuses to tell her anything. I can’t blame Serafina for being angry with her mom. What is Mom thinking, coming into Serafina’s room and stressing her out the morning of her Dikomo? And why was Lucia even allowed in the room?

Has anyone been checking those villages? I know they use spies — Isabella mentions them — but do they actually do anything? Seeing as the queen knows nothing of what’s going on in the other kingdoms? Serafina ticks me off as well as she keeps holding everyone up in life-or-death situations.

I’m also confused about the difference between the Merrow, Miromara, and Cerulea. Cerulea is the capital city, but Miromara seems to switch back and forth between city and kingdom. At one point, Donnelly states that it’s an empire and yet she also refers to the Merrow kingdom.

Donnelly has written Serafina as an intelligent character who has been coping with court life all her life, so how can Serafina be so clueless when it comes to someone like Lucia? Although I do have to hand it to Serafina, she made a nice recovery.

I was surprised to learn that Donnelly only plans on four books total for this series. I’d expected more with the number of merls in the group as well as the number of talismans they have to find.

The Story

It’s, hopefully, a time of rejoining in the midst of so much disastrous mystery and teen angst. A party that quickly descends into battle. Destruction. Death.

The Characters

Principessa Serafina Merrovingia (cute take-off on the Merovingian dynasty) is the crown princess of Miromara who must prove her worth and save the world. La Serenissima Regina Isabella is her mother and the ruler of Miromara. Principle Consorte Bastiaan is Serafina’s father; he’s of the House of Kaden. Principe Desiderio is her brother and a commander in the army. He had been scheduled to be part of a hostage exchange to Ondalina. Sylvestre is Serafina’s pet octopus. Tavis is Serafina’s nurse. Principe del Sangue Vallerio is Isabelle’s brother and Miromara’s High Commander.

Magistra Thalassa is the most powerful songcaster in the realm, the Canta Magus. Conte Orsino is the Minister of Defense. Count Baldassare is one of Isabelle’s oldest and wisest advisers. Fossegrim is the Liber Magus, the keeper of knowledge. The Janiçari are the queen’s personal guard with Mehterbaşi as their leader.

Lady Giovanna is the Chatelaine of the Chamber. Lady Ottavia is the Keeper of the Wardrobe. Baronessa Agneta and Lady Cosima are older ladies of the court while Lucia Volnero and Bianca di Romero are two of Serafina’s ladies-in-waiting. Lucia is a right bitch even if she is the daughter of a duchess. Avarus,…hmmm, avarice? It would suit Lucia… is her pet scorpion fish. Portia is Lucia’s mother, and she almost married Vallerio all those years ago, but the family is not a respected one.

The Matalis Kingdom
Based in the Indian Ocean, Emperor Bilaal and Empress Ahadi are Crown Principe Mahdi‘s parents. He is engaged to Serafina and seems to be quite the party boy. Princess Neela is Serafina’s best friend and Mahdi’s cousin. Yazeed is Neela’s brother and the one leading Mahdi into all this sin.

The rest of today’s Six
Link is from Qin and speaks and understands all language due to her descent from Sycorax; she’s an omnivoxa, One Who Sings All Creatures’ Songs with a responsibility to speak Truth. Wen is her grandmother and the clan shaman. Principessa Neela is descended from Navi and is One Whose Heart Will Hold the Light. Becca is from Atlantica descended from Pyrra and is One With Spirit Sure and Strong.

Lena is a whacky old merl who keeps a school of catfish. Very protective catfish. She definitely has a way with words, LOL.

The Praedatori
For millennia the merfolk have believed the Praedatori are thieves and bandits preying on travelers. They’re led by a being known only as Kharkarias, a.k.a., the shark. His real name is Armando Contorini, Duca di Venezia. The Ducas di Venezia and these Wave Warriors were created by Merrow to protect the sea and the mer from the terragoggs. Filomena is the Duca’s cook while Anna is the housekeeper. Captain William Brown is a Wave Warrior.

Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, and Mr. Gray are Praedatori we meet briefly. The Lagoon is their headquarters as well as a forbidden neighborhood where the mer like to party down.

The Iele
The Iele are the river witches who were created by Merrow to protect merfolk. Baba Vrăja is the elder mer witch, the Obȃrsie, who appears in the merls’ dreams. Magdalena is Baba’s successor.

Kingdom of Ondalina
Based in the Arctic, they are an old enemy of the Merrow kingdom. Admiral Kolfinn seems to be the ruler. Astrid is his daughter, and a descendant of Orfeo. She was supposed to be part of the hostage exchange.

The Dokimi is a rite (for some reason Word keeps thinking it knows better than I) of passage in which the Miromaran crown princess must prove her right to the throne through a bloodletting, the casting of the castus mirus, and the vow. Terragoggs are humans. And they’re worse than the Opafago who only take what they actually eat. Alitheia is the spider monster in the pit who will test Serafina’s blood.

The death riders
A.k.a., the moarte piloti, these mermen in black are led by Captain Markus Traho. Rafe Iaoro Mfeme is a terragogg terrorist. Feuerkumpel are goblin miners; Höllebläser are goblin glassblowers; and, the Kobold are goblin fighters. Zeno Piscor is the blabbermouth. Braco Goga is quite handy with his eels.

Someone has woken Abbadon, the monster created by Orfeo, born of a dream to steal the gods’ powers and now lives, imprisoned, in the Southern Sea.

The Six Who Ruled
The Six Who Ruled were mages who governed in Atlantis: Merrow is Serafina’s ancestor; Orfeo was a healer; Navi, Pyrra; Sycorax; and, Nyx. They changed the Atlanteans into the mer who went forth and founded new realms: Atlantica, Qin in the Pacific, Freshwaters, Ondalina of the Arctic, and the Metali in the Indian Ocean. Neria is a sea goddess. Who gave them magic and songspells. Serafina thinks Merrow’s Progress was when she was hiding the talismans.

Canta mirus is special song, a very demanding version of the songspells. Canta prax are plain songspells, practical magics, spells that help the mer survive, such as echolocation, camouflage, speed, and darkening. An ochi is a powerful scrying spell. Canta malus is darksong, forbidden magic. Bloodbind is a ritual that binds its participants to the death. Shoaling seems to act like a drug on merfolk.

Vitrina are vain ghosts that live inside mirrors. Rorrim Drol appears to rule the mirror world and eats the fear of those who enter his world. His power is in using the truth of people’s inner problems. The Contessa who lives in Serafina’s mirror is quite helpful. Tsarno is a fortress Serafina should head to.

The Cover and Title

The cover is gorgeous with Serafina in a gown that floats in an ethereal cloud around her legs in this blue underwater scene.

I think the title is a reference to the color of Cerulea as Serafina keeps referring to the Deep Blue of its buildings.