Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel

Sailor Twain: Or, The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel (October 2012)*

You know what we need more books of? American fairy tales. I didn't even know we needed more until I read Sailor Twain, but we totally need more. Sailor Twain is the story of a young steam boat captain who, one dark night on the Hudson River, rescues an injured mermaid. He thinks he's just doing a good deed, but like all fairy tales, hero gets much more than he bargains for.

There is much to love about this book. The artwork, rendered in charcoals rather than clean ink, adds to the hazy fantasy. Is Captain Twain crazy, is he imagining things, or has he really met a mermaid? What happened to missing owner of the riverboat, a Frenchman who disappeared under mysterious circumstances? I hesitate to get more into the plot because much of the pleasure in reading this book is from watching the mystery of the mermaid unfold. But I loved that this fairy tale isn't some rehashing of Andersen or Grimm (this mermaid is closer to the Sirens of The Odyssey than to Ariel and her ilk) bu an original tale in the way that Neil Gaiman's American Gods speculates what happens when Old gods, spirits and creatures move to the New World.

Don't be fooled by the brief review. This is a great book for older teens and young adults, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

This review is cross posted at (Library Lass) Adventures in Reading. Check out my other reviews in all their rambly glory.

*Copy courtesy of NetGalley


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16 comments:

Colleen said...

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!


There was a lot about the book I really enjoyed but I'm totally flummoxed by the ending. So, everyone died, right? Is that what the final scene meant - that they were talking after all was said and done but he died? What did you get from the ending?

david elzey said...

SPOILER REPLY!

i'm gonna have to go with they all died BUT twain, who was a divided soul who needed the amulet to return to join his watery half.

in terms of what i got, i thought he'd tried to stop her from causing another wreck, failed, and in the process was doomed to live an empty life on land. returning would mean he could be reunited with his stolen soul and perhaps even happily ever after.

that was my reading.

Debra said...

It was really hard to write about this without giving anything away. I love the ambiguity, and I will say that I'm super leery of rivers now!

aquafortis said...

It seemed like the end left a sequel possibility open, didn't it? Or maybe that was just me...There were some loose ends, though, that clamor to be tied up. :)

Debra said...

Sometimes I think I give graphic novels more leeway for loose ends than I would a regular novel, because I wasn't as "Huh? Wah?" with them in this book. For example, I read Faith Hicks's Friends With Boys, which totally ended JUST when things were getting interesting and I was invested in the characters, and I hope there's a sequel brewing there.

aquafortis said...

I liked that one a lot, too! I do hope there are sequels in the works for both this one and Friends with Boys. But I understand what you mean--sometimes the visuals provide a sense of closure that the written story alone doesn't.

Colleen said...

Okay, so Twain is split still, the other guy is still split and pretty much everyone else died but the writer. Did his wife commit suicide? Was that the image of her walking to the water? I wasn't sure about that. And I never understood why the guy sabotaged the ship. He didn't seem to have any motivation or was he supposedly under the mermaid's spell as well? (Although I never saw any sign of this.)

aquafortis said...

I think the guy who sabotaged the ship was just P.O.'d because Captain Twain kept giving him the brush-off every time he complained about some little thing. I assumed he was just vindictive.

Colleen said...

Well that's a good reason to kill hundreds of people!

Colleen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
david elzey said...

you know, colleen, i just assumed after a while that EVERYONE on the boat was under some form of the mermaid's spell! only those who truly understood the song they heard knew it was a mermaid, the rest saw and heard whatever made sense to their eyes and ears.

as for motivation on the sabotage, sometimes i think we go looking too hard for understanding and meaning in the face of tragedy and disaster. some folks might just be off without any outward rhyme or reason.

or as chris rock used to say, "what ever happened to crazy?"

Colleen said...

Ah - I see what you mean about them all just essentially being driven crazy (one way or another) by the mermaid's song. I guess I needed just a little bit more of an explanation for this book. I thought it was beautiful, I liked the story - the complexity, the relationships, etc. But I ended it thinking I missed something - that it was too obtuse at some critical points. It made the book a bit of a failure for me (I'm still trying to figure out how to review it). But thanks for the help on working out my issues with it!

aquafortis said...

Ditto--I'm still working on my own review of this one, and the discussion helped refresh it in my mind!

david elzey said...

no, wait! I'M working on a review as well... and all of this just clouds my thinking!

guess we'll just have to compare note later.

Calliope Muse said...

Okay, I know I'm entering into this conversation WAY late, like two years late, but I thought I would share my interpretation of the ending. oh, and SPOILER ALERT!!
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From what I understood, the reason her heart cracked in that scene at the river bottom was because, at the same time, Lafayette was consummating his love with Chamomile, making him whole. Because he was wholly in love with someone else and not South, the spell from her song broke on him and destroyed her heart, the source of her power.

With her heart gone, Lafayette was able to kill her with the gun (although the explosion may have killed her instead). The ship exploded due to a combination of the pissed-off religious guy's sabotage and the fact that the rest of the crew was distracted by South's song. The explosion killed all on board.

The two halves of Twain were thrown into the river where the half corrupted by the mermaid's song tried to kill the other half as revenge for the mermaid's demise, but the uncorrupted half prevailed, killing the corrupt one with a harpoon. This left him forever incomplete, and I think he needed the river token to re-enter the water, perhaps to die properly and rest in peace.

DJ Doom said...

Spoilers.


I did not see the mermaid as being killed as she is depicted, smoking, but eyes open after the explosion. I also believe that the corrupted half 'lived' due to the amorphous blooping in the coda. Saying "I prevailed" only shows that one prevailed and that they both considered themselves real.

I have nothing on whether Pearl commits suicide, or what is going on there. That she throws a fish themed thing away seems to symbolise her severing from Twain, but I do not think she suicides.OR I think perhaps she is demonstrating a cure has worked. And that she is ready to go back into the world, perhaps to travel with Twain as planned? Or perhaps, as symbolised by her removal of all things marine, she has split from him. Her pose is just too strong for a suicide.

I do have a fascination with her illness though. It leaves her legless, like a mermaid. And her standing and using legs again does seem somewhat meaningful.