I read Lorali, the first in this Mer series, almost two years ago, after being sent a copy by Hot Key Books. Aurabel, the follow-up, has many of the same strengths- including beautiful prose, wonderfully imagined societal structures, and the main narrator being the Sea, which was fun, but unfortunately it fell down in some of the same places as its predecessor as well. I was provided a copy of this by the publisher.
Laura Dockrill makes a dramatic return to the sea set in the same world as the sparkling and magnetic mermaid story, Lorali.
It has been two years since Rory drowned, and Lorali is in Hastings, living the quiet life of a normal teenage girl. But her safe life on land won’t last for long. Life in The Whirl has become a hotbed of underwater politics and as the council jostles to oust the king, one Mer in particular has her eye on Lorali as the key to her own rise to power.
Meanwhile, Aurabel, a lowly Mer from the wrong side of the trench, is attacked by sea beasts and left for dead – and without a tail. Raging with righteous anger, she rebuilds herself a mechanical tail and reinvents herself as a fearless steampunk Mer seeking revenge. But she never expected the most important job that was about to drop into her lap.
Laura Dockrill’s imagination explodes any pre-conceived ideas about mermaids and creates a curious, hilarious, riotous adventure not to be missed.
First things first! This book is truly beautiful. Seeing the cover art online doesn’t do justice to the shimmering, shifting glory of the potato print shells on the cover. The envelope it came in was adorned with a tiny shell sticker, which is now decorating my computer at work, and the internal pages are just as lovely. Water marks spatter the corners of the first pages of different chapters, Lorali’s chapters are headed by a beautifully italic signature, and the visual design of the book is simply stellar.
Lorali got a new cover as well to match its younger sister, and while I have something of a pang of regret at losing the blue gorgeousness of the original cover, this new soft pink repeating pattern sets of Aurabel beautifully, and I can see them being absolutely stunning on a shelf together.
But besides the visual gorgeousness of these two books, what about how Aurabel actually reads?
Well, I was kind of torn on it. On the one hand, I absolutely loved returning to Lorali and how she’s adjusting to life in Hastings, and I was so enamoured with Aurabel, our new heroine, who struggles through the most adverse circumstances to forge a new life for herself. She was awesome. I aboslutely love Aurabel, and would have loved a book which was more about her, and less about the rest of the characters that we had seen in the first installment.
Then there was the third protagonist, Opal, who I really felt added absolutely nothing to the story. She might have been an interesting story in her own right, but set against Lorali and Aurabel, I just was not a single bit interested in her.
I loved, once more, how the Sea was a new type of omniscient narrator, although some of the ways in which she/he/it was able to narrate were a bit, well, forced – again, notably in Opal’s case.
I also really enjoyed that Aurabel and Lorali had very distinct voices, totally different to the Sea, and appreciated it a lot more than I had in the first book. I think the contrast between Lorali’s panic and Aurabel’s stream of consciousness added far more to the experience than just having Lorali did in the first book, and their very real feelings bled through in a way which was really lovely when contrasted against the Sea and its detachment in its omniscience.
However, I had some serious issues with this book. All the worldbuilding was done in Lorali, and having read it two years ago, to be honest, I’ve forgotten it all. The occasional flash of reminder would have been beyond helpful, but it was really lacking. If someone came to this book without having read Lorali, I can see them being utterly confused, as there’s really no level of callback to the first book, just an assumption that you remember everything that happened.
While this works in some ways for Kai and Victor, it’s generally a weakness of the book. For cod’s sake, I’ve read Lorali and I was still left confused a lot of the time.
Aurabel is much more streamlined than Lorali, with fewer subplots going on, but having set them all up in the first book, it feels a bit like a letdown to have nothing of them in the second. What happened to the pirate crews, and the harpies, and what’s the deal with the selkies? Too much was left unexplained in this book, and while it had so much going for it, there was just too much left for the reader to work out, or imagine, and I was left quite disappointed.
Finally, my last complaint is once again with the blurb. We know from the beginning that Aurabel is going to be attacked by sea monsters and have to rebuild her tail, so why is it built up so much in-text? If it’s meant to be a dramatic reveal, don’t put it in the plot! I loved Aurabel’s working her way back to strength and developing friendships and a revenge plan – everything that happened after the attack was awesome, I just wish I had more of it!
Last compliment, though – I loved that Aurabel’s mate is female. In a world where reproduction happens by grabbing drowning people from the sea, there’s no reason not to have badass lesbian couples. I am so on board with this.
Lots of potential, but not as well-executed as it could have been.