In this debut fantasy/adventure, a girl must learn to use her special powers to evade capture.
Alarming news of two people kidnapped by someone on a winged horse has hit the town where Mira, 11, lives with her adoptive mother, Appoline Byron. That’s not the only strange thing in Mira’s life; at an antiques shop, she opens an old box that, though empty, somehow emits singing voices. And disturbingly, the itchy spot on Mira’s ankle has become covered with silver scales. When she plays in the woods with her friend Peter Waylor, they too are kidnapped. But Alexandra—the flying horse’s rider—is a protector, not a captor. Moreover, the scales are a sign that Mira is a merrow, one of an ancient race long thought to be extinct. Merrows can transform into aquatic creatures, usually with two legs, and possess unique abilities, such as using telepathy and controlling water. With Alexandra is another merrow, Kay, the boy said to have been kidnapped. Alexandra’s mentor, a merrow named Aristide, and Kay’s human friend Demetrius have been captured by dangerous black-clad merrows called Shadowveils, who use their powers to imprison anyone who can prove that they still exist, as when Peter accidentally sees Mira’s scales. To avoid being forever hunted by the Shadowveils, the new friends must cooperate to stop them and rescue the captured. Traveling to the capital, Perenna, the group seeks help from a gnome named Tonttu. The children receive training and conduct research to help them fight for their own and their friends’ freedom, leading to a dramatic confrontation. In the process, Mira discovers that she holds the key to defeating the Shadowveils.Robin gives her series starter the medieval-ish setting so common in fantasy, but this world includes powerful and scholarly women, such as Mira’s astronomer mother, and people of color. Alexandra (also a scholar) has “smooth, dark skin.” The novel’s world is well realized, as when describing the appealing jumble of an antiques shop: “The walls were lined with overflowing shelves of every object imaginable: toys, jewelry, sculptures, lamps, jars filled with things Mira didn’t recognize.” Another strength is how the author develops the mermaid concept, giving merrows a history and characteristics that are varied and complex. Besides their special abilities, some can have a long fishtail in their aquatic bodies or even transform into animals. Mira’s restless and adventurous nature is well suited to the story, as when she puts herself in danger after chafing under her mother’s warnings to stick close to home. The girl’s exhilaration at finally swimming and breathing underwater is a welcome balance to the fears caused by her mission, as is the discovery of a previously unknown relative. But one problem with the tale is that it remains unclear for some time why merrows take such pains to avoid detection, and when the explanation does come, it’s not very convincing.
A feisty heroine and vivid worldbuilding make for an effective series opener.