Her name is Lorali.
Followed by fierce storms and a group of mysterious figures who look like they’ve stepped out of the 18th century, Rory is drawn to the strange creature, determined to protect her. But who is Lorali? Where has she come from? And why is she running?
I have to confess to having a bit of an obsession with mermaids, ever since I was a kid and I watched The Little Mermaid. Questionable life lesson aside, who didn’t want to live under the sea?
The story is told from three povs; Rory, Lorali and The Sea (yes The Sea!). The writing style is very recognisable to a Brit, with Rory’s internal dialogue wonderfully believable for a teenage boy, his drive to protect Lorali never once feeling contrived. Similarly with the beautifully named Lorali. Wide eyed, naïve and never less than truly adorable, her chapters are made up of literal thoughts and sentence fragments, bringing a heart-warming honesty to her voice. Thankfully, there’s no insta-love here, rather an organic love story of sorts between two characters more alike than they realise, both yearning for something more, stepping out from childhood into the unknown and beginning to sense the vastness of the world around them. It’s awkward, it’s uncertain, and it’s true.
The Sea is a strange concept for a pov, but it serves as the narrator, addressing the reader directly like an old friend bringing you up to speed on the gossip over a coffee and filling in the gaps in the story both above and below the sea. In any other books, these chapters could be seen as info dumps, but they’re so fresh and well written that I hardly noticed. We learn the history of the Mer, of the pirates who chase them, those who aid them, their history, and it’s great! Laura Dockrill strives for realism, and does a fantastic job of bringing this fantasy world believably into the present day. There’s no “once upon a time” here. Mermaids and “walkers” live in the same world and this is nicely done. I adored the juxtaposition of the worlds above and beneath the waves. Having visited many a seaside town in my life, Laura Dockrill’s descriptions are perfect! Similarly, the Mer world is beautifully realised, from the harpy-like Sirens to the petrified “underwater forest” with a tragically beautiful history.
I’ve made no secret of my love of authors that aren’t afraid to “go there” rather than glossing over the darker inevitability of the worlds that they have built, and Laura Dockrill certainly does not do that here. And believe it or not that’s my only slight criticism of the novel. The Mer are more often than not abused women rescued by the sea and that, combined with the casual chauvinism of the Ablegare “pirates” who assist them, sits a little uneasily alongside the star-crossed lovers story. Sure, women rule below the waves, the victims now beautiful and fierce, but it felt it a bit too little too late. Similarly, going from reading about Lorali decorating her hiding place in one chapter, to hearing about the gang rape (albeit not explicitly) of a minor character in another is a bit jarring, the misogyny of some characters and the theme of feminism sitting oddly side by side.
Even with the occasional clash of tones though, the rich story is a gripping and hauntingly beautiful read. I choked back tears on more than one occasion. And the ending…oh the ending! I won’t give anything away, but I will just say that the ending had me literally crying a little. In the park. And an old lady came over and asked if I was ok. How embarrassing! Simply put, Lorali is a beautiful book, albeit not one for the faint-hearted. This is a fairy tale set in the real world, and it doesn’t shy away from all the things that brings with it. A wonderful read!