Mermaid princess Serafina is nervous. Today’s the day she’ll prove herself a true descendant of her famous ancestor Merrow in the royal family’s traditional Dokimí ceremony. She’ll demonstrate her worthiness to rule through “songcasting” a complex musical spell, and the day will end with her formal betrothal to the handsome but rebellious crown prince Mahdi.

But when a surprise attack interrupts the ceremony, Serafina and her friend Neela must flee the kingdom of Miromara and swim for their lives into unknown waters. Using both magic and their wits to escape their pursuers, they encounter a variety of fantastical sea creatures—some allies and some enemies. They also learn of political plots and secret alliances, and most importantly, they discover that they, along with four other teenage mer, are destined to find a series of hidden talismans to save the world’s oceans from an ancient monster.

Like many tales set in imaginary landscapes, Deep Blue is full of invented words. Author Jennifer Donnelly’s twist is to openly acknowledge the various languages from which these terms derive, especially Latin and Greek (for example, a velo spell confers speed, and a canta magus is a powerful singer). Puns and ocean-based details abound: Teens sneak out at night to go shoaling, and trade initiatives involve the exchange of “currensea.” The action is well paced, and many chapters end with cliffhangers that draw readers further into the story.

The first book in a planned quartet, Deep Blue combines fantasy adventure, court intrigue and even a touch of teenage sarcasm in an accessible, fast-moving narrative that will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next installment of the Waterfire Saga.


Jill Ratzan reviews for School Library Journal and works as a school librarian at a small independent school in New Jersey. She learned most of what she knows about YA literature from her terrific graduate students.

This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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